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Staines Historical Walk

Introduction

Welcome to my “historical walk around Staines Town”, or a town now officially named “Staines-upon-Thames”. I really hope you enjoy reading the guide to the walk and maybe someday you may take time out to do it yourself and experience how much history this small town really hides.

       

The new "Welcome to Staines-upon-Thames" and older "Welcome to Staines" signs
      
In total our walk covers a distance of 10 miles and is divided into five sections ranging from 1.15 to 3.0 miles. The terrain is mainly flat and accessible. The five parts of the walk, with distances and places passed through are listed below. You can choose to do one, a part of, or more parts at a time.(Note: As some photos did not upload, you can download Parts 2 to 5 as word.docs at the bottom of this page).

Part 1 is 1.33 miles. It starts outside the Blue Anchor pub, and takes in the Market Square, Thames Path, Staines Bridge, Clarence Street, Church Street, Two Rivers Retail Park, the Colne & Wraysbury Rivers, Sweeps Ditch, Hale Street, Staines West Station, Duncroft, St Mary’s Church and the Old Ashby Brewery.

Part 2 is 1.15 miles. It starts in front of Thames Edge on Clarence Street and takes us over Staines Bridge to the south bank of the River Thames through The Hythe, along the Thames Towpath and back along The Causeway. It passes through some of the oldest places in Staines, tells some stories of past industries, asks a few questions, but also tries to also answer a few.

Part 3 is 2.1 miles. It starts on the river footpath, on the north side of the River Thames and immediately upstream from Staines Bridge. The walk takes in the River Thames, Church Island, the Lammas Park, the Shire Ditch, Lammas Nature Reserve, Staines Reservoir Aqueduct, Staines Moor, Moormede and Mill Mead. 

Part 4 is 2.42 miles. It starts at the junction of Mill Mead and Staines High Street. It takes in the north side of the High Street, Fairfield Avenue, Birch Green, Staines Pumping Station, London Road, the Crooked Billet, Kingston Road, Leacroft, Knowle Green and Staines Station.
 
Part 5 is 3.0 miles. It starts at the 'gateway' plinth at the north of the pedestrianised section of Staines High Street. It takes in the southern half of the High Street, Two Rivers Retail Park, The River Colne, Thames Street, Laleham Road, Gresham Road, Staines Park, St Peters Church and the River Thames Path through the Memorial Gardens.
 

Why Staines?

To the outside world, Staines is probably best known through a popular TV show, by local comedian Ali G.. He is the leader of a small gang called “Da West Staines Massiv” and in the programme claimed to be an ex-pupil of Matthew Arnold School. During the series he often referred to his girlfriend as “Me Julie” or sometimes “Me Bitch”. The show was cutting-edge, sometimes not politically correct, but not far from the truth about some residents in the area. In 2002 Ali G also made a full length movie based on the TV series and named “Ali G Indahouse”. This again proved a great success and had takings of almost $30 million at the box office. By 2012 it was all too much for the local council and to get rid of the Ali G label the name of the town was changed to Staines-upon-Thames. We’ll find out more about this later.

 You may wonder why I have taken time to write a book about a walk around Staines. Well there are a few reasons why I did this. I first visited Staines around 30 years ago, I didn’t really think much about the town then, but through the years I visited a bit more often. I took up running and ran in a few races through here. I always remember crossing over the bridge from Egham and having to run along a busy road as the cinema blocked my way back to the river. Since 1995 I have organised a charity relay run around London named the Green Belt Relay and in recent years I developed a long distance path named the London Green Belt Way, both of which pass through Staines along the Thames Path. Doing both these projects I began to take interest in the places both passed through and read upon their history. Over 16 years I compiled this information into an on-line guide. Since 2000 I have worked in Staines and this has allowed me to gain a greater insight into the history of the place. A few years ago the local council produced a leaflet entitled the “Staines Art Walk”. This comprised of a short walk around central Staines passing 22 points of interest. However, from knowing the town and studying its history, I knew this could be extended to bring in many more. In early 2012 I set about comprising a short historical walk around the town, I thought it would take a few weeks to do. However, I did get a bit carried away and now it’s actually quite a long walk. The main thing to me, and I hope to you, is I have not gone too far over the top and you enjoy reading about Staines past, its people and where it is today.

