History of Bracknell



The first known residents of Bracknell were the Beaker People (2300-1000BC) who built a round barrow just south of the present residential area. At Wooden Hill and Bill Hill there is also evidence of bowl barrows. Nearby is Caesar’s Camp, an Iron Age hill fort built about 800BC. It is unusual in that it has a curious oak leaf outline, the ramparts taking advantage of the existing uneven terrain. By the end of the Iron Age the area was occupied by the Atrebates, a people originating from Gaul.


During the Roman occupation of Britain a military road was built from Staines to Silchester (Calleva) passing close to Bracknell, today it is known as the Devil’s Highway. At Wickham Bushes a small industrial town grew up around a possible staging post on the route. There is evidence of a Roman villa and coins, pottery and tiles have been found on the site.


With the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain the area reverted to scrub and forest until a group of Saxon invaders decided to settle here, probably to the north of today’s Bracknell, where the land is more fertile. Bracknell is first mentioned in a Saxon charter dated 923AD and in 942AD a Saxon royal charter describes Bracken Heal as being one of Winkfield’s boundaries. The derivation of the name is uncertain, it is likely a projecting angle or corner of land (Heal) covered with bracken. It is known Binfield, Warfield and Easthampstead had chapels or open air crosses at this time, and Old Bracknell sprang up where these three parishes converged. Prior to 1066 the whole area was made up of various manors, some belonging to the crown and others the church. Following the Norman invasion there was little change. The Domesday book lists separately Lachenstede (Easthampstead) and Warfelt (Warfield), both of which were in the hundred of Ripplesmere. Beynhurst (Binfield) in the manor of Cookham, gets a mention as “the other half is in the Windsor Forest” this refers to both Binfield and Sunninghill.


Windsor Forest covered the whole area, extending west beyond the castle being built at New Windsor. Royalty enjoyed the chase and a hunting lodge was built at Easthampstead in Plantagenet times. It was nearby that the Tudor princes Arthur and Henry welcomed Catherine of Aragon to England and it was Easthampstead Park where she spent some time after her divorce from Henry VIII. Charles II ended the royal connection by giving the park to William Turnbull.


Towards the end of this period Bracknell Street was beginning to take shape as can be seen by the few remaining buildings from that era, The Bull, The Red Lion, The Old Manor and Wynscar. Also in outlying areas there are many ancient farms and cottages proving that the population in this part of Berkshire was on the increase. Windsor Forest was still a dangerous place and Bagshot Heath was the haunt of highwaymen. In 1759 the Windsor Turnpike Act was passed and the road from Wokingham was extended across Priestwood Common and through Bracknell and in 1770 another road passed through Warfield and Binfield. Coaches now stopped at Bracknell on their way to the west. This ended Bracknell’s isolation. In 1813 the Windsor Forest enclosure act was passed, the crown surrendering forest rights.



From the 17th century until 1888, Bracknell had three annual fairs 25th April, 22nd August and 1st October; this last was also a hiring fair, where anyone from cooks to farm labourers announced their skills for hire. These fairs were famous for their bull baiting and cock fighting (banned in 1835). This could be the origin of naming of the Bull Inn and Lane. Alternatively, it could be associated with the cattle drives that passed through Warfield, the drovers stopping over at the Horse Shoes (later the Four Horse Shoes Inn) on their way to Smithfield.


The environs of Bracknell were thought to be very healthy and this is why by the end of the 18th century the area had started to become a popular residential district among the gentry. In addition to Easthampstead Park, several mansions were built, South Hill Park, Warfield House and Warfield Park. Among the many famous personages associated with Bracknell were Alexander Pope and the Pitt family at Binfield, Oscar Wilde who stayed on the Downshire estate and Shelley who briefly lived in Reeds Hill cottage at Easthampstead. As can be seen Bracknell was growing and needed a church of its own. Holy Trinity was built by public subscription and consecrated in 1851.


In 1856 this bucolic life was about to change with the coming of the railway. Thomas Lawrence would make an impact on the town with his brick making, exploiting the one valuable local resource, clay. TLB bricks became world famous, with an annual output of 12 million bricks. He also owned a large Emporium in the High Street, so Bracknell became virtually a company town. In 1870 a cattle and poultry market was established at the top of the High Street behind the Hinds Head (later to be pulled down to make way for Bracknell College of Further Education). Easthampstead Rural District Council was created in 1859 covering the same area as the old Union Workhouse.


Ranelagh School was relocated in Bracknell in 1905. Soon after this the World War broke out through this does not seem to have made much mark on the town. The short lived Peace saw some expansion of houses and shops, and the motor car was beginning to appear on the roads. Twenty years later the country was at war again. Closely following the call up of troops was the arrival of evacuees from London. A stick of bombs fell on Warfield. The US army had a camp at Binfield and they also commandeered the house at Warfield Park. The local forest was used to hide munitions dumps. Several important refugees from overseas stayed locally including the Dutch royal family.


In 1947 the government passed the New Towns Act and Bracknell was chosen as one of the eight new towns for the London overspill. Bracknell Development Corporation was set up. By 1950 the first houses had been built at Priestwood, followed later with estates at Easthampstead and Bullbrook. The population target was raised from 25000 to 40000 and the New Town area was raised from 757 hectares to 1336 hectares in 1961. It has since considerably increased. Meanwhile new industries were replacing the declining brickmaking. Big companies like Sperry Gyroscope, Honeywell and later 3M settled here and the Meteorological Office arrived really putting Bracknell on the map.


