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Characters of Maidenhead and Cookham Commons

A wooden footbridge over a stream at Widbrook Common, Cookham Commons, Berkshire.
A footbridge at Widbrook Common | © National Trust Images/Hugh Mothersole

Discover some of the most notable characters who have have lived and worked around Maidenhead and Cookham Commons over the centuries, including highwaymen, authors and artists.

Thomas Dodson

In 1597, the villagers secured the lease of Widbrook Common from Elizabeth I for the term of three lives or that of the longest lived. The villagers chose Thomas Dodson, a bargeman, who lived until he was 86, ensuring that the lease extended well into the reign of Charles II.

When Thomas Dodson died, the people refused to return the lease and the matter went to court. The villagers defeated the Crown in court, so Thomas’s good health preserved their grazing rights long after his death.

Robbers and highwaymen

The 17th and 18th centuries saw the rise of the highwayman. The stretch of Bath Road through Maidenhead Thicket was notorious countrywide as amongst the most dangerous places in England. Not only was this was one of the busiest stretches of road in the country, the dense vegetation provided cover and plenty of escape routes for would-be robbers.

One such highwayman who operated in Maidenhead Thicket was Captain James Hind. Among his many famous exploits was a failed attempt to rob Oliver Cromwell along with his seven bodyguards.

Sir Stanley Spencer

Born in Cookham in 1891, Stanley Spencer lived in the area for much of his life, He was often seen walking along the country roads pushing an old pram in which he kept his canvases and easel. He sought inspiration from the Commons and many of his paintings reference everyday rural life in this corner of Berkshire.

Today you can see his works in the major London galleries, at Sandham Memorial Chapel, Hampshire, and at the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham.

Kenneth Grahame

Kenneth Grahame lived at The Mount in Cookham Dean as a child. He returned to the village in later life and wrote The Wind in the Willows from here in 1908. He is said to have been inspired by the River Thames at Cookham and his childhood memories of ‘messing about in boats’.

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands

During the Second World War, Queen Wilhelmina was living in exile at Stubbings, taking charge of the Dutch government, setting up a resistance movement and communicating messages to her people. The staff and police who were needed to protect her were housed in Maidenhead Thicket, in what became known as the ‘Dutch Camp’.

Elsewhere on the Commons potatoes were grown on Pinkneys Green and various crops planted at Cookham Dean as the nation ‘dug for victory’.

Dotted around Maidenhead and Cookham these attractive areas of common land are popular spots for walking and picnicking.

Discover more at Maidenhead and Cookham Commons

Find out how to get to Maidenhead and Cookham Commons, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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