Throughout the book there are many photos I have taken over the last decade; old photos, most belonging to the Surrey History Centre; references to sources, some with links for extra reading; links to Wikipedia, British History Online, Britain from Above, and Francis Frith about people, time-lines and more; quotes and photos from residents who have lived here, including additions some have personally made just so I get my information correct; there are links to websites of sports clubs, societies, churches, companies, local press, etc.; Spelthorne Borough, Surrey County Council, Staines Library and Spelthorne Museum have provided a wealth of information. At the “Exploring Surrey’s Past” website, there is an excellent map showing all the archaeological finds in the county, each with interactive links to more information. Through this guide I will often refer to the Surrey website and add links to take you to a relevant page. I have enjoyed using this and have learned so much from it.

Before starting the walk I’ll give you a brief introduction to the history of Staines from Roman Times to present. Later you can read much more. This should give you an insight into the town’s past and how it has developed into the bustling centre it is today.   

 

The Romans until Present

To understand why Staines developed and is an important town today, we really need to go back to Roman Times. The Romans invaded Britain three times. The first was a failed attempt by Julius Caesar in 55 BC, but he came back a year later and proved more successful. On the second invasion he managed to take over parts of the southeast of England and had many victories over early English tribes. Soon after he made peace with some and taught them Roman ways. Many native tribes aligned themselves to Rome and were recognised as “Roman client kingdoms in Britain”. He returned to Rome, but even though he had failed to conquer Britain fully, he left a legacy which could be built on for a future invasion. You can read a detailed record of Julius Caesar’s invasions at Wikipedia.

Britain was known to other parts of the world from well before the Romans came here. As early as the 3rd century BC, the Iberians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks and the Phoenicians traded for Cornish tin. This was the Bronze-Age and Cornwall was an area where tin ore was abundant. The traders brought home stories of a land wealthy in minerals. It is from this earlier time where Britain got its name. It is derived from the Phoenician (or Hebrew) word “Baratanac”, meaning “Land of Tin” or “Isles of Tin”.

The third and most important invasion of Britain, by the Romans, would not come until almost 90 years later. This conquest would have a huge effect on Britain and on what was to become the town of Ad Pontes (now Staines). The invasion started in the summer of 43 AD under the reign of Emperor Claudius. In the years after the 2nd invasion by Julius Caesar, Rome and its allied tribes in England built up great trade and political relationships. However, other native tribes began to come into conflict with these friends of Rome. They took their lands and expelled some of their leaders. Verica, leader of the Atrebates was one of Rome’s greatest allies in Britain and was based at Calleva Atrebatum (now Silchester) in Hampshire. As a consequence he fled to Rome and sought the Emperor’s help. Reinstalling Verica to his lands and leadership of his tribe gave Claudius the excuse to invade Britain. It was a land the Romans knew was provide valuable resources such as minerals and slaves. The invasion was led by Aulus Plautius, a respected senator and a general in the Roman Army. Verica was re-established at Silchester, where a significant Roman town was built, as was an important Roman Road to join the town with London. The site chosen for the road to cross the River Thames was where modern day Staines is now, and the bridge was built around or soon after 43 AD. For centuries this was the first bridge across the Thames above London. As a result Ad Pontes soon grew to become a hugely important Roman settlement in Britain. This third conquest would mean most of the island of Britain would be governed by Rome for almost four centuries. Roman Britain (or Britannia as was called in those days) lasted until about 410 AD, when with the fall of the Roman Empire, the Romans left these shores. However, they were ahead of their time and the legacy left by them still remains to this day in all walks of life.

The Roman name for Staines was Ad Pontes, meaning “at the bridges”. There are many theories as to why this is plural, meaning more than one bridge. However, there is no definite answer yet and maybe we may never know why, what is now, modern day Staines was once known as a town by more than one bridge. How many bridges does this refer too? Again we may never know, but I will give you a few of my thoughts through researching the town and a few from others as we go along this historical walk through Staines

After the Romans left these shores (c410), the Saxon farming people from northern Europe began to migrate here and co-existed with the local Romano-Britons. They divided each county up into separate sections known as “hundreds”. Staines was then in Middlesex and the town and the areas north and east became known as the Spelthorne Hundred and one of the six hundreds of the county. The Spelthorne Hundred also included Feltham, Hampton, Hanworth, Stanwell, Sunbury and Teddington. It was from this time where many of the local towns in the borough take their names as we’ll see later. What we know as the Anglo-Saxon era in British history lasted from c550 until 1066. Early, during this time Christianity spread throughout the country. The Church in England was founded with its base at Canterbury, and records state the first church on the site of St Mary’s at Staines existed as early as 685 AD. What we know about early Anglo-Saxon Britain comes mainly from two sources, the writings of a cleric named the Venerable Bede (672 – 735) and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (late 9th century). The first recorded mention of Staines is from a Saxon Charter of 969. Also, towards the end of the Saxon period, British History Online states: 

In 1009 the Danish army, which had been harrying the Upper Thames Valley, is said to have crossed the river at Staines in order to avoid an English force assembling in London”. 

