History

The below notes make up a guided tour of St Mary's produced for an open day, written by Pat Symons. Why not print this page out and take the tour yourself?

The starting point is by the Blue Plaque on the Chapel Arches bridge opposite the Colonnade.

Chapel Arches

York Stream marks the Western extent of the Thames flood plain. For hundreds of years the area between here and the River Thames flooded on a regular basis and crossing it, the many small branches of the Thames and the main river itself could be treacherous. It is not surprising that a chapel was built here near the bridge where travellers could pray for a safe passage, or else give thanks for their deliverance. The reason the road is wider outside the Bear Hotel is that the chapel stood in the middle of the road.

Outside the Bear Hotel

In 1270 a chapel was built here, dedicated to St Andrew (the fisherman).

The Bath Road was the boundary between the parishes of Cookham and Bray and there was a dispute between the two parishes because this chapel of ease threatened their income - eventually in 1325 it was agreed that two thirds of the offerings went to Cookham, a third to Bray, Cookham provided the priest (in agreement with Bray) and the local residents had to provide a house and £4 for the priest.

The building with a pitched roof to the East of the main building of the Bear Inn may have been the priest's house.

In 1352 John Hosebond left £100 for the endowment of a "chauntry" (to say masses) dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. So now we have the two names to which our church is dedicated.

In 1423 a hermit was appointed at Maidenhead Bridge and as well as living "well continent and in chastity" he passed on any alms, other than for his sustenance, towards the upkeep of Maidenhead Bridge - presumably this was the main bridge over the Thames (which was just upstream of today's road bridge).

Note circular plaque set into the pavement outside entrance to The Bear and the studs which mark the walls of the chapel - not very big!

There was a chapel (and then church) here until 1824 - by that time the traffic jams around the church with over 90 coaches a day and numerous carts etc. got too much.

Now return to the Church.

Creation of the Guild of St Andrew and St Mary Magdalene

In 1451 the "Fraternity and Guild of St Andrew and St Mary Magdalene of Maidenhuth" was formed. The serving chaplain became the overseer of the Guild and his duties included "the continual reparation and keeping up of the bridge over the Thames" and "the perpetual maintenance of the chauntry".

During the time of Henry VIII the chapel was for many years without a chaplain and the Guild was dissolved in 1547 (like the monasteries). So there was no church and no town corporation - and the townspeople had to go to Cookham and Bray to go to church.

7th March 1582 Queen Elizabeth I granted the first charter to Maidenhead from which we can date the creation of local government.

  • Warden (really the first mayor), bridge-masters and council appointed
  • Patronage (appointment of chaplain) passed into the hands of the Corporation
  • Bridgemasters officiated as Churchwardens
  • Corporation paid for maintenance of Chapel
  • Guild took tolls for crossing Maidenhead Bridge (until 1903)
  • Right to hold fairs
  • Right to have a court

The Corporation continued as Patrons until the Municipal Reform Act of 1835.

St Mary's is still the Borough Church and as such is used for ceremonial services such as Remembrance Day, Battle of Britain Day, and the Mayor and Corporation come to church here on the first Sunday after the Mayor has taken up office each year. The Vicar is still the "Mayor's Chaplain" and leads prayers at Council Meetings.

In 1659 James Smyth, a Salter, founded the Almshouses in Bridge Road and paid £1 a year to the Chaplain for a New Year's Day sermon. This payment only ceased in 1989! Salters Almshouses also gave money towards the construction of the third church so that there would always be pews for their residents.

Charles Davis Charity - he was an innkeeper and left two properties in Maidenhead High Street to a Trust. There is an annual service in November here which any applicants must attend and the old people now receive vouchers.

1724 a new church was built - still out in the Bath Road. This lasted for only 100 years.

The Third Church

One hundred years later the coaching trade had increased so much that the church in the High Street was pulled down and a new Church built on the present site - foundation stone St Mary Magdalene's Day in 1824. It was built in "pure Gothic style" - but originally with tiered seating in a horse-shoe shape like a lecture theatre.

1835 Municipal Reform Act - created the town boundaries of today's Maidenhead and the Council ceased to be patron of the Chapel.

Font - chaplains of St Mary's were not authorised to baptise until the 19th century. One of the earliest recorded baptisms here was William Skindle - later to take over the Orkney Arms at Maidenhead Bridge which became "Skindles".

