A Brief History of Bracknell Town
Bronze Age to AD 942
Bracknell may be best known for being a post World War II New Town but its history stretches back to prehistoric times. The oldest ancient monument in Bracknell is a Bronze Age burial mound at Bill Hill, situated near Downshire Way and Rectory Lane. The earliest settlement in Bracknell was an Iron Age hill fort called Caesar’s Camp, near The Lookout Discovery Centre, Nine Mile Ride. It was not until AD 942 that the name “Bracknell” was first recorded as “Braccan heal” in the Winkfield Boundary Charter. “Braccan heal” was probably not inhabited as it was only mentioned as a landmark on the boundary between Winkfield and Warfield.
Windsor Forest – 1066 to 1714
“Braccan Heal” was in Windsor Forest which covered all of Berkshire east of the Loddon River. William I created a vast deer preserve in Windsor Forest and historically it was used by Kings and Queens for hunting. In 1350 a Royal Hunting Lodge was built at “Easthampsted Parke” for King Edward III. The Lodge was situated on what is now the Downshire Golf Complex. Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, had connections with Easthampstead Park as she was banished there when she failed to give birth to a male heir and Henry VIII turned his attentions to Anne Boleyn. In the early eighteenth century Queen Anne hunted in Windsor Forest. She built rides through the forest to allow her to follow the hunt in her carriage being too large to follow on horseback!
In 1847 Bracknell consisted of a long narrow street, inhabited principally by small shop keepers. It was not until the railway station opened in 1856 that Bracknell began to develop into a country town, and in 1870 a weekly cattle and poultry market started. Bracknell is well known for its Victorian brickyards and the bricks produced by Thomas Lawrence and Sons which were used in the Albert Hall, Westminster Cathedral and locally in South Hill Park and Larges Lane Cemetery chapel and lodge. Today very little of the old Bracknell remains as most of it was demolished in the 1960s to create Bracknell New Town.
Bracknell New Town
New Towns were developed to help alleviate the housing crisis after the Second World War. During the war, London was badly bombed and many houses and factories were destroyed. Rather than just rebuilding in London Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan of 1944 recommended that satellite towns should be sited around London, beyond the Green Belt. Bracknell was chosen as the development would avoid encroaching on good quality farm land and the existence of a railway station was seen as an advantage. Initial plans were made for a town of 60,000 but this was eventually scaled back to 25,000. The work was overseen by the Bracknell Development Corporation (BDC) who were given wide-ranging powers, including that of compulsory purchase. Attention was paid to housing densities, design and the provision of open space.
The BDC wanted Bracknell to be a self contained country town which incorporated the amenities of town life with the benefits of green open spaces.
Initially Bracknell was going to consist of four neighbourhoods, Priestwood, Easthampstead, Bullbrook and Harmans Water, two industrial areas the Western and Eastern Industrial Areas, the town centre and an area where people could buy plots of land to build their own homes (Wick Hill). The first occupants moved in to Priestwood on Christmas Eve 1951.
Easthampstead is characterised by the only high-rise residential block in Bracknell the 17-storey Point Royal, built by Arup Associates and now considered an icon of New Town architecture with Grade II listed status. This block together with the surrounding housing and shops was designated a conservation area in 1996. In the late 1950s the eponymous Bull Brook was pushed into a culvert as the Bullbrook area of the new town was built. Each new area was designed to have a strong neighbourhood character, with local shops to cater for everyday needs. By 1960 work was underway on building Harmans Water the final one of these new neighbourhoods. So the vision for a country town with green open spaces and local neighbourhood areas served by shops, schools, and community facilities was achieved, epitomising the New Town ideal.
In 1957 it was decided to extend Bracknell, and the neighbourhoods of Wildridings, Great Hollands, Hanworth, Birch Hill and Crown Wood were built. A new industrial area was built (the Southern Industrial Area) and in 1967 Rowney (manufacturers of artists’ materials) opened the first factory there.
Today Bracknell remains as the New Town concept envisaged, a series of neighbourhood communities bounded by open countryside whilst a burgeoning skyline demonstrates its success in attracting many, mostly high-tech, businesses to the town. Overall, thanks to its good position close to London, motorways and other transport links, Bracknell has flourished, and is probably the most successful of the new towns.
Queen’s Visits to Bracknell
As 2012 is the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II it is fitting to reflect on some of the visits the Queen has made to Bracknell. She first visited Bracknell in 1962. In 1976 she visited ICL in the Southern Industrial Area. In 1978 she opened the Royal Meteorological Society’s headquarters and went on one of her famous walkabouts through Bracknell town centre. On another visit in 1991 the Queen opened The Look Out Discovery Centre.
In 2022 The Queen celebrated her Platinum Jubilee, serving the Country for 70 years. Bracknell Town Mayor wrote to the Queen to congratulate her on this wonderful achievement. You can see the letter here: Letter to the Queen
Business in Bracknell
When Bracknell New Town was first developed industrialists showed great interest in relocating there. Early companies that relocated to Bracknell were: – Racal, Clark Eaton, Ferranti and Sperry Gyroscope. As well as manufacturing companies Bracknell attracted high-tech companies such as Panasonic, Honeywell and ICL (now Fujitsu). Service companies also moved to Bracknell and in 1972 Waitrose opened its state of the art central warehouse and head office in Bracknell. In 2010 Waitrose announced plans to open a new 3,345m2 store. Work started in April 2011 and the store opened in November 2011. The supermarket is the first new store to be built in Bracknell town centre for more than 25 years. It has been designed as a sustainable building with wildlife friendly features, and low carbon emissions.
History has shown that Bracknell has through time developed to meet the changing needs of our society. Since Bracknell was developed as a New Town it has continued to expand and the population has increased from 5,000 to 56,000. The Waitrose store was the start of Bracknell Regeneration Partnership’s wider redevelopment of Bracknell town centre, which is designed to serve the local and wider community for many years to come.