Bracknell is a town and civil parish in the Borough of Bracknell Forest in Berkshire, England. It lies to the southeast of Reading, southwest of Windsor and west of central London. The town has a population of 52,696.
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.
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.
The town centre is a 1960s design, and considered by many to be in need of a major refurbishment. The Borough Council is working in partnership with the Bracknell Regeneration Partnership (Legal & General and Schroders) to regenerate the town centre with new shops and facilities.
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.
Bracknell was made a civil parish in its own right in 1955. Under the Local Government Act 1972, the entire Easthampstead Rural District became the Bracknell District on 1 April 1974. In 1988, it was granted borough status, and it changed its name to Bracknell Forest. When Berkshire County Council was abolished on 1 April 1998 (and the non-metropolitan county was reclassified as a ceremonial county), Bracknell Forest became one of the six unitary authorities which together make up Berkshire.
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.
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.
The town was successful in attracting high-tech industries, and has become home to companies such as Panasonic, Fujitsu (formerly ICL), Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Brocade Communications Systems, Siemens (originally Nixdorf), Riverbed, Honeywell, Cable and Wireless, Intercall, Broadcom, Avnet Technology Solutions, Novell and WorkForce Software. Its success subsequently spread into the surrounding Thames Valley or M4 corridor, attracting IT firms such as Cable and Wireless, DEC (subsequently Hewlett-Packard), Microsoft, Sharp Telecommunications, Sun Microsystems and Cognos.
The Southern Industrial Area houses the head office of Waitrose. The site which houses the Waitrose head office also houses the central distribution centre. Waitrose has operated from the town since the 1970s. The town is also home to the UK headquarters of BMW Group.
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.
Online Historical References
Nineteenth Century Local Administration
English Jurisdictions is a webpage provided by FamilySearch which analyses every ecclesiastical parish in England at the year 1851. It provides, with the aid of outline maps, the date at which parish records and bishops transcripts begin, non-conformist denominations with a chapel within the parish, the names of the jurisdictions in charge: county, civil registration district, probate court, diocese, rural deanery, poor law union, hundred, church province; and links to FamilySearch historical records, FamilySearch Catalog and the FamilySearch Wiki. Two limitations: only England, and at the year 1851.
During the 19th century two bodies, the Poor Law Union and the Sanitary District, had responsibility for governmental functions at a level immediately above that covered by the civil parish. In 1894 these were replace by Rural and Urban Districts. These were elected bodies, responsible for setting local property assessments and taxes as well as for carrying out their specified duties. Thses districts continued in operation until 1974. Urban districts for larger municipalities were called "Municipal Boroughs" and had additional powers and obligations.
Poor Law Unions, established nationally in 1834, combined parishes together for the purpose of providing relief for the needy who had no family support. This led to the building of '"union poorhouses" or "workhouses" funded by all the parishes in the union. The geographical boundaries established for the individual Poor Law Unions were employed again when Registration Districts were formed three years later. In 1875 Sanitary Districts were formed to provide services such as clean water supply, sewage systems, street cleaning, and the clearance of slum housing. These also tended to follow the same geographical boundaries, although there were local alterations caused by changes in population distribution.