Windsor & Eton about 1860

Windsor and Eton are two well-known towns straddling the river Thames to the west of London. Now very popular with visitors from home and overseas, the two main attractions are world famous: Windsor Castle and Eton College. But this map reveals that the towns in 1860 had much more to show than these famous foundations, and it will be of interest to the historians of town growth and family history as well as those fascinated by royal history.

Windsor is a town dominated by its castle - the largest and longest-occupied royal castle in the world. The town of  Windsor originated not on its current site next to the castle, but at a place some three miles down the river, now called Old Windsor. It relocated to its current site in c.1110, some 40 years after  the castle was founded  by William the Conqueror. The strategic position of this castle, on a chalk outcrop overlooking the Thames, was important and as well as its military use, it also assumed a role as a place for royal assemblies.

A planned new town was set out next to its gates by around 1135, with streets, a market place and church – and this arrangement survives to the present day. Windsor Bridge built in c.1170 established the town as a commercial centre and shortly after this date its streets started to acquire names, many of which survive to the present day. By the late thirteenth century it had become a prosperous town, ranking above towns like Winchester in terms of wealth. But it stagnated and it was not until the mid nineteenth century that it began to grow again, aided by the coming of the railways and the adoption of the castle as a principal residence of Queen Victoria. 

The castle as we see it today owes much to the remodelling started in 1824, under the patronage of the Prince Regent  (later George IV) who appointed Jeffry Wyatville  to produce a faux-medieval castle, with grand interiors and vistas across the Great Park. The central tower was heightened and many of the walls and towers were made to look more 'medieval' than the real thing! Much of the money spent on the castle's improvement circulated within Windsor and once again it became a prosperous town.

At the time of the map, new streets were being built and new public buildings erected. The coming of the two, large, ceremonial railway stations (which still serve the town) necessitated the widening of its central streets, changing Windsor's appearance for the first time since the Middle Ages. The statue of Queen Victoria was added in 1887 to mark her golden jubilee, strategically positioned on the town's market place where once the medieval market cross had stood.


Windsor Castle in the reign of George III

Eton was a small farming community until about 1440 when Henry VI enlarged its parish church to create a college of priests to pray for his soul after death. This foundation included a small school, which in time — and especially after the Reformation — flourished and grew, to become the main reason this small Berkshire village is now known throughout the world. At the time of the map, Eton College had acquired properties across the town, and the High Street was dominated by its boarding houses.

A corner of Eton College

The Historical Map of Windsor and Eton about 1860 has been compiled by local author and historian Dr David Lewis who has spent many years researching the history of the two towns, their buildings and streets.  Author of the forthcomg British Historic Towns Atlas of Windsor and Eton, Dr Lewis has written an informed introduction to the two towns and their history, with short essays on Windsor Castle and Eton College, and a gazetteer of the towns' main buildings and sites.

The colour publication includes line-engraving illustrations from nineteenth-century books.  It will be of value to those interested in urban history, royal palaces and the those researching their families' histories in the mid nineteenth century.

Unfortunately, publication of the map has been discontinued by Old House Books and it is now regrettably out of print, although copies may still be available in bookshops in Windsor or Eton or second hand.  The Historic Towns Trust is considering republishing it under its own imprint, Town & City Historical Maps.

ISBN 9781908402226

Published by Old House Books