The Normans invaded Britain in 1066, defeating England’s last Saxon king, Harold, at the Battle of Hastings. William the Conqueror had won the English crown and became William I of England. Norman kings controlled this country for many years. The earliest recordings of the population of Staines come from the Domesday Book, completed in 1086. This was the record of the great survey of everything in most parts of England and some of Wales. It was instigated by William the Conqueror and was a bit like the “Census” is today.  It states at Staines there were 140 households, made up of 16 villagers, 58 smallholders, 12 slaves, 8 cottagers and 46 burgesses. This was recognised as a “very large” settlement at the time. However, during Roman Times, the town of Staines as an important crossing of the River Thames seems to suggest a much larger population. The model of Roman Staines (Ad Pontes), in Spelthorne Museum, was built on information obtained from archaeological finds and shows a substantial town around 150 AD (see photo below).

 

The model of Roman Staines (Ad Pontes), in Spelthorne Museum

The importance of the Rivers Colne and Wraysbury cannot be understated in the development of the town. These two rivers provided the power to run mills here back to at least the Roman era. The Domesday Book mentions six mills at Staines and after this there are records to mills through the centuries. Mills provided wealth, influence and work. They attracted people to the area and help make it prosper.

 St Mary’s played a part in the sealing of Magna Carta on the 15th June 1215 as Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury and the Barons stayed in Staines before travelling to meet King John at Runnymede. The following day, at St Mary’s, the Archbishop consecrated the bishops of St David’s and Bangor.

British History On-line states: “The Medieval town of Staines grew up south of the St Mary’s Church and beside the bridge. The west and east bars of the town are mentioned in the 13th century.

The two bars mentioned above refer to the gravel islands on which the town was situated during this period. The first is the area around the church, and the other around what is now the bottom of the High Street. It was soon after Magna Carta, in 1218, when a market in Staines was first recorded; “In 1218 the Sheriff of Middlesex was ordered to see that Staines market was henceforward held on Friday, instead of Sunday.” The quote does imply an earlier market was held here. At this time records claim Staines developed into a prosperous market town still centred in the area around St Mary’s Church. The market at Staines’ continued for almost seven centuries until 1890. It moved location at times, but was really important to the town throughout these years. In recent years, the market has been revived, takes place on four days each week on the High Street and will soon be extended to five days with the addition of a craft market.    

In 1285 a boundary stone, named the London Stone, was placed on the riverbank at Staines and near to the bridge. The stone is believed to have dated back to Roman Times and previously used as an altar. When placed here, it marked the highest point along the Thames where a tide could be detected. It also marked the Corporation of City of London’s limit of jurisdiction on the river and the point to which they could collect taxes. The Corporation gained these rights in 1197 by buying them from King Richard I who needed money to finance his involvement in the 3rd Crusade. The name Staines is known to be derived from the word “stone” or “stones”. Some sources claim this comes from the London Stone, but there are also a few others we will see later.

In Tudor Times, Henry VIII often passed through Staines on his way to Windsor Castle and it is believed Anne Boleyn sometimes stayed in the town so they could meet during their affair. This was whilst Henry was still waiting for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

During the English Civil War (1642 – 1651) the town was occupied by royalist troops and later by parliamentary forces. The landowners here sided mainly with the king, but many suffered the consequences under Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth.

Through all the times above, and before, Staines, although hugely important as a central hub, was basically what we would term today a small settlement surrounded by farming communities.

The start of the 1700s saw the growth of the coaching era in England. Staines was on the main route south to the southeast and just one day’s journey from London. This proved a lucrative business for the town and coaching inns and other related industries began to spring up. Within 100 years there were around 90 coaches through the town daily and by now there were many inns to cater for them. It meant stabling, fresh horses, overnight accommodation, provisions and much more. It also meant the town began to grow in importance and with the increase in jobs available, more families moved in from the surrounding areas. By 1800 the area that is now Spelthorne had a population of about 5,350. However, with the coming of the railway in 1848 the coaching era went into decline, but to any town at the time, the railway meant more prosperity and opened up so many new opportunities.

