Local History: Wokingham’s Blue Plaque Trail

Wokingham has fifteen Blue Plaques around the town, each having been nominated and selected as a building or structure of historical interest. These signs are managed by English Heritage and visibly link our older properties and monuments with people of the past to the present day.

Do you know where all fifteen plaques are? Have you visited them all?

1. Wokingham Railway Station

The trail starts at the very modern and new Wokingham Railway station. Not somewhere you’d expect to find a link to the past but it is the iron, brick and timber footbridge where you can find the first plaque.

The bridge links Oxford Road and Wellington Road where Barkham Road meets Station Road. Though the railway has been in use since 1849, it wasn’t until 1886 that a footbridge was built for pedestrians to safely cross the tracks. It was constructed using recycled materials from the railway including sleepers and rails designed ‘on the hoof’ my creative and industrious navvies. It is a Grade II listed structure (a bowstring supported on two piers) and is one of the only examples of this kind of innovate archaeology that has survived in the area.

2. The Queen’s Head Public House

If you walk up Station Road to The Terrace, you can find the next two Blue Plaques.

Believed to originally date from as early as the 15th century, The Queen’s Head has been a pub since at least 1740. It is a Grade II listed property and is one of the many examples of historic buildings you can find in the town; particularly on The Terrace. However, it is the construction of the building which makes it unique having been designed using a locally uncommon Cruck frame. The architecture is formed using timbers that are naturally curved. In demand for shipbuilding, construction for homes built with these ‘crooks’ are very rare, particularly in this area.

wokingham blue plaque trail queens head ph

Image via Wikimedia.

3. No. 15, The Terrace

This private residence is believed to be the oldest surviving building in Wokingham and is thought to have been constructed in the 14th century. There are some tell-tale signs from the exterior of the property that suggest it was, at one time, two individual cottages.

4. Tudor House

Continuing along from The Terrace and up Shute End towards the town, you will happen across a large Tudor style property at the end of Broad Street. Formerly the site of one of Wokingham’s medical centres, Tudor House is of 16th century construction and was once several properties, now united as one. Before it was a medical centre, the building was a school and a garage as well as an antique dealer’s shop. It was sold for conversion to be returned to residential use in 2013.

It is a classic example of the design of the day with timber framing, lathe and plaster and leaded casement windows.

wokingham blue plaque trail tudor house

Image via Wikimedia.

5. The Old British School

Walking past Tudor House, down Milton Road, you will find the Baptist Church, opposite which is the town’s Auction Rooms. A popular place to pick up arts and antiques and some unusual bargains, the building was originally opened in 1841 as a school for 200 children. Funded by subscription as a means to offer education to the families in poverty, the school was run under a mentoring system; this meant that older pupils would instruct their juniors whilst one Master would preside.

With an open truss roof and window lights, the building was converted in the 1880s to a Sunday School for the Baptist Church when the state stepped in to provide a national programme of education provision. It was subsequently sold in the 1990s and is now a private auction room that has featured on plenty of daytime television shows including Antiques Road Trip and Bargain Hunt.

6. Montague House

Heading back up Milton Road and on to Broad Street, you will find the next Blue Plaque location directly beside the Broad Street Tavern.

Montague House was originally built in the 16th century with later additions from the 17th and rebuilt in the early 18th century. The building is named after two Henry Montagues. A father and son, Montague the younger inherited the property from his father and put the building to use as a school. It was used as such until 1802 when it became a residential building once more. However, it reverted to an educational institute in the 19520s when the school located at Tudor House took up temporary accommodation here. The building was then a library and a part of Bracknell and Wokingham College until the 1990s when a new library was built in Denmark Street.

The building was sold in 2004 and became a restaurant with a fabulous courtyard setting; the  garden walls can be seen from the Waitrose car park. It has since been redeveloped as one and two-bedroom holiday apartments.

7. The Electric Theatre

A few doors down from Montague House and along Broad Street towards the town centre, you will find the Nationwide Bank. The building was originally opened in 1913 and was Wokingham’s first public cinema. Known as ‘the flea pit’ but officially called The Electric Theatre, and subsequently The Savoy. It was closed in 1951 and was witness to a rapid change in cinemas during the age of silent films to sound and, latterly, black and white to colour.

Although the town had a newer cinema, The Ritz on Easthampstead Road, this also closed in the 1991 and was never replaced….until now. With the final phase of Wokingham’s Regeneration Project almost at an end, we are looking forward to the return of the ‘big screen’ to the town.

8. Wokingham Town Hall

Continuing along to the centre of town, the marketplace is the hub of Wokingham and centres around this 19th century civil building. The Town Hall is located on the site of the former 16th century timber framed guildhall that it replaced in 1860.

Initially, it served as both council offices and as a police station with cells and an exercise yard and even housed the town’s fire department at one point.

Now, it serves as retail accommodation for several independent shops as well as the Courtyard bistro bar.

