Bracknell’s Art: Happy Birthday Sandra Maudsley!

Happy Birthday Sandra Maudsley!
Today is my mother’s birthday – I won’t tell you her age because she might kill me, but I can tell you she has lived (and continues to live) a life worthy of your envy. Moreover, she was, for a time until very recently, part of Bracknell Town Centre’s rich gallery of artwork.

You may remember the frescoes that once lit up the pedestrian tunnel beneath (what was once) Bond Way. With the 3M Building being demolished to make way for Comer Homes’ new – actually, what even are they building? Is it some kind of luxury sports condo? Was the brief “do exactly the opposite of what Bracknell has everywhere else – no concrete, lots of glass, maybe some green stuff on top?” – anyway.

The art disappeared along with the 3M Building. Sadly, my mother’s portrait was one of the first bits to go. But I was able to immortalise it through the power of photo – so hands up if you’ve ever wondered who this is?:

Sandra-Maudsley-Bracknell-Portrait

So why was my mother painted on a wall in Bracknell?

As we know, Bracknell is a town built on industry. Some of the UK’s biggest companies have their headquarters here – Waitrose, 3M, Fujitsu and Daler-Rowney, to name a few. And it’s the latter of these that my mother was once head of Public Relations for.

Through this job Sandra helped the world discover Daler-Rowney’s products – included paint, pencils, stock and other art supplies – on TV, through campaigns and by collaborating with artists such as Art Attack legend Neil Buchanan.

That meant working with a lot of local artists too. So when John Lloyd, Technical Manager for Daler-Rowney, finished development of a graffiti-resistant acrylic paint, there was no better way to promote it than to commission local painters to jazz up Bracknell’s otherwise-uninspiring town centre. And Sandra – who had up to that point been completely behind the scenes – was given her big break as the model for one of the most prominent pieces, opposite the doors of Bracknell Market.

(There were of course many more murals – most of which I’ve managed to capture. I’ll get these up as soon as possible, but this is where I have to post a quick apology – I know I’ve been very slow updating Bracknell Blogger recently. I’ll try and make more of an effort to get the old pace back!)

I won’t drag on – of course I have loads of stories I could tell you about my mum, but I think I’d just end up embarrassing the poor old thing. But, I hope everyone takes the opportunity to wish Sandra Maudsley a very Happy Birthday – and that you’ll remember her from now on as a piece of Bracknell’s history😉

Fujitsu Building: My Favourite Bracknell Buildings

The Fujitsu building in Bracknell’s Southern Industrial Area doesn’t exactly scream innovation.

I’ve talked before about Bracknell being a town of four-walled concrete buildings. Brutalist pedigree lies behind almost all of Bracknell’s most recognisable buildings, and has drawn a lot of criticism. It’s probably why the regeneration – whether you think it’s a good or bad thing – is happening.

But no four-walled concrete piece of architecture stands out against Bracknell’s skyline quite as much as the Fujitsu building. No other building casts such a tremendous shadow other Jennett’s Park, and no other building represents Bracknell’s administrative industrial heritage with so much authority.

The Fujitsu Building may not seem particularly interesting to most – but then it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s just a big, big building – and that, to me, is what makes it special.

I’m looking forward to the return of summer, as it means I won’t have to keep capturing these buildings in the twilight. But until then, enjoy the late February sunset creeping over Bracknell’s Fujitsu building.

Fujitsu-Building-Bracknell-Berkshire-Logo

Fujitsu-Building-Bracknell-Berkshire-Distance

Fujitsu-Building-Bracknell-Front-Door

Fujitsu-Building-Bracknell-Wide

Fujitsu-Sign-Bracknell-Berkshire

I’m looking for more information about the Fujitsu building – its architects, its history, its purpose, even just an impression of what it’s like inside. If you have any information, please get in contact via hello@bracknellblogger.co.uk.Fujitsu-Building-Bracknell-Berkshire-Car-Park

Edit: Thanks so much to Andrew Radgick, history officer for the Bracknell Forest Society, for contributing the following information:

It was built in 1968 and occupied by ICL, Britain’s premier computer company. ICL was an amalgamation of several smaller computer companies and set up to compete with the American giants such as IBM. The large ‘extension’ at the back was the original computer hall, and was the second largest in Europe. Such was the size of computers back in the mid 1970s that it held just three!