 Staines Bridge by Samuel Ireland (1792), from the Surrey History Centre.

Soon after the opening of Staines Station, the population increased to almost 8,000. Staines was also seen as a riverside town in the countryside, a place to go and enjoy clean air away from the sprawl of the big city. Day excursion tickets from London were introduced and Staines became a popular riverside resort. The railway also meant that goods could be easily transported around the country and to sea ports for export. Local businesses such as the breweries and mills thrived and new ones opened. With the opening and rapid growth of industries such as the Lino factory and Lagonda the population also grew and by 1931 had increased to 34,000. 

After the outbreak of WW2, many people moved here from East London to avoid German Bombs. By 1941 over 45,000 lived in the borough, but this was soon to take a new turn and increase more rapidly. In 1944 the Government had started to construct a large military airport just north of Staines at Heathrow. The war finished a year later, but the Government continued to build Heathrow, as a civil airport for domestic, cargo and international transport. The airport provided many jobs and attracted an influx of people to the areas around it. Homes had to be built to house the increasing population, retail outlets built, and other services increased to provide for the growing numbers living here. Industrial estates also began to grow up around the airport. The population by 1951 had increased to almost 60,000, by 1961 to over 76,000 and 1971 to 96,500.  It looks like the time around 1971 was when Spelthorne reached its peak in population and then decreased gradually until 2001 when it was estimated at 90,400. However, since then Heathrow has increased capacity with the building of the huge Terminal 5, the current redevelopment of other terminals and the growth of Staines as a major retail centre has attracted more people back to the area. The 2011 census showed a population growth to 95,600 and now close to the peak of 1971. 

The 20th century also saw huge changes to the lands in and around Staines. The borough sits on large amounts of gravel and this is important for building of roads and other structures. Up to this time a few rivers flowed through Spelthorne and only a small percentage of the land was covered by water. With rich deposits of gravel, and water needed for the increasing population of London and surrounding areas, the gravel was dug out and replaced by large reservoirs and gravel pits – the gravel pits soon fill up with water and become lakes. As a consequence Spelthorne is now one of the most water covered boroughs in the country. 

In the decade that was the 2000’s, one person who deserves a special mention is Richard Nash. He was the Staines Town Centre Manager and the Staines Partnership Manager and only for a short time, June 2002 to April 2005. I sat as a member of the Staines Town Partnership at this time. He was instrumental in the pedestrianisation of the High Street, the reintroduction of a market and was a friend of most shop-keepers and other businesses in and around the town. With his support I organised a recruitment fair, almost every large employers in the town attended. I had to turn some away and others I squeezed into hallways and entrance lobbies. I was told by my bosses at the Jobcentre you might get between 150 to 300 people turn up, 300 would be a huge success story. Richard’s influence and help led to a different story. Over 3,000 people came to find a job and it was probably the most successful recruitment events I have ever been involved in. I just wish the local council had paid enough to retain him, as I believe by now we would have reaped so much more from his services. As far as I know, the Staines Town Partnership no longer exists as the website is now just diverted to irreverent adverts. 

Staines High Street Market 2012

 The “Credit Crunch” which began in early 2008, and following recession, had a huge effect on Staines as it did have on ever other area in the UK. At Staines it meant planned projects such as the Heathrow Rail Link, the new “Staines Central” development and many others were put on hold, and seems now cancelled. These sites now sit boarded up after the building which occupied them have been demolished. Many of the office blocks here have seen the staff move out and there is a huge amount of floor space now vacant and up to let. Some high street shops which we all used to love have disappeared and many others are under threat. Unemployment has greatly increased and job opportunities within the town have diminished. However, we are rapidly moving into a new era, a time where the Internet is king and a time of great uncertainty for many, but opportunity for others who can embrace this new technology. 

I may have left some things out in the short write up of the History of Staines above, but on our walk around the town, I will try and take in all the points you may think I have missed. Please, enjoy the walk and the places you pass. If you believe I have not included anything I should have, please let me know so I can add it.

 

You can contact me at seangbr@tiscali.co.uk

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Sean GBW,
Jan 25, 2017, 9:19 AM
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Sean GBW,
Jan 25, 2017, 9:22 AM
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Sean GBW,
Jan 25, 2017, 9:22 AM
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Sean GBW,
Jan 25, 2017, 9:24 AM
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Sean GBW,
Jan 25, 2017, 9:25 AM
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