On the road again: Maidenhead

By the early twentieth century, Maidenhead was a convenient resort for anyone who couldn’t be bothered to travel as far west from Paddington as Bath. A long-demolished riverfront hotel called Skindles was the haunt of royalty, politicians, actors, and writers — and a place for “illicit liaisons”.

It hasn’t enjoyed the label of ‘fashionable’ since Edwardian times, when its waterfront made it a trendy resort town. However, there’s every reason to assume the allure of, say, a mere 40-minute rail journey to Tottenham Court Road station, will soon give Maidenhead a new lease of life.

Then again, it’s already the most illustrious place you’ve never considered going to. The area is, or has been, the home to no fewer than seven culinary Michelin stars, the country’s oldest football stadium, Theresa May, and — briefly — Girl Power itself.

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A stroll down the Thames path to Ray Mill Island — the dreamy home to a pub, café, gardens, and a 600-year-old weir — is the stuff of pure property-envy. Houseboats gently bob and multi-million-pound piles tower over the waterfront. The idyllic stretch feels like a throwback to the lives of river-folk in a different century, and it’s not hard to see why the tourists came in droves.

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It’s apt that the beneficiary of a snazzy new rail link should be somewhere that grew up as a transport hub; a key bridging point over the Thames. Maidenhead got its first such structure in the 1200s — a creaky wooden thing — and then a new stone bridge in 1772. Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s crusading Great Western Railway arrived early the following century, bringing with it yet another river crossing, with vast arches that bellow with echoes if you so much as exhale into them.

Maidenhead is already superbly connected — as little as 20 minutes from Paddington on a fast train — and being a stop on the Elizabeth line will only serve to solidify what is already a commuter fortress. Perhaps the most radical thing this newest connection could bring with it is a little cautious optimism to a tired town centre.

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A common view is that modern Maidenhead contains an awful lot of wealth without, itself, being a particularly ‘rich’ town to go to. And is it a bit odd that there should be challenges like these in the Prime Minister’s very own stomping ground — Theresa May was elected MP for Maidenhead in 1997?

To behold the modern centre of Maidenhead is to learn little about the history of an area that extends beyond the medieval era even to the days of the Roman occupation. Beyond a nice old Heritage Centre — complete with a surprised woman behind the desk when you open the door — it’s only former pubs on street corners, and evocative street names, that tell of the past.

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On leaving behind those centremost streets, things liven up a little. A sightseeing tour includes the town’s imposing Victorian clocktower, a statue of the ‘British Schindler’ (Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 children from Czechoslovakia before World War Two broke out), a lovely old barn turned into the Norden Farm Arts Centre, and the former residence of five big wannabes: the unassuming semi that all five Spice Girls were crammed into in the early 1990s while still honing their act.

And then there’s this place. York Road Stadium is, according to the Football Association, the oldest football stadium in continuous use in the country. Perhaps even the world, too. It’s been there since 1871 and is built of bricks, mortar, and generation upon generation of agony and ecstasy.

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The origins of senior football in Maidenhead can be traced back to October 1870 with the formation of Maidenhead Football Club, who subsequently played their first ever fixture on December 17th, 1870 against Windsor Home Park at Bond’s Meadow near Maidenhead bridge. On Thursday, February 16th 1871 the club played their first game on the York Road site against Marlow.

Maidenhead FC merged with three sides before the Great War. Maidenhead Excelsior were founded in 1877 and joined forces with the Red & Blacks in 1885. Maidenhead Temperance – originally known as Maidenhead Band of Hope – amalgamated with the club in 1891 and Boyne Hill FC did likewise later that year.

After the Great War the two remaining town clubs – Maidenhead and Maidenhead Norfolkians (founded 1884) – decided to join forces. The conflict had meant that is was unrealistic to run two senior clubs, so after a meeting in April 1919, the Norfolkians were incorporated into the Maidenhead club, and soon afterwards a kit of black and white was adopted as club colours. There was immediate success in the first season of structured league football as Maidenhead FC won the Great Western Suburban League.