The town grew at an enormous rate from the 1830s - the railway line to Maidenhead was opened in 1838. The first census records show the population of Maidenhead either in the parish of Cookham (north of High St) and Bray (south of High St) so no-one is sure how many people lived in what we now know as the town of Maidenhead in the early 19th century but the 1830s population is estimated at 1000.

Population Growth

18614,000
18716,000
189110,000
190113,000

All Saints parish was created in 1857, St Lukes in 1867 (and at first St Mary's was within St Luke's parish until a separate parish was created in 1870).

Access to the church used to be along the side of the building with the entrance porch approximately opposite the current door to the chapel. It had three stained glass windows at the altar (now in the chapel).

In the time of Rev. Hewetson Nash (vicar from 1893-1928) evening services regularly had a congregation of 800.

The Present (Fourth) Church

The (third) church on this site had to be closed in 1961 as the building started to fall down around the congregation and was declared unsafe - and the current church (built by J.M. Jones Ltd of Maidenhead) was consecrated in 1965 - the fourth Church of St Andrew & St Mary Magdalene.

Note: it is the "wrong way round" as it faces West not East - makes for easier access to the church.

The spire is fibreglass and was hoisted into place by a crane with great difficulty.

The stained glass windows on the West wall in the church were placed in memory of Ron Hill.

  • Serpent of Paradise
  • Serpent of Healing
  • Sword & the Spirit
  • Maidenhead today

(This latter includes illustrations of Salters Almshouses, Scout & Pathfinder badges, doorway to Town Hall, River Thames, bridge, factories) relating to his active church life and involvement in Scouting, Pathfinders, evangelism and trade union activities.

The brass fittings to the front pews on the south side are to hold the Mayor's mace and the Bridgemaster's staves (their signs of office) which are carried in procession to the church on civic occasions.

The coat of arms on the east wall of the church was supposed to be that of George IV but may in fact be of Queen Anne. However George IV did give money towards the building of the third church.

Leave the Church by the double doors next to the Organ.

Chapel

Built in 1980. The windows are from the east end of the 1834 church, from the Nicholson/Cail family. William Nicholson (1820-1916) was a member of the church - founded Nicholson's Brewery, on site of what is now Nicholson's Walk. 1896 Sunday School treat included tea brewed by Nicholson's brewery and kept warm in beer casks! His wife was Elizabeth Cail and the Cail family was much involved as planners and builders in Maidenhead during the construction boom of the late 19th century.

William Nicholson was also a great cricketer and was a member of the Maidenhead team who beat England in 1835.

Windows are: Nativity, Resurrection and Ascension.

From here a door leads into the Church Lounge.

Church House

In 1753, a new vicarage was built on site of Church House (previously there had been one to the east of the present entrance to the church drive).

It was vacated in 1956 when what is now called "The Old Vic" became the vicarage. The building was in turn replaced in 1980 by Church House - flats for staff and for rent and other church rooms and offices.

A copy of Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" used to be in the old church, in an ornamental screen by the altar erected as a memorial to Rev. Hewitson Nash.

The Maidens Head window (on the stairs) dated 1825 shows the "Seal of John Godayn" which was used as the Town Seal of the Borough of Maidenhead from at least as early as 1612. It still appears on the Maidenhead Advertiser masthead. The words around it can be translated as "the seal of John Godayn, Canon of Thiers" (Thiers is a town in Auvergne, France). No one knows why this seal was used as Maidenhead's town seal but it may have belonged to the Norreys family from Ockwells or may have had some connection with the priory at Hurley.

The Old Vic

This was the vicarage from the 1950s to 1992 and is now used for youth and community work.

The vicarage gardens used to reach to York Stream and there may be the remains of medieval fish ponds here.

Church Halls

The oldest part dates from 1907 and the main room is known as the "Nash Room" after Charles Hewetson Nash, a notable vicar from 1893-1928. His picture now now hangs in this room.

The Main Hall was built in 1959 - and was dedicated and used as the Church while the present church was rebuilt. We do not know whether anyone was aware in 1958 of the perilous state of the church building - was it God's providence that ensured that the hall was completed in time for the congregation to transfer to it during the rebuilding?