Historically, the larger part of the present-day Slough area was formerly in Buckinghamshire with a small part of the borough a part of Middlesex. Slough is home to the Slough Trading Estate, which, coupled with extensive transport links, makes it an important business centre in South East England. It is the largest industrial estate in single private ownership in Europe. The town straddles the A4 Bath Road (it becomes the Great West Road closer to London) and the Great Western Main Line railway, west of central London. At the 2001 census, the population of Slough was 119,070 (140,200 in 2011) and the borough area was the most ethnically diverse local authority area outside London in the United Kingdom. Slough has the highest proportion of religious adherents in England.
In 1974 county boundaries were changed and Slough became a borough within the county of Berkshire, England. In 1998 Berkshire organized its local government structure into unitary authorities, one of which was Slough Borough.
The first recorded uses of the name occurs as Slo in 1196, Sloo in 1336, and Le Slowe, Slowe or Slow in 1437. It first seems to have applied to a hamlet between Upton to the east and Chalvey to the west, roughly around the "Crown Crossroads" where the road to Windsor (now the A332) met the Great West Road. The Domesday Survey of 1086 refers to Upton, and a wood for 200 pigs, worth £15. During the 13th century, King Henry III had a palace at Cippenham. Parts of Upton Court were built in 1325, while St Mary the Virgin Church in Langley was probably built in the late 11th or early 12th century, though it has been rebuilt and enlarged several times.
From the mid-17th century, stagecoaches began to pass through Slough and Salt Hill, which became locations for the second stage to change horses on the journey out from London. By 1838 and the opening of the Great Western Railway, Upton-cum-Chalvey's parish population had reached 1,502. In 1849, a branch line was completed from Slough station to Windsor and Eton Central railway station, opposite Windsor Castle, for the Queen's convenience.
Slough has 96 listed buildings. There are
1918 saw a large area of agricultural land to the west of Slough developed as an army motor repair depot, used to store and repair huge numbers of motor vehicles coming back from the battlefields of the First World War in Flanders. In April 1920, the Government sold the site and its contents to the Slough Trading Co. Ltd. Repair of ex-army vehicles continued until 1925, when the Slough Trading Company Act was passed allowing the company (renamed Slough Estates Ltd) to establish an Industrial Estate. Spectacular growth and employment ensued, with Slough attracting workers from many parts of the UK and abroad.
During World War II, Slough experienced a series of air raids, mostly in October 1940 (the largest number of people, five, dying as a result of one on the 13th), and an emergency hospital treating casualties from London was set up in Slough. Local air raid deaths and deaths at the hospital account for the 23 civilian lives recorded lost in the borough area.
After the War, several further large housing developments arose to take large numbers of people migrating from war-damaged London.
In the 21st century, Slough has seen major redevelopment of the town centre. Old buildings are being replaced with new offices and shopping complexes. Tesco has replaced an existing superstore with a larger Tesco Extra. The Heart of Slough Project is a plan for the large-scale redevelopment of the town centre as a focus and cultural quarter for the creative media, information and communications industries. It will create a mixed-use complex, multi-functional buildings, visual landmarks and a public space in the Thames Valley. Recommendations for the £400 million project have been approved, and planning approval was given by Slough Borough Council's planning committee on 9 July 2009. Work began in 2010 for completion in 2018.
In December 2009, two key components of the project were signed: the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) signed its agreement to provide £11m of funding for infrastructure, and Thames Valley University (TVU) courses which are due to remain in the town have found a new home at The Centre in Farnham Road, Slough. In parallel to the town centre redevelopment plan, SEGRO (owner of the Slough Trading Estate) plans to spend £600 million over the next 20 years on the trading estate. This is intended to create environmentally sustainable buildings, open green spaces, two hotels, a conference centre, cafés, restaurants, and better transport facilities to improve links to Slough town centre and the surrounding residential areas. It is claimed that the plan will create more than 4,100 new jobs and contribute around £100m a year to Slough's economy. If both plans go ahead in their current forms, nearly £1 billion will be spent on redeveloping Slough over the next 20 years.
Herschel Park (known as Upton Park until 1949) is currently being relandscaped in a multi-million pound effort to bring it back to its former Victorian era glory. The park was featured in an episode of the documentary programme Who Do You Think You Are? focusing on the TV presenter Davina McCall.
£2 million has been set aside to improve disabled access to Slough railway station in preparation for an expected increase in use during the 2012 London Olympics. Final preparations are under way for the regeneration of the Britwell suburb of Slough. The multi-million pound upgrade will involve tearing down a dilapidated block of flats in Wentworth Avenue and replacing them with new homes, as well as relocating the shopping parade in the street to nearby Kennedy Park. As part of the Heart of Slough project, construction work on a new bus station began in March 2010 following weeks of demolition work to half of the existing bus station and the removal of Compair House near the railway station; it is expected to be completed by January 2011.
Redevelopment on this scale has been strongly criticised by conservation groups. The Twentieth Century Society has stated that "[A] tragically high quantity of good buildings have been demolished in Slough in recent years, including grand Art-Deco-styled factories by the likes of Wallis Gilbert and high-quality post-war offices. More are to come down as the town tries to erase its past and reinvent itself from scratch. Despite famously heckling Slough, John Betjeman's praise for the Town Hall's architecture as 'a striving for unity out of chaos' in 1948 has never been so relevant as today. C20 believes that the redevelopment of the Town Hall would be an act of vandalism to the civic centre and is supporting the Campaign to Save Slough's Heritage in their request for a review of the decision."
The Town Hall has since been torn down and replaced by a multi-storey apartment block.