Slough’s surprising past

Slough’s surprising past

The historic development of Slough has been unveiled in a new collection at the Berkshire Record Office, revealing a fascinating picture of the architectural, social and economic history of the much maligned town.

Slough bus station is now an iconic image thanks to comedy hit The Office, but for all the wrong reasons. It stereotypes the town as a dreary industrial quagmire with a grey trading estate nearby and a raft of roundabouts.

But a collection of plans for Slough has now been unveiled at the Berkshire Record Office, showing the town once had an elegant architectural flourish.

For one there is a plan for a hotel in 1899 on the site of an old ‘beer house’.

“This is in fact The Grapes public house which was in the centre of Slough on the corner of the High Street and Windsor Road,” says archivist Ellie Thorne.

The proposal was to use brick with stone dressings and other plans by architect James H Deacon of Marlow.

The collection also has a plan for the same hotel in 1934, which proposes a loft conversion into changing rooms, Sloughrooms and toilets for Slough Rugby Football Club.

A letter from the architect Percy J Rowe reveals the directors were anxious to begin building work as soon as possible, as the playing season had already started.

There was also a planned skating rink for Slough.

“This was a roller-skating rink which was proposed to be built in 1909,” says Ellie, “though I can’t find any evidence that it was actually built.

“1909 seems to have been a very popular time for skating rinks with lots of them built all over the country.”

There are nine separate applications for the Palace Cinema in Slough’s High Street from 1919 to 1946.

The original building was designed by the company of famous theatre architect Frank Matcham and the plans shows detailed coloured plans of the stalls, balconies and picture screen.

The building was sadly demolished in 1958.

The plans also include private residence plans, including a design for stables in Chalvey Road by an E O Secker. The diagram from 1880 shows that a billiards room was planned above the stables along with living quarters.

Senior archivist Mark Stevens says: “There’s national interest in places like Slough, these days people think of Slough as somewhere that’s hideous, well it wasn’t. And here you can see in front of you that it wasn’t.

“There’s some lovely buildings that were part of the town’s history and what we’re trying to do is celebrate that.”

The collection, which features more than 7000 building control plans, also shows the development of Slough from a small town to an industrial and commercial centre.

The public can view plans for factories on the Slough Trading Estate.

The estate was regarded as particularly under threat due to the number of factories which were involved in the war effort.

So from 1939 the whole area was surrounded by a smokescreen to protect it from enemy action.

The plans show the applications for alterations to factories to equip them for war work, including several large private air-raid shelters provided by employers for their staff and large numbers of toilets for the new contingents of female workers.

A separate series of plans for signs from the 1920s to 1940s show how Slough was becoming more commercial with the road quickly becoming overrun by illuminated signs for shops, advertising hoardings and large decorative clocks.

So much so that complaints were received because it was becoming impossible to see the road signs.

So from the opulent designs of pre-wartime Slough, we turn to the urban sprawl Slough is infamous for today.

“I think you can see in the plans that it’s harder for them to make nicer buildings towards the end of the period,” says Ellie.

“We got up to 1948 and definitely after the war Slough suffered a lot – not through bombing but through lack of materials after the war.

“So a lot of ‘less nice’ buildings were built at that time.”

The collection is available now for public viewing at the Berkshire Record Office, Coley Avenue in Reading.

By Linda Serck, Courtesy BBC