The ground floor of the main building housed offices and services such as security, a bar, coffee bar, the canteen (the large glass box extension adjacent to Peacock Lane), and a room full of women who would punch the cards that were used to load programs and data into the computers. There were more offices on the 1st floor, also on the 10th (top) floor which held senior management and the Personnel Department. All the other floors were open plan (with maybe one of two offices for the lead manager or meeting rooms), plus a ‘terminal room’ with teletypes allowing remote access to the computers in the main hall.

ICL went through a few takeovers, first being taken over by Northern Telecom (a Canadian company if I remember correctly), then STC (Standard Telephones and Cables), and finally Fujitsu. A final twist was that Fujitsu later took over Northern Telecom as well.

The land on which Jennetts Park now stands was green belt land, and the ICL building was right on the boundary of it. An early description of the building that sticks in my mind: “Nestling in the Berkshire countryside like a sore thumb.” The building also generates its own weird weather experiences as winds swirling around it can cause it to snow upwards.

Thanks Andrew!

3M Building (Winchester House) Demolition: Another Bracknell Landmark Disappears

Bracknell’s landscape is in a state of metamorphosis – and soon it will lose the feature that has defined its panorama for almost fifty years.

Winchester House (or as the locals have always, and will always remember it, the “3M Building”) is being demolished. Demolition works began on December 1st 2014 and will continue for around eight weeks.

I stopped by last week to capture some of its last moments (at the same time giving a début to my new 50mm lens). Seeing the building without an eighth of its original size made me feel more than a tinge of sadness. In a clichéd kind of way, it felt like a part of my childhood was being ripped down along with that stairwell. And without the shadow of the 3M logo peering over Bracknell I began to fear for the sake of the town’s industrial heritage.

Whether you knew the 3M Building as “Bracknell’s biggest eyesore” or as Bracknell Town Centre’s most iconic building, one thing is certain – Bracknell has lost its motif. The black, white and yellow of Winchester House will be a hard trademark to replace.

3M-Building-Winchester-House-Demotition

Winchester-House-Demolition-Scaffolding

Join me again soon when I will be writing a short piece on the history of Winchester House.

3M-Building-Winchester-House-Demolition-Stairwell

Point Royal: My Favourite Bracknell Buildings

Bracknell is not particularly renowned for having distinctive architecture.

As the New Town was built in a hurry, most of the town’s buildings were designed according to very simple blueprints. Big, grey and quadrilateral seemed to be the only stipulations in place at the time, in turn leading to the construction of such edifices as Easthampstead House and the former Bracknell & Wokingham College.

This is what makes Point Royal so special – it is Bracknell’s foil. In a town of four-walled, six-to-eight-floored concrete buildings, Point Royal dared to be a six-walled, 18-floored concrete building. You will know the “threepenny bit” tower if you have ever driven through Easthampstead, as the somewhat space-age looking building sat neatly in the middle of nowhere.

The 50ft structure is Bracknell’s tallest residential building. It contains 102 one and two-bedroom flats over 18 residential floors. It will survive the regeneration; but whether or not it will remain Bracknell’s tallest building is yet to be determined.

As the sun began to set on the summer of 2014, I was fortunate enough to capture Point Royal on what seems to have been the last day of sunshine. (And please bear with me as I experiment with a few black and white filters/Photoshop effects!)

A view of Point Royal, Bracknell (Berkshire)

The balconies of Point Royal, Bracknell (Berkshire)

A view of Point Royal, Bracknell (Berkshire)

The balconies of Point Royal, Bracknell (Berkshire)

View over Bracknell from Charles Street Car Park, including 3M Building, Grange Hotel and Eagle House

Bracknell Blogger wants YOU!