Bracknell Sports Centre was built on the Bagshot Road, eventually providing facilities for most sports, followed later by the John Nike Centre which catered for ice skaters and has a dry ski slope. The mansion in South Hill Park was opened as a centre for arts in 1973. The next year saw local government reorganisation establishing Bracknell District Council as the local authority for the area replacing Easthampstead Rural District Council. Bracknell Parish Council was re-designated Bracknell Town Council. 1974 also saw Bracknell twinned with Opladen in Germany and a declaration of friendship signed. As time went on more neighbourhood estates were built to the south of the town.


In 1982 the Bracknell Development Corporation was wound up and a year later the final transfer of assets to the Bracknell District Council took place and Bracknell ceased to be a New Town. The district gained borough status in 1988 and was renamed Bracknell Forest Borough. The Borough continued to develop. New leisure facilities are provided, the Look Out Heritage Centre, a leisure pool called the Coral Reef and two shopping centres at the Peel Centre and the Meadows. In 1992 the borough council adopts the North Bracknell Local Plan. Land is earmarked for a northerly expansion. Extensive building takes place and the Northern Distributor Road from Chavey Down to Priestwood is built following the line of the ancient Harvest Ride. Despite the early construction of Charles Square and Princess Square the town centre badly needed refurbishing. In 1997 the council received two planning applications for its redevelopment. Berkshire County Council is wound up and Bracknell Forest Borough Council becomes a Unitary Authority (1988).

2014, plans to completely refurbish and rebuild town centre begin. Most of the old shopping areas are demolished to be rebuilt and opened by 2017. To view developments, click here…..




Between 200 BC and 40 AD: ‘Caesar’s Camp hillfort built by the Celts.


10th Century: ‘Braccen Heal’ first mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon Charter


1463 Old Bracknell mentioned in a Goring charter.
1607 Norden’s map of Windsor Forest shows Old Bracknell and New Bracknell as separate places.
1759 Windsor Forest Turnpike Act passed, leading to improvement in communications to Bracknell by road.
1760 The original South Hill Park mansion built and thirty acres of common land enclosed for its park.
1813 Windsor Forest Enclosure Act passed; the Crown surrendered forest rights. Bracknell had been in the Forest for more than 700 years.
1845 Queen Victoria paused at the Red Lion inn, Bracknell High Street on her way to visit the Duke of Wellington at Stratfieldsaye.
1847 Bracknell: a small village on the main road to the West of England, a long narrow street occupied principally by small shopkeepers. (Kelly’s Directory)
1851 Bracknell population about 650.
1851 Holy Trinity Church begun a new ecclesiastical parish formed round it.
1856 The railway came to Bracknell.
1864 Easthampstead Park mansion built on the ancient estate of Easthampstead Park by the 4th Marquis of Downshire.
1870 A cattle and poultry market established.
1900 The local brick making industry was flourishing. Thomas Lawrence’s brickworks had reached an annual output of 12 million bricks.
1908 The co-educational grammar school Ranelagh moved to Bracknell.
1948 The local brick making industry was in decline.
1948 Draft Designation Order for the New Town of Bracknell.
1949 Bracknell Development Corporation set up to lay out and develop Bracknell New Town on 1870 acres (757 hectares) for a population of 25,000.
1951 Population of Bracknell now 5000.
1951 Priestwood neighbourhood: first new houses occupied.

1953: Queensway laid out to mark the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

1954: Ten shops opened in Priestwood Square.

1957 First 19 new shops in the Town Centre.
1954 Easthampstead neighbourhood: layout approved.

1957: first 178 houses finished. 1958: first ten shops.

1964: Point Royal completed, 102 flats in 17 storeys.

1957 Bullbrook neighbourhood: building commenced.

1958: first 72 new houses completed.

1959: Community Centre opened, the first in Bracknell.

1961 New Town population target raised to 40,000 with growth to 54,000.
1961/2 Area of the New Town increased to 3300 acres (1336 hectares).
1961 Harmans Water neighbourhood: first new houses completed.
1967 Wildridings neighbourhood: first residents move in.

1969: first 14 shops completed.

1967 Great Hollands neighbourhood: first houses ready. 1971: 16 shops opened.




1971 Hanworth neighbourhood: development commenced.
1972 New Town population reached 38,000.
1973 South Hill Park Arts Centre opened.
1973 Bracknell twinned with Opladen, Germany.

1974: declaration of friendship signed.

1974 Birch Hill neighbourhood: development commenced. 1976: first occupants.
1974 Bracknell Parish Council re-designated Bracknell Town Council.
1976 Bracknell’s first Health Centre opened at Great Hollands.
1978 Crown Wood neighbourhood: first occupants.
1978 The Development Corporation transferred about 10,000 new houses to Bracknell District Council.
1981 New Town population now 48,750.
1982 Development Corporation dissolved, and transfer of its houses to the District Council completed.   In all the Corporation built 13,117 houses.
1983 Forest Park neighbourhood: house building commenced.

Princess Square shopping centre opened.

1984 Parish of Easthampstead north of the Nine Mile Ride (including Easthampstead Park) absorbed into the Parish of Bracknell.
1986 Population of Bracknell District 90,670 of which 51,070 live in the New Town.
1988 Bracknell District Council re-designated Bracknell Forest Borough Council.
1990 Borough population about 97,200, about 57,000 of them in the New Town. 37,000 dwellings in the Borough, about half of them in the New Town.
1991 The Look Out, Bracknell’s heritage centre opened.