The fascinating stories behind how Reading, Slough and other Berkshire towns got their names

The fascinating stories behind how Reading, Slough and other Berkshire towns got their names

We take place names for granted these days, whether it’s a village, town, city or just a hamlet.

But why do these names exist? Where do they originate from? And have the names changed over the years?

We’ve delved into the online history books to find out how some of Berkshire‘s towns got their names and to discover the stories behind them.

Naturally, you could spend hours and hours reading about each place, but we’ve put together a quick guide surrounding the names specifically and how they came about thanks to the Berkshire History and Slough Council websites.

Reading

Reading Abbey Ruins
Reading Abbey Ruins

Reading is traditionally accepted as being Saxon for “(Place of) Readda’s People”.

The name itself could be from the Celtic Rhydd-Inge or ‘Ford by the Water Meadows’ which ties in with its location, although in this instance the river referenced would be the Kennet as opposed to the Thames.

The town was known as one of the great pilgrimage centres of medieval England. It had been given the Hand of St. James by King Henry I and the Head of St. Philip by King John. It also held some 232 other relics.

Another interesting Reading fact is the oldest recorded British song – Sumer is icumen in – was written in the town in the 13th century.

The composer is unknown.

Wokingham

Wokingham Town Hall
Wokingham Town Hall

The history of Wokingham stretches back as far as the fifth century under the Saxons.

The followers of a man named Wocca had established base in Woking (Surrey) but decided to up sticks in search of new territory.

That led them to head across what was then the Berkshire Moors and having cleared some land on the edge of the forest, the name Wokingham originated – a combination of Wocca’s People’s Home.

For several hundred years between the 17th and 19th centuries the town came to be known as Oakingham, but this name was ultimately replaced by Wokingham.

Bracknell

Bracknell Town Centre
Bracknell, has a new town centre but its name has quite a history

The first recorded mention of Bracknell comes in a Winkfield Boundary Charter of AD 942. Back then the area was called Braccen-Hale, which meant Bracken covered Nook.

The original Anglo-Saxon settlement was likely to be at Old Bracknell, which spreads out along Old Bracknell Lane.

The ‘new’ Bracknell as we know it these days along the High Street was often used as a stopping point on the route from London to Reading via Staines.

An interesting Bracknell fact is that 29 men were captured following a battle between mounted Grenadier Guards and an infamous band of local criminals known as the Wokingham Blacks back in 1723.

The group had been travelling around the area but one of its members was forced to reveal the others’ whereabouts, leading to authorities making the capture.

Windsor

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle

Rumour has it that King Arthur could have been one of the first settlers in Windsor in the late fifth century.

But it was William the Conqueror who had a wooden motte-and-bailey castle built on the area shortly after 1066.

A hundred years or so later and the castle replaced Old Windsor as a royal palace too.

The name Windsor, which originally meant Winch-furnished-Riverbank, was also transferred over and the name rose to prominence through the centuries.

Maidenhead

The Thames in Maidenhead
The Thames in Maidenhead

The origins of the name Maidenhead are rather complex to say the least.

One suggestion, from the 16th century antiquary John Leland, is that the area was known as Alaunodunum in Roman times, although there is little evidence to back this up aside from a few rural villas.

Invading Vikings are believed to have disembarked from their longboats at Maidenhead in the ninth century and made the town a base.

The centre of the town was known as South Ellington and this then merged with Maiden-Hythe – or New Wharf – at the nearby Thames crossing which saw the name change.

Hithe is commonly accepted as the term for wharf in Anglo-Saxon, but Maiden could derive from a number of terms, which include Maegdena (Maidens’ in Anglo-Saxon), Moed (Anglo-Saxon word for Timber), Mawr-Din (Great Fort in Welsh Celtic), Mai-Eadhainn (the Gaelic Celtic term for Great Cauldron) or Midden (Rubbish dump in Norman-French).

Slough

Slough High Street
Slough High Street

The area as we know Slough now was originally called Upton and this was referenced in the Domesday Book.

The first recorded mention of the name Slough appeared in 1196, when it was spelt Slo.

Most historians believe this derived from the slough or muddy land between Upton-cum-Chalvey and Eton.

The town’s growth was witnessed hundreds of years later when the railway line from London to the west was built.

Newbury

The Clock Tower in Newbury
The Clock Tower in Newbury

Having previously been the site of the village of Ulverton, Newbury was one of many towns set up around the country following the Norman Conquest.

It is believed to have been founded by the French knight Arnulf De Hesdin in the 1070s, who later went on to become a major landholder.

Newbury was the ‘new borough’ of Berkshire, hence the name.

News from Berkshire Live

Written by Editor

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