The Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this summer and her home town of Windsor is gearing up to join in the nationwide party.
Windsor Castle stares down upon a town that has inevitably become a tourist haunt with a high street below its ramparts that is overpopulated with fast-food outlets, and gift shops selling Jubilee souvenirs.
But ancient Peascod Street, a little further down the town, has more appeal for local residents, and there is plenty in Windsor to explore, from the castle’s riverside estate, Windsor Great Park, the Queen’s farm shop and nearby magnificent Savill Gardens.
The castle was built by William the Conqueror in the decade following 1066 and experienced two further expansions: under Edward III in the 14th century, and then under Prince Albert and Queen Victoria in the 19th century, when a railway was extended to the town for the convenience of the royal couple.
Because of Windsor’s status as a top tourist attraction, homeowners have to buy into a continually bustling town with annoyingly slow-moving trippers. But it is a popular and prosperous commuter spot which local estate agent Guy Robinson, of Savills, describes as full of life and energy.
“There is a complete change of atmosphere after the tourist coaches leave at six in the evening,” he said. “That’s when the town is returned to its inhabitants.”
In the evening, the Theatre Royal Windsor attracts a loyal following of townies, together with Eton College boys in their starched white collars and black frock coats who make their way over from the world-famous school in the pretty, historic town across the bridge.
Houses and flats for sale in Eton and Windsor
Windsor has Georgian terraces, Edwardian houses, Victorian houses and terrace cottages, and newer flats. Expect to pay £900,000-plus for a large Georgian house backing on to The Long Walk. Four-bedroom Victorian houses start at about £750,000. Two-bedroom Victorian terraces sell for between £350,000 and £400,000 and three-bedroom terraces for between £500,000 and £550,000.
The area attracts: according to Guy Robinson there are two distinct markets — those who are born and bred in Windsor, and young couples moving out of London for more space and a bit of surrounding greenery.
Staying power: a lot of families stay and put down roots but some move further out in search of bigger properties — and less aircraft noise — once they start having children.
Best roads: Kings Road, especially the delightful Georgian houses backing on to The Long Walk, and the rest of the roads in the Windsor Golden Triangle such as Gloucester Place, Adelaide Square, Frances Road and The Boltons.
Clarence Crescent has pretty early Victorian white stucco villas. To the south of Windsor, St Leonard’s Hill has large detached Twenties houses, many of them being demolished and rebuilt as bigger mansions.
What’s new: Royal Windsor Quay (call Savills on 01344 295375 and Hamptons on 0173 855555) is a striking riverside development by Hadley Exceptional Living of 12 green-clad flats. Four remain and prices start at £775,000. Windsor Bridge Court (Savills 01753 834600) on the Eton side of the river is a development of 10 flats where the price per square foot has broken the local barrier. Five remain, starting from £1.5 million.
Up and coming: Clewer Village is west of Windsor town centre, close to the river. This well-kept area of Sixties houses is cheaper than the more popular period houses in central Windsor.
Schools: Eton College, a magnificent set of buildings, houses the UK’s most exclusive private school, the pupils a familiar and traditional sight in Windsor’s streets in their pinstripe trousers, frock coats and gowns. But the secondary school only takes boarders, the entrance exam is tough and the fees are high.
There are two private prep schools — St George’s School (co-ed ages three to 13) which is also the choir school for St George’s Chapel, and Upton House (boys ages two to seven and girls ages two to 11). The local council unusually runs first schools (up to age nine), middle schools (ages nine to 13), and upper schools (ages 13 to 18).
The following first schools are judged “outstanding” or “good” by the Government’s education watchdog Ofsted: The Queen Anne Royal Free CofE in Chaucer Close; Oakfield in Imperial Road; St Edward’s RC in Parsonage Lane; Eton Porny in Eton High Street; Clewer Green in Hatch Lane; Eton Wick in Sheepcote Road; Hilltop First in Clewer Hill Road, and Dedworth Green in Smiths Lane. Middle school St Edward’s Royal Free CofE and RC is judged “outstanding”. In Windsor, boys go to Windsor Boys in Maidenhead Road which is judged “outstanding” and girls to Windsor Girls in Imperial Road which is judged “good”.
Shops and restaurants: Windsor is a busy shopping centre with many restaurants, hotels and pubs round the castle, and in the summer, tables spill out on to the pavement in Church Street. The main shopping street runs down the hill on Peascod Street. There are many of the big high street chains such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer as well as the independent Daniel department store, which holds a royal warrant.
At the bottom of Peascod Street is an area where independent shops are flourishing. It offers gift shops, cafés and boutiques. Standing out are: Michael Chell for menswear, Farmer & Smith for kitchens and Urbansuite for modern furniture — the last two in Trinity Yard.
Eton has an architecturally interesting high street with a jumble of buildings of different periods. There are pubs, restaurants, antiques shops, art galleries and old-fashioned men’s outfitters supplying uniforms to Eton College students. Fashionable outdoor wear brand Jack Wills has opened here, but there are also shops standing empty. The nearby exceptionally pretty Thames-side village of Bray is foodie heaven with Heston Blumenthal’s famous Fat Duck, and the less expensive Hind’s Head.
Open space: The Long Walk runs for nearly three long, straight, but undulating miles from Windsor Castle to the Copper Horse, the statue of King George III astride his steed.
It is one of England’s most spectacular views which leads to Windsor Great Park and the Savill Garden, and on a sunny weekend it is where Windsor families parade up and down doing a daytime variation on the Italian passegiatta.
Leisure and the arts: Eton will see some Olympic action this year with rowing and some canoeing on the Eton Dorney lake. The Theatre Royal Windsor is the local theatre offering an ever-changing choice of plays.
The Firestation is a contemporary art centre situated in an old fire station. It shows a mix of films, music, comedy, dance and theatre. The nearest council-owned swimming pool is in Stovell Road. It has two pools, one with a wave machine and slides.
Travel: Windsor is 20 or so miles from central London and offers quick access to the M25 and M4 motorways. There are two railway stations. Most commuters prefer the journey to Paddington from Windsor and Eton Central (annual season ticket £2,452), even though this involves a change at Slough; this can take as little as half an hour. Trains from Windsor and Eton Riverside (annual season ticket £2,544) stop at all the stations along the way to Waterloo and take just under an hour.
Council: the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (Conservative-controlled); Band D council tax for the 2011/2012 year is £1,232.27.
Photographs by Graham Hussey