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Maidenhead United won the Spartan League title three times during their nineteen year stay. In 1929-30 season the club’s goal-scoring record for a season was set when Jack Palethorpe notched 65 goals in 39 games, including an individual post 1919 record of seven in one game against Wood Green Town. Jack went on to play for Sheffield Wednesday and scored in the Owls FA Cup win in 1935. In 1936, Maidenhead reached the semi-final of the FA Amateur Cup losing 4-1 to Ilford at West Ham in front of 18,000 spectators.

In 1945 the club were founder members of the Corinthian League. After many seasons of relative mediocrity, fortunes changed under the guidance of ex-Brentford forward, Len Townsend, and then former Slough Town manager Jimmy Price, and the Magpies enjoyed the first real “purple-patch” in their history. In seven seasons between 1956 and 1963 the club won the league three times, were runners-up twice and also reached the third round of the FA Amateur Cup in 1960, losing to West Auckland at York Road in front of a post-war record attendance for a Maidenhead game of 5,597.

In 1963, United joined the Athenian League finishing a best placed 3rd in 1965-66. In 1973, the Magpies were elected into the newly created second division of the Isthmian League. They made a concerted effort to achieve promotion to the Premier Division in 1979 and 1980 when managed by Geoff Anthony (finishing 3rd on both occasions), and then again in 1985 under Brian Caterer and Colin Lippiatt, when they finished 4th. They remained in this division until 1987 when the Club suffered relegation for the first time in its history, and the dark days were made worse with the destruction of the main grandstand by an arson attack in December 1986. It took four seasons to get out of Division Two South, and this was achieved under the guidance of Martyn Spong in 1991.

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Following John Watt’s dismissal in the summer of 1996, the Club appointed a new management team of Martyn Busby, the former QPR and Notts County midfielder, and Alan Devonshire the former West Ham and England midfielder. A new 700 capacity covered enclosure at the Canal end of the ground was completed in May 2000 together with new terracing on the railway side.

The summer of 2003 saw new manager John Dreyer have to bring in virtually a new squad of players and, despite an uninspiring start, United secured Conference South football on the last day of the season. This was the highest level the club had played at since the Southern League days in the late nineteenth century. In 2004-05 season, an indifferent start saw Dreyer replaced by Dennis Greene but the club still finished in a relegation position only to be reprieved following the demise of Hornchurch.

Since returning to Conference South in 2007-08 season, Maidenhead have finished the season in 17th, 6th, 16th, 19th and 20th place. The 1st round proper of the FA Cup was reached in 2007 but the side were comprehensively defeated at Horsham by 4-1 in front of a 3,379 crowd. Maidenhead won the County Cup for the 20th time in 2010 defeating Wycombe Wanderers 3-2 at Marlow.

A very promising 2011-12 pre-season campaign saw the club win all nine of their friendly matches scoring 31 goals and included victories against a Notts County XI and Hayes & Yeading United. This season also saw the club reach the 1st round proper of the FA Cup where they met Aldershot Town from League 2.

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This was the first time in their history that Maidenhead had been drawn at home to a league club in the competition proper. In front of a crowd of 2,281, the Magpies took the lead in the eighth minute through Anthony Thomas before the visitors secured a draw with a goal from Michael Rankine twelve minutes from the end. The Shots won the replay at the Recreation Ground ten days later by 2-0.

So what can we Shots fans expect to find at York Road and where best can we find pre-match refreshment?

What was a bit of a quirky ground has now started to get a more modern fresh look, with the opening in 2014 of a new covered seated stand on one side of the ground. This stand, which is known as the Railway Stand, is comprised of seven rows of seating and has a capacity of 550. Although fairly simply constructed, it is smart looking and is free of supporting pillars. It runs for about half the length of the pitch, sitting astride the halfway line.

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The Bell Street end of the ground is a simply covered terrace which is split into two separate sections. It is quite eye-catching as ‘Maidenhead Utd FC’ has been painted onto the back wall of the terrace in large black and white letters. Opposite at the other end is the smaller East Terrace, that does have some cover towards its middle. The other side of the ground lets the ground down somewhat. Apart from one small open terrace and the team dugouts, it is home to a large ugly radio mast and an outline concrete open-sided building that contains amongst other things; a 3G training pitch.