That’s right; we want you, citizens of Bracknell, to send us your best photos of Bracknell!

Bracknell Blogger is a round-the-clock operation. With so much time dedicated to writing, researching and maintaining the website, there is a very limited space in time for taking all of the great photos you see here.

And, because Bracknell Blogger has such a great focus on Bracknell’s history, it can be even harder finding great shots of Bracknell in days of yore.

That’s why we need you, good people, to send us your photos. It could be of anything – your family enjoying a day out at Hollywood Bowl, a shot of the town taken on an evening stroll … it could even just be a photo of your front door.

If you have photos that you look back on fondly, and you think others might share a rose-tinted smile, send your snaps to hello@bracknellblogger.co.uk

Keep checking back regularly, as Bracknell Blogger will be running competitions in the future for the best photos. In the mean time, Bracknell Blogger will use your shots to build up its (already very impressive) media bank!

Please note that by sending your photos, you give consent to Bracknell Blogger publishing them in the future. All photo credits will be given in the relevant article, and if you have any special requirements for your image usage please include these in your email.

This post will undoubtedly surface again in the future, but until then, that email address once more is hello@bracknellblogger.co.uk

Have a great day Bracknell!

Easthampstead Park, Bracknell, the former home of King James I

King James & The Tinker: Tales of Bracknell Folklore

From the ghosts of South Hill Park to the tragedies of the Old Manor, Bracknell is a town steeped in mystery and folklore.

Recently I was fortunate enough to come into possession of a wonderful little book titled “Berkshire Folk Tales”, the collaborative work of historian Tina Bilbé and self-proclaimed shaman David England. This brief anthology recounts over 27 chapters many anecdotes, mysteries and ghost tales woven into the rich tapestry of Berkshire’s history.

History boffs and folklore fans in Berkshire may recognise stories such as The Pleasant History of Thomas of Reading and The Witches of Windsor; but there is one story that is of a particular interest to the residents of Bracknell Forest. King James and the Tinker is the heartwarming (yet rather absurd) tale of King James I and his unlikely best friend. Set around Swinley Forest and Braywoodside, it is a reminder of Bracknell’s, and in particular Easthampstead Park’s place in the royal history of England.

Easthampstead Park, Bracknell, the former home of King James I
Easthampstead Park; one of the settings of the original tale of King James and the Tinker

The tale has been passed down through many generations, and has appeared in many forms over the centuries. As with any piece of folklore, it is difficult to pinpoint the precise origin of the story, and only one written account has weathered the sands of time. This is in the form of a poem entitled “King James and the Tinker meet at Braysidewood in Windsor Forest”.

Composed of 15 verses and written in iambic hendecameter, its style is a mix of bonnie Scottish whimsies and popular medieval devices. Click here to read the transcription by David Nash Ford.

The surviving work is one of a refined wordsmith. But as tragedy would have it, neither the date nor the name of the original author managed to survive along with the manuscript. The only extant copies of the text are found in later republications, many of which are anthologies. The earliest dated edition we know of dates from 1745, more than a century after King James’ dynasty in England. Its scarcity betrays the popularity of the tale of King James and the Tinker – so popular was it that fragments of the same poem have been found as far away as North America.

But what of the story? Well, I should begin by saying that a summary doesn’t really do justice to the tale (and I encourage you to check out Berkshire Folk Tales for a much more entertaining interpretation), but nonetheless, I’ll have a go.

The tale begins with a bored King James I, who has grown rather aggravated with the English mollycoddling of his majesty – not to mention homesick for his native Scotland. On the morning of his usual hunt, and once more surrounded with a patronising entourage of huntsmen, King James sets out from his home in Easthampstead Park to hunt stag in Windsor Great Park. But the tricky Scotsman dodges away from his troop, and instead heads north through the Great Park, eventually arriving at the doors of an Inn; the Royal Black Bridge.

