Local history explored at Heritage Open Days

Emma Billingham


Doors were flung open to the hidden histories of East Berkshire and South Buckinghamshire for this year's long weekend of Heritage Open Days.

From Thursday to Sunday a variety of churches, houses, and gardens, supported by teams of volunteers, welcomed members of the public keen to find out more about their colourful pasts.

The weekend was a celebration of the country’s history, as well as the heritage of towns and villages for the 22nd year of the festival, which proves that travelling to the large national museums is not the only way to get a culture hit. 

One of the first places I visited over the weekend was St Laurence’s Church in Slough, where there was a special presentation on the astronomer Sir William Herschel. The site in Upton Court Road, which is also the oldest building in the town, is where the scientist is laid to rest.

The Rev Alistair Stewart said: “To be open for the Heritage Open Days is to offer cohesion and share our history and heritage in this town. We welcome people to come at anytime.”

The Mayor of Slough, Cllr Arvind Dhaliwal, attended to unveil the model of Herschel’s 40ft telescope which was used for documenting the night sky, that had been moved from its usual home of Slough Library.

The rain didn’t dampen any spirits at St Luke's Church in Maidenhead on Saturday . The Norfolk Road church is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and has some fantastic frescos and stained glass windows that are well worth visiting.

Built in 1866, it was half the size of the church that stands today, with a large extension put on in the 1890s. The stained glass comes from family donations during the Victorian era.

A small chapel to the side of the chancel that was once the vestry is dedicated to those who fell in the First World War, a time that saw 250 people from the St Luke's congregation lose their lives.

Ann Darracott, from Maidenhead Civic Society was there to give tours on the day and explain the history of the church.

She said: “Heritage Open Days provide an opportunity to visit buildings that are not normally open.

“It’s a chance for people who feel they can not come because they do not go to church or are not a member of the church but are interested in the building.”

Tucked just off the busy Marlow High Street is the site of the former Wethered Brewery. Though closed to brewing in 1991, the large green gates that have been at its entrance since the 1790s are still open, and on Sunday they were adorned with bunting for the Heritage Open Days weekend.

The buildings that were once the brew house, old boiler house and bottle shop are now houses and apartments but still within the same walls that have been on the site for decades.

During the First World War the brewery was used as a munitions factory, with the bottles being swapped for bombs to help with the war effort.

During the 1914-1918 war, four workers from the Marlow Brewery lost their lives in action. To mark this, a plaque was unveiled in their memory in the courtyard.

Those from the Marlow Remembers group that helped plan the day with the Marlow Society, also dressed up in army uniforms of the era and sang original trench songs.

A silent hideaway for peace and reflection can be found within the Stoke Poges Memorial Grounds.

Built in the 1930s on land just over the water from the golf course of Stoke Park mansion, it was the brainchild of Sir Noel Mobbs, founder of Slough Estates, as a place for those who wanted to be cremated.

Edward White designed the 20-acre space which is also home to St Giles’ Church, where poet Thomas Gray is believed to have written Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, and also where his tomb is sited.

Head gardener Franzi Cheeseman, said: “There are lots of families across the country, and the world even, that own a little plot of Stoke Poges and do not even know. A lot of visitors do not actually know this is a burial ground.”

The Heritage Open Days are about opening up the history that is right on your doorstep but you never get around to seeing.

Visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk

Editor's Picks

Most read

Top Articles