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On the rare occasion that fans are segregated, they away supporters are given part or all of the Bell Street End. This simple terrace does have a small cover at the back and up to 450 fans can be accommodated in this area. For these large games then additional outside catering and toilets are brought into service for the visiting fans. There is quite a sense of history that you feel when visiting York Road, considering that it is such an old ground. Plus if you are a trainspotter then you are in for a ‘treat’ as beyond the back of the Main Stand there is an elevated railway line where one quite often sees during the match another InterCity train bound for London come hurtling along.

And it really doesn’t get much better than this with the ground being a mere stones-throw from the railway station. Itis simply a walk through the station car park where you will see the local Travelodge and then a walk down Bell Street brings you to Maidenhead FC’s ground.

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Standing on Saturday will set you back just fifteen quid…

Adults £15
Concs £10 (SENIOR CITIZEN/UB40/NUS)
U16 £5
Junior Magpies free (league matches only) – download the application form below.

Matchday tickets can be purchased in advance of games online at https://maidenheadunitedfc.ktckts.com/ or on the gate on matchdays.

For drinking purposes, there is the Stripes Bar at the ground itself or next door is the Conservative Club which features in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and will admit visitors for a small signing in fee. Otherwise, Maidenhead town centre is only a five-minute walk away where there are plenty of pubs to be found including a Wetherspoons outlet on the High Street called the Bear.

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Close to Maidenhead Railway Station on Queen Street is O’Neills, formerly the ‘Bell’ pub, which also serves cask ales and shows televised sports. If you have a bit of time on your hands then just over a mile away from the ground on Gringer Hill (SL6 7LY) is the community-owned Craufurd Arms. This pub which is also listed in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide has up to five real ales on tap and shows BT and Sky Sports.

As always, I aim to provide Shots fans with detailed focus on places to eat and drink on away trips and so here are some recommendations.

The Hind’s Head, Bray

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A picturesque village made famous by its unusually principled vicar, Bray is about as British as it gets – and nowhere more so than The Hind’s Head, which has been serving the inhabitants and all manner of visitors since the 1400’s, when it was first established as a hunting lodge and coaching inn.

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The Hind’s Head has been welcoming guests since the 1400s – a tradition that continues in what is now a beautiful, Michelin-starred restaurant an exceptional menu of British classics.

The Royal Oak, Paley Street

The Royal Oak is home to a top restaurant serving great British food cooked to perfection. Our extensive wine list boasts some impressive titles and offers something to suit all palates and purses.

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The interior of The Royal Oak is elegant, stylish and nostalgic – in keeping with her antiquity.  In 2012 the pub was extended, doubling the size of the restaurant, which now seats 80.  Horticultural Expert, Richard Vines, designed the modern garden, which features large planters, white pebbles and a contemporary waterfall.  An eclectic mix of beautiful art adorns the walls and adds to the charm and magnetism of the pub.

The Pinkneys Arms

A small, independently run free-house, nestled in the heart of the village of Pinkneys Green, on the outskirts of Maidenhead.  4 miles equidistant to the M4 and M40 and just a short drive from Cookham, Marlow and Henley- on-Thames.

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The Grenfell Arms

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This pub aims to serve up the best in cask ale, great wines, quality food and comfortable en-suite rooms. It is situated in a great location in Maidenhead just off the A4 with fabulous characterful bar and dining areas, oak panelling and a cosy real fire for those cooler evenings. The comfortable rooms have all been recently refurbished to a high standard and all 8 of them have quality beds to ensure a great nights sleep and smart flat screens TV’s with on demand throughout.

The garden has just been ‘made over’ and is perfect when the sun comes out but also equipped with heaters and giant umbrellas for when the Great British Weather decides to be un-cooperative!  The drinks range includes 8 cask ales with beers from some great local brewers and a quality wine list.

The Bear

 

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The name of this historic inn was perpetuated when it became a Wetherspoon pub in 2010. The Bear has been on this site since 1845. Previously, it was at the corner of Park Street and High Street. The Bear is recorded in 1489, when the landlord charged ‘an unlawful price for provisions’. In the early 19th century, it was one of the town’s main coaching inns, but was converted into a private house in 1845.

O’Neills (formerly The Bell)

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Re-opened in November 2018 after a refurbishment, as a themed O’Neills pub. Tins of craft beers available.i.e. Brew Dog Punk IPA. There are double the number of TV screens for sport. There is also a stage for live music.

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