Inside, James finds an old tinker clutching a flagon tightly to his chest. “Honest fellow,” asks James. “What hast thou in thy jug, which under thy arm thou so blithely doth hug?” Replies the tinker, “’Tis nappy brown ale.”

Won over by the tinker’s appreciation of good grog – not to mention his use of highland turn o’ phrase – James orders another flagon for his new mate. The pair sit and gossip, when suddenly the conversation turns to King James himself. Of course the Tinker does not recognise the King sat across the table from him as, in his own words, “though I have travelled the land many ways, I ne’er saw the King, sir, in all my whole days.” So when the subject turns to what he’d like most in the world, to see the King with his own eyes is top of his list of priorities.

Well, well, says James, eager to entertain his new fellow. Let’s get out of here, he says, “and thee I will bring into the Royal presence of James, our King.” The tinker is aghast – even if you could, he stutters, how will I know the king when I see him? Surely he’ll be surrounded by his lords, and I’d hate to bow to the wrong person!

Not a problem, says James. You’ll know the king when you see him because “the King will be covered” over the head. “The Nobles be bare” however; they won’t be wearing hats.

So the pair polish off their ales, hop aboard James’ horse and canter away in the direction of Easthampstead Park. James proceeds to lead his steed into a glade where his lords have indeed been waiting for his return. But wait, says the tinker. None of these men are wearing hats. The king amongst them is not covered up! Nervously he asks his new friend “Since they are all clothed so gallant and gay, now which is the King, Sir, come tell me I pray.”

To which James replies: “By my soul, man, I think it must be you or I – the rest are uncovered, you see all around.” The penny drops o’er the tinker’s head, and as it does he falls to his knees before his once friend, now majesty, begging for forgiveness. But benevolent James replies nonsense! On your feet, my good gent, and tell me your name. You are a good man, and you have my friendship.

John is the tinkers name, so he says, and so without a beat missed James responds “Then rise up, Sir John, I will honour thee here, and make thee a Knight of five hundred a year.” By which he means to pay the tinker a salary, bringing his services to the king’s household, as the now Royal Tinker.

So there you have it – the tale of King James and the Tinker. Keep an eye out for more myths, legends and folklore to come on Bracknell Blogger, and in the mean time tell me – do you know any good pieces of Bracknell folklore yourself? Thanks for reading.

Car Park 5, Bracknell: The sign on the Skimped Hill Lane entrance

Car Park 5: Farewell to a Bracknell Landmark

Have you ever gone straight past a significant object without ever realising it? Or looked at something and then forgotten about it moments later?

Don’t worry, it’s not uncommon – it’s called inattentional blindness and it occurs when the eyes see something that the brain forgets to register.

I’m sure this applies for many of us to the sight of Bracknell’s Skimped Hill Car Park, or “Car Park 5” to use its proper name. It is a building that many residents of Bracknell could recognise in a heartbeat, yet not one that anyone seems to pay attention to on their way past.

Though I wasn’t able to find the exact date of Car Park 5’s creation, it seems to have been developed throughout the 1970s. It was intended to provide relief to the growing number of commuters working at Winchester House (the 3M Building) and Fitzwilliam House. Car Park 5 has been closed off for many years now. Until recently, its lower floors were used as an overflow area for Fitzwilliam House. But in June of this year its doors were finally locked once-and-for-all. Car Park 5 is now owned by Comer Homes, who are in charge of Bracknell’s redevelopment. The car park now stands waiting for its inevitable demolition.

Over the last few years Car Park 5 had, isolated and unmaintained, become littered with the kind of detritus you might expect to find on a horror movie set. Aside from the drug-related paraphernalia, Car Park 5 is now ridden with graffiti, fly-tipped home appliances and decaying bits of structure. A historical catalogue of drinks bottles and crisp packets are left around the building and the tarmac and brick has been mostly replaced with pigeon droppings.

