Secret Staines-upon-Thames and Laleham
- Jill Armitage
15th February 2024
Staines-upon-Thames and its neighbour Laleham are 19 miles west of central London, linked by road and river. Because of the stranded or braided character of the river here, when the Romans came in AD 43, they found a series of primitive wooden bridges crossing the flood plains of the Thames, Colne and Wraysbury rivers. They called it Ad Pontes – literally ‘at the bridges’. It became an important inland port/trading town due to its strategic position where the essential road route from London to the West Country crossed The Thames.
It retained its prominence through the centuries due to waterpower that drove mill machinery, grinding flour and mustard, fulling fabric, producing papier-maché, ale and linoleum which became a global success on an unheard-of scale for the time. As commerce replaced industry, Staines reinvented itself with a make-over on a gigantic scale, gaining the prestigious Town Centre Environment Award in 2003 for its ambitious shopping precincts, offices and homes.
Few vestiges of the past were preserved but Staines has retained its secrets in twenty-six monumental site-specific representations on an art trail along the Roman backbone of the town. Part of the social fabric of everyday life, each artwork discloses a fascinating tale. Continue your journey beside the Thames to Laleham, a quiet riverside village with immense charm, and you walk in the footsteps of former Laleham resident Thomas Arnold, the Headmaster of Rugby immortalised in Tom Brown’s School Days. His school in Laleham, the present Muncaster House, is just one of twenty-five listed buildings here, where a wander along its picturesque lanes is a walk through its intriguing history.