The history of the waterways around Maidenhead and the middle Thames is
rich and varied. The flood plain between Cookham and Windsor has the remains of many old
waterways, serving over time as boundaries, drainage channels, mill leats and in parts for
The evidence of past navigation is incomplete and the subject of much debate by local historians. What is clear, is that the waterways that still run through Maidenhead town centre were in the past much larger than today, as the scale of the older structures over the channels demonstrates.
The 1899 OS map shows Chapel Arches having water in four arches, above a large lake at Ives Place where the library stands today, whilst Brunel constructed two separate sets of substantial tunnels (eight in all) to safely carry the water under his GWR railway in circa 1838.
Ives Place in a painting circa 1823 by William Pocock (1783-1836), showing the York Stream area from York Road looking up towards Chapel Arches. Print courtesy of Maidenhead Heritage Centre.
MW is primarily concerned with the waterway that once ran from Cookham through central Maidenhead to Bray. Prior to the introduction of pound locks the old waterway - running to the side of the main River Thames - is said to have been used by boats to overcome the 7-8 feet difference in height between the water level at Bray and that of Bourne End Reach.
The waterway and its associated flash lock system, is believed to have been used for commercial navigation for 100s of years and in Regency times was known as The Canal.
Parts of the waterway are thought to have been in active use up to at least the 1920s, witness statements recalling having seen reeds being cut for thatching and also timber being unloaded from a barge at Willow Wharf in the Moor Cut channel on Town Moor. Kelly's Directory for Berkshire 1939 lists a builders merchants "Grace C.W.&Co operating from Willow Wharf in Bridge Street".