Before Car Park 5 is finally brought crashing to its knees, I was brave (or perhaps stupid) enough to take one last look around its interior. For former regulars of Car Park 5, or for those who were not lucky enough to explore it during its glory years, I hope these photographs will provide a useful retrospective.Car Park 5, Bracknell: mould grows on the ceiling of this level near the top of Car Park 5

Car Park 5, Bracknell: a wider shot showing the light breaking through the vertical "blinds" outside the building

Car Park 5, Bracknell: this picture shows the lights still on inside Car Park 5, though the building is completely deserted
Pictures from inside Car Park 5. The lights are still on inside the building, despite the fact that the building is now completely deserted. The concrete walls and ceiling have been almost completely consumed with mould and graffiti.

Car Park 5, Bracknell: the centre spiral of Car Park 5 has become a zone for fly tipping
At the bottom of the centre spiral, Car Park 5 has been used as a fly tipping zone.
Having been closed for many years, Car Park 5 has become littered with a buffet of detritus. Shopping trolleys, broken television sets, garden waste and more can all be found in the basin of the spiral ramp. Tags and broken bits-and-bobs are the only decoration in the interior. In its one remaining stairwell, antique crisp packets and beer cans can be seen strewn all around.

Car Park 5, Bracknell: the stairwell on the top floor with the lift motor room
The stairwell on the top floor of Car Park 5 houses the lift motor room.
The extent of the neglect is nowhere more evident than on the roof of Car Park 5. Here, the lift motor room has been overrun with rodents, partially trashed by vandals and coated in graffiti. If you are interested in seeing more of the summit of Car Park 5, I recommend checking out mrmattandmrchay on YouTube. Self-proclaimed elevator enthusiast Matt was courageous enough to climb into the lift motor room to capture some very rare footage.

Car Park 5, Bracknell: a view across the top floor

Ironically, the views from atop Car Park 5 are quite magnificent. To the north, the heights of Bracknell Town Centre can still be seen. To the east, there is the Peel Centre, and looking west one will be able to look over Binfield Road.

Car Park 5, Bracknell: a view north towards Bracknell Town Centre
Looking north from the roof of Car Park 5 towards Bracknell Town Centre.

Car Park 5, Bracknell: the view looking west over Binfield Road
Looking west from Car Park 5 over Binfield Road.
The design of Car Park 5 is difficult to describe. Its main aesthetic feature is the vertical “blinds” that run down the sides of the building. Each one is a single, solid unit measuring more than 30ft high and around 2.5ft wide. There is no pattern to the layout of the blinds; they are tacked on in random combinations of thick and thin.

Car Park 5, Bracknell: viewed from the roundabout on the A329
A view of the outside of Car Park 5, from the roundabout on the A329. The basement of this spiral was once a Gentleman’s Nightclub.

Car Park 5, Bracknell: a view of the metal blinds running down the building
Looking up from outside Car Park 5. The metal blinds are a unique and brilliant feature of Car Park 5. Notice how some are tacked on with the wide face forward, whilst others have the thin face forwards.
The spiral ramp on the flank of Car Park 5 was boarded up when I visited it. Luckily, a large portion of the wooden panelling put up to close it off had been broken down. Walking up the spiral rank, one follows a trail of destruction. The barriers and all the electronic items – such as floodlights – have been destroyed and left in pieces.

Car Park 5, Bracknell: a broken railing showing the extent of vandalism

Car Park 5, Bracknell: A section of wall that has been destroyed in the basement level

Having said that, there are some rather beautiful photo opportunities. The centre spiral in particular is a fantastic example of car park architecture in its bare-bones glory – before the days of the huge concrete barriers compliant with modern health and safety standards.

Car Park 5, Bracknell: the spiralWhat are your memories of Car Park 5? Let me know with a comment or a tweet.

I reached out to Comer Homes and Bracknell Town Borough Council for further information about Car Park 5, including the expected date of its demolition. So far, I have received no news. I will update this post if and when I have been made aware of these dates.