WINDSOR HERITAGE WALKING TRAIL
The trail takes you from Windsor Castle, across the River Thames, to Eton College and allows you to discover 1,000 years of history.
The historic core of Windsor has grown up over the centuries in the shadows of Windsor Castle and each successive monarch has left their mark upon the town.
Starting on the cobbled street, known as Guildhall Island, there are many interesting buildings dating from as early as the 17th century. The Old King’s Head in Church Street bears a plaque on its wall recording the warrant for the execution of Charles I in 1648 and it is said to be where William Shakespeare wrote “The Merry Wives of Windsor”. Just a few doors along is Burford House, reputed to be where Charles II housed his favourite mistress, Nell Gwynne. Queen Charlotte Street is recorded in the Guiness Book of Records as the shortest street in Britain at just 51 feet 10 inches. To the right of Queen Charlotte Street is Market Cross House, now housing the “Crooked House Tea Rooms”. This was originally a private house thought to have been built in 1687. Its leaning appearance was caused by the use of unseasoned timber and structural changes that have happened over the years.
Market Cross House
Next to Market Cross House is the Windsor Guildhall. The building was completed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1690. On close inspection, you will notice that theNext to Market Cross House is the Windsor Guildhall. The building was completed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1690. On close inspection, you will notice that the central columns do not touch the ceiling and tradition has it that the councillors of the time, against Wren’s wishes, insisted on the columns in the interest of safety. Wren, not to be outdone, left the columns an inch short of the ceiling.! – and this is how they still stand to this date.
Walk back past the Crooked House towards the Castle, at the bottom of Castle Hill is the Queen Victoria Statue erected in 1887 for the Golden Jubilee to mark the 50th anniversary of her coronation. The architecture of the town owes much to Queen Victoria and her marriage to Prince Albert. Walking down the hill with the Castle rising steeply to your right, look out for the metal inserts in the gutter, used to stop the horse-drawn carriages from rolling down the hill. To your left you will see Windsor Royal Station. The railway line was extended from Slough in 1849 by the Great Western Railway to provide access to the railway for Queen Victoria.
Curfew Tower looms menacingly over Thames Street as you continue down the hill. The tower houses the dungeons and had a gibbet at the top where corpses of criminals were hung as a warning to the people. Further on still is the Theatre Royal. The theatre was established on this site in 1815 although the present building dates from 1910. Continue past the theatre and around the corner. Cross over the road at the traffic lights and continue straight ahead to the bridge.
Just before Windsor Bridge is Sir Christopher Wren’s House. The famous architect built the house in 1676 as his family home. He was a member of parliament for Old Windsor and his father was Dean of Windsor. The house is now an hotel with splendid views across the Thames. The bridge was built in the reign of Henry III in the 13th century and was a wooden structure. Those passing over the bridge had to pay a toll. The current bridge was opened in 1823 but was closed to vehicles in 1970 due to structural problems.
This busy section of the River Thames is bustling with all manor or river craft as well as many water birds including the beautiful swans.
As you cross the bridge you can see the Eton College Boathouses on the left where the scull and sciffs are kept for the boys to practice their rowing. The College owns much of the land around this area including the Brocas, the open land behind the boathouses.
Eton High Street is packed with galleries, boutiques, antique shops and gift shops and time should be allowed for browsing. One of the most interesting buildings is the Cockpit Restaurant. It contains the remains of the original cock fighting area which went on during the 17th and 18th centuries. It is said to have been frequented by Charles II. In front of the restaurant is an original pair of stocks and a Victorian post box.
On crossing Barnes Pool Bridge at the end of the High Street you are within the boundaries of Eton College. The College founded in 1440 has educated 18 former British Prime Minister including Walpole, Pitt the Elder, Macmillan and Douglas-Holme. The Chapel was originally planned to be the size of a cathedral and a white cross can be seen on the left hand wall of Keat’s Lane, opposite, showing the proposed end of the nave.
We hope that his has stimulated your interest to explore this fascinating and historic town.