Bracknell is a town and civil parish in the Borough of Bracknell Forest in Berkshire, England. It lies 11 miles (18 km) to the southeast of Reading, 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Windsor and 30 miles (48 km) west of central London. The town is surrounded, on the east and south, by the vast expanse of Swinley Woods and Crowthorne Woods. The urban area has absorbed parts of many local outlying areas including Warfield, Winkfield and Binfield, and is itself, along with Binfield, a component of the Greater London Urban Area as defined by the ONS.
The name Bracknell is first recorded in a Winkfield Boundary Charter of AD 942 as Braccan heal, and may mean “Nook of land belonging to a man called Bracca”, from the Old English Braccan (genitive singular of a personal name) + heal, healh (a corner, nook or secret place). An early form of the town’s name, Brakenhale, still survives as the name of one of its schools. The town covers all of the old village of Easthampstead (though not all of the old parish) and the hamlet of Ramslade. Easthampstead has a very long history.
There is a Bronze Age round barrow at Bill Hill. Easthampstead Park was a favoured royal hunting lodge in Windsor Forest and Catherine of Aragon was banished there until her divorce was finalised. was an English It was later the home of the Trumbulls who were patrons of Alexander Pope from Binfield.
To the north-east of the town is to be found the Quelm Stone, a standing stone, and to the south-west, just over the border in Crowthorne, is Caesar’s Camp, an Iron Age hill fort.
One of the oldest buildings in the town is the ‘Old Manor’ public house, a 17th-century brick manor house featuring a number of priest holes. Next door once stood the ‘Hind’s Head’ coaching inn, where it is said Dick Turpin used to drink. It is believed that there were once underground tunnels between the two, along which the famous highwayman could escape from the authorities. Other surviving old pubs are the Red Lion and the Bull, all timber-framed and dating from before the 18th century.
Oscar Wilde is said to have visited South Hill Park but this has never been verified. It is believed he wrote his short story; the Selfish Giant, whilst in the gardens. Furthermore he named a character Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.
The oldest place of worship in the town is the parish church of St Michael and St Mary Magdalene in Easthampstead. There has been a church there since Saxon times, although the present building dates from the mid 19th century, except for the lower portions of the Tudor tower. Holy Trinity Church near the town centre was built in 1851.
Bracknell was designated a new town in 1949, in the aftermath of the Second World War. The site was originally a village cum small town in the civil parish of Warfield in the Easthampstead Rural District. Very little of the original Bracknell is left. The location was preferred to White Waltham, which was also considered, because the Bracknell site avoided encroaching on good quality agricultural land. It also had the additional advantage of being on a railway line.
The new town was planned for 25,000 people; it was intended to occupy over 1,000 hectares (about 6 square miles) of land in and around ‘Old Bracknell’ in the area now occupied by Priestwood, Easthampstead, Bullbrook and Harmans Water. The existing town centre and industrial areas were to be retained with new industry brought in to provide jobs. However, the town has since expanded far beyond its intended size into farmland to the south, and major expansion is now, as of 2008, under way (Jennett’s Park) to the west of the town at Peacock Farm and The Parks on the site of the former RAF Staff College.
At the heart of most Bracknell neighbourhoods is a church, a small parade of shops, a primary school, a community centre and a pub. There is a coffee shop run by a church in Crown Wood School (part of Easthampstead Baptist Church). The neighbourhoods varied in population from 3,000 to 9,000. The plans included pedestrianisation, the construction of a ring road, and segregation of industrial areas from residential areas.
A slightly confusing feature of some of the estates is that streets only have names, not titles – in Birch Hill, Crown Wood, Great Hollands and others there is no ‘Road’, ‘Avenue’, ‘Street’, just ‘Frobisher’, ‘Jameston’, ‘Juniper’, ‘Jevington’. The residential streets are, however, named in alphabetical order in Great Hollands and Wildridings, with As, through Ds, such as Donnybrook, in Hanworth, Js, such as ‘Jameston’, ‘Juniper’ and ‘Jevington’ in Birch Hill.
Because of Bracknell’s age, it was decided that it should undergo renovation. Designs and plans were submitted and rejected first time round. The council went for a second attempt and were accepted, work was due to commence early in 2008 but due to the global credit crises plans have been postponed. The cost is estimated at around £750 million. It is hoped that the regeneration will provide brand new services, a completely redeveloped town centre, 1,000 new homes and new police and bus stations. A major refurbishment of the town centre is taking place with The Borough Council working in partnership with the Bracknell Regeneration Limited Partnership a registered company in Jersey, Channel Islands (Legal & General and Schroders) to regenerate the town centre with new shops and facilities.