It is a Grade II listed property and a fine example of Victorian architecture which can be viewed by the general public. The upstairs hall with an elegant cross beamed open roof can be hired privately and is a popular venue for civil weddings. There are also meeting rooms to hire and the town’s Information Centre is situated inside.

9. The Maiden School

If you head back down Broad Street and turn east down Rose Street then you will be able to admire the many historic properties that this road has. It is thought to have been the first planned development in the town and was originally called Le Rothe Street; denoting a ‘clear area’. It is one of Wokingham’s most important streets from an architectural point of view and though there are plenty of new developments, many of the homes and properties here date back from the 14th to 18th centuries.

However, it is number 31 Rose Street that has itself a Blue Plaque. Known as The Maiden School, this property was purchased by money gifted by a wealthy spinster to form a school. Twelve local girls of ‘honest parents’ would be raised and educated here in the faith of the Church of England. Taught to read, sew and spin, the ‘sisters’ would remain here until their 12th birthdays.

By 1842, the school was replaced with a new and larger building at No 21 Rose Street but the property remained a schoolhouse, as accommodation for the mistress and her assistants.

By 1875 and the reformation of National Schools, number 31 Rose Street was leased out to tenants as a private residence. The first tenant was a man called James Seaward, a chimney sweep, who lived in the property for 44 years. Seaward might be a name you recognise as he was the first working class man to be elected to the town’s council. He is also thought to have been the inspiration for Charles Kingsley’s ‘Tom’ from the classic book, ‘The Water Babies’.

10. St Crispin’s School

A short walk to the end of Rose Street and down London Road heading away from Town and you can find, what might be, a surprising holder of a Blue Plaque; the modern secondary comprehensive school, St Crispin’s.

Opened in 1953, the building is far from ‘historic’ by many people’s standards. However, the school was built as a prototype for post-war designs planned for economics and speed of erection. The concept for the school was to provide a space that offered the best possible learning and teaching environment. The designs were incredibly successful and St Crispin’s holds the honour of (according to a key publication) having had ‘more influence than any other school built since the war’.

Due to its historic and cultural importance, the school is Grade II listed. Since the 1950s, you’ll be pleased to know that the buildings have been extended with a new multi-million pound block added in 2012.

wokingham blue plaque trail st crispins

Image via Geograph.     

11. The Peach Street ‘Overhangs’

Heading back towards town and along the one-way system that is Peach Street, you can’t help but notice the next Blue Plaque building(s). Known as the ‘Overhangs’, this run of timber-framed properties date back to the 16th century.

The overhanging section of the buildings, known as a jetty, were common designs of this period whereby the first storey of a property could be extended beyond the ground floor perimeter.

12. Church House

Turing left off Peach Street down Easthampstead Road and straight down to the turning for Wescott Road you will find our next historic building.; Church House.

Designed by Morris and Son of Reading for the All Saints Parish this property is now a residential building but has served the community in many ways since it was built in 1901. Principally acting as a parish meeting place, it was an important auxiliary hospital for the Red Cross during the years 1915 to 1919.

13. Wescott Infant School

Carry on down Wescott Road and you will find Wescott Infant School; another Victorian building that formed part of the All Saints Parish.

Named for the first mayor of Wokingham, Thomas Manley Wescott, it opened in 1906 and is the oldest school in the district that is still in its original premises.

14. The Old Workhouse

Heading back into the town and walking down Peach Street to the Town Hall, bear right down Denmark Street and you can find the last of the plaques in the town centre. Now housing one of Wokingham’s independent shops, a jewellers called Kaanaanmaa, No 22 Denmark Street was originally a workhouse.

Dating back to the late 16th or early 17th century and known as Old Oakingham Whurkhouse, the building is timber framed and housed up to 22 inmates. There is a small window looking out to the passageway from which it is believed that the bodies of dead workers were lowered out of sight of the living.

The building ceased being a workhouse when a larger replacement was built on Barkham Road, now the Wokingham Hospital.

wokingham blue plaque trail workhouse denmark street kaanaanmaa

Image via Google Maps.

15. The Lucas Hospital/Alms House

To reach the final Blue Plaque, you’ll need to take a lengthy stroll down the Finchampstead Road out of town and down Luckley Road. At the end of this rural lane which turns into a private road leading to the famous Ludgrove School, you will find the private residence of the Lucas Hospital.

Completed in 1666, the hospital is named after an MP, Henry Lucas Esq. who bequeathed a sum of money in his will to establish an alms house for the poor men who lived in Windsor Forest.

It is Wokingham’s only Grade I listed property which was sold in 2001 by the Henry Lucas Charity for use as a private home.

The Wokingham Society

The information to put together this piece was compiled from the research put together by the Wokingham Society. A non-political, civic organisation whose focus is to protect the town’s heritage, the Wokingham Society is open for new members. You can find forms online via their website or you can collect a hard copy from either the Wokingham Library or the Town Hall Information Centre.

You can find full details of Wokingham’s Blue Plaque Trial via the Wokingham Society’s website which includes a trail map and a downloadable pdf leaflet with further information.

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