The first stage of the redevelopment began with the opening of a new Waitrose store in December 2011. By June 2013 shops in the northern part of the town in Broadway and Crossway had been vacated. Demolition of this area then began in September 2013, and was completed in December 2013. Construction of new shops, restaurants, and a Cineworld cinema began in April 2015, with a completion date of Spring 2017. The Southern Industrial Area houses the head office of Waitrose. The 70-acre (280,000 m2) site which houses the Waitrose head office also houses the central distribution centre. Waitrose has operated from the town since the 1970s.
Manufacturing industry has largely disappeared since the 1980s. Former significant sites included Clifford’s Dairy in Downshire Way and British Aerospace (originally Sperry Gyroscope) now occupied by Arlington Square, a 22-acre (8ha) business park of which the first stage was completed in 1995. The Thomas Lawrence brickworks on the north side of the town was famous for ‘red rubber’ bricks to be found in the Royal Albert Hall and Westminster Cathedral, and in restoration work at 10 Downing Street and Hampton Court Palace.
In the town centre is the 12-storey Winchester House, formerly owned by 3M who moved to new premises in Farley Wood on the town’s northern edge in 2004. The building is currently proposed for demolition and replacement with blocks of flats. The town was also the home of Racal and Ferranti Computer Systems Ltd. The Met Office maintained a large presence in the town until 2003, when it relocated to Exeter in Devon; however, the junction of the A329 and A3095 is still named the “Met Office Roundabout”. Many businesses are located on the town’s three industrial areas.
Easthampstead Park in the southern suburb of Easthampstead is now a conference centre owned by Bracknell Forest Borough Council.
The town covers areas previously in the parishes of Easthampstead, Warfield, Binfield and Winkfield. The town’s centre lies just north of the railway station with completely pedestrianised and much undercover shopping around Princess Square, Charles Square and the Broadway. There are ‘out-of-town’ shops, a multiscreen cinema and ten pin bowling complex at the Peel Centre. Just to the west are the Western and Southern industrial estates, either side of the railway line. There are many residential suburbs (see settlement table below) of varying dates, the oldest being Priestwood and, of course, Easthampstead village.
The former RAF Staff College buildings in Harmans Water, now closed, was part of the Joint Services Command and Staff College. This site is now, as of 2008, being redeveloped for housing by Wimpey, with an estimated 730 houses on the college’s former site. The south-western corner of the town remains rural around Easthampstead Park and the wooded Yew Tree Corner. However, a new housing development called Jennett’s Park is currently being built (from 2007) at Peacock Farm and on part of what was historically the grounds of Easthampstead Park. A considerable green area has been lost to houses. However, as of 2010, a new country park adjacent to the development is currently being created. There are large ponds at Farley Wood and the Easthampstead Mill Pond between Great Hollands and Wildridings, and two lakes at South Hill Park. The Bull Brook emerges above ground just within the bounds of the suburb of Bullbrook.
In the south of the town is South Hill Park, a mansion dating from 1760, although much rebuilt, that now houses a large arts centre. The Wilde Theatre was opened in 1984, named after Oscar Wilde who created the character ‘Lady Bracknell’ in his play The Importance of Being Earnest. South Hill Park has been home to a number of major music festivals over the years.
Bracknell has been used in the filming of many TV shows and films, such as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Martins Heron) and Time Bandits (Birch Hill).Bracknell is given the name ‘Laxton’ in the TV detective series Pie in the Sky and Waterside Park was used for the exterior of the police HQ in the same series. Bracknell has also featured in the 1991 Roger Daltrey film Buddy’s Song. The Offence (1972), a psychological thriller with Sean Connery and Ian Bannen, was filmed in Bracknell. There are scenes in the town centre, on Broadway, Charles Square and Market Street. The flat for Connery’s character was filmed at the listed Point Royal, and the bulk of the outdoor scenes were taken around Wild Ridings, specifically Arncliffe, Crossfell, Mill Pond and Mill Lane.
Bracknell is featured in the PlayStation 3 title Resistance: Fall of Man set in 1951, as the location at which power conduits travel deep underground South East England to power the Chimeran fortresses. It also featured in the sequel Resistance:2 with a similar role.