Theresa May visits Heritage Centre
On June 4th our local MP Theresa May visited the Heritage Centre to meet volunteers and to visit our colourful exhibition “A Tribute to SportsAble”, the wonderful local disabled sports club which was forced to close due to financial difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic. John Jenkins, the last President of SportsAble, showed Mrs May around and she admired many of the trophies on display. The trophies and other memorabilia have been generously donated by SportsAble’s trustees. Maidenhead Heritage Centre is delighted to be able to offer a permanent home to all this material, which will help preserve the 46-yr story of SportsAble and its contribtion to the disabled community.
Six wooden crates contain archaeological material from Maidenhead’s past, including flints, bones and large quantity of Roman pottery shards. However, these artefacts had remained in the crates untouched since 1956, when they were packed away by the Heritage Centre’s predecessor, the Maidenhead Museum. Following the Museum’s closure a few years later, the crates passed into storage with the Royal Borough collection, before returning to Maidenhead this year.
Ibraheem (a student at Desborough College) was tasked with carrying out an “audit” of the artefacts: “I found myself sifting through boxes of artefacts presented to the museum that had been gathering dust since the 1950’s. I had been given a broad description and demonstration of how a typical audit is carried out, what followed was a wash rinse and repeat cycle of carrying the boxes, organising what they contained, labelling their items, listing of misplaced or absent pieces and photographing them for the museum’s catalogue.”
Thanks to Ibraheem’s hard work, photographs of all the artefacts can now be entered into the Heritage Centre’s collection catalogue, meaning we do not need to disturb the crates again until an artefact is chosen for display. We can also update the paper records about the artefacts – many of which Ibraheem found to be inaccurate!
As part of the project Ibraheem also chose his favourite artefacts from the crates, and created a display about them in the Heritage Centre, researching, writing and arranging all the labels himself.
“This experience has given me a greater appreciation for the history of not only this town but that of even the most insignificant objects around, as they also have some sort of story to tell.”
We hope that visitors and volunteers alike will enjoy this glimpse into Maidenhead’s archaeological history.
Commemorating Sir Nicholas Winton, 1909-2015
A Maidenhead resident dubbed the ‘British Schindler’, Sir Nicholas Winton rescued 669 children from the hands of the Nazis. He passed away at the age of 106 on 1 July 2015.
In December 1938, a 29 year old stockbroker from Hampstead called Nicholas Winton was about to set off on a skiing holiday when a friend urged him to change his plans and visit Prague. The Nazis had invaded the Sudetenland two months earlier and the situation in Prague was becoming increasingly dangerous for Jews, many of whom were living in refugee camps. Sir Nicholas was a politically minded young man and agreed to go and witness what was happening in the country.
Mass evacuations of children from Austria and Germany were underway, but there was no such provision in Czechoslovakia. After meeting parents who were desperate to get their children to safety, Sir Nicholas began recording a list of their names, before contacting as many embassies as he could to try and arrange asylum. However, most countries had closed their borders and the only positive response he had was from Britain, although there were conditions.
The first train left Prague on March 14, one day before German troops marched into Czechoslovakia. While Sir Nicholas headed back to Britain after three weeks – the most leave he could get from his job – two of his fellow volunteers, Trevor Chadwick and Doreen Warriner, stayed behind to keep the operation running in Prague.
Back in Britain, Sir Nicholas took on the enormous task of arranging what became known as the ‘Czech Kindertransport’, pleading for funds to cover the £50 guarantee the British government demanded covering the children’s eventual return. He also had to find families willing to take in the children, and secure entry and exit permits. Some children were even provided with false visas, which increased the danger of the operation, and on some occasions Sir Nicholas forged Home Office documents which had failed to arrive before the children’s departure.
In total, eight trains carrying children to Britain passed successfully through Germany and France. The children arrived at Liverpool Street Station, where they would be greeted by Sir Nicholas and his mother. While some had relatives in the UK, most went to live with strangers.
The ninth train never arrived. It was supposed to leave on September 1, carrying 250 children to safety – the largest group yet. The very same day Germany invaded Poland. Borders were closed, and the children who came to the train station are thought to have been turned away by German soldiers, most being sent to concentration camps. In some cases they were the siblings of children who had travelled on earlier trains.
The selfless and courageous actions of Sir Nicholas secured the future of 669 children, who came to be known as “Nicky’s Children”. It is estimated that around 6,000 people across the world are descendants of those he saved.
Winton never spoke about the Kindertransport operation, and disliked being dubbed “the British Schindler”, believing that those who helped the mission in Prague took far greater risks than he. In 1947 he began work for the International Refugee Organisation, supervising the disposal of items looted by the Nazis and recovered by the Allies, once again helping victims of the Nazis. In later life he continued to work for charity, including at the Abbeyfield organisation providing care for the elderly. By chance, it was discovered that one of his fellow trustees at the organisation was the son of a child Sir Nicholas had saved.
The story remained untold until it was discovered by accident in 1988, when his wife, Grete, found a briefcase containing documents, letters and photos from the mission, along with a list of the children saved.
The story was passed to the press and made it’s way to the producers of That’s Life!, a programme hosted by Esther Rantzen. A then 78 year old Sir Nicholas was invited on to the show, unknowingly seated in an audience made up of those who owed their lives to him. You can watch a video of the extraordinary moment below:
Sir Nicholas celebrated his 105th birthday at the Czech embassy in London with around 100 guests, many of whose parents were saved by him.
Among other honours, Sir Nicholas was knighted in 2003, and in 2014 he was awarded the Order of the White Lion, the highest order of the Czech Republic. The Czech president, Milos Zeman, wrote to Sir Nicholas: “Your life is an example of humanity, selflessness, personal courage and modesty.”
Several biographies of Winton have been written, including by Barbara Winton, his daughter. If It’s Not Impossible…The Life of Nicholas Winton takes inspiration forit’s title from Sir Nicholas’ personal motto, “if something is not impossible, then there must be a way to do it”. Barbara writes in the book:
“My father’s wish for his biography, having agreed to me writing it, is that it should not promote hero worship or the urge for a continual revisiting of history, but if anything, that it might inspire people to recognise that they too can act ethically in the world and make a positive difference to the lives of others in whatever area they feel strongly about, whether it be international crises or nearer to home, in their own community.”
Barbara’s book is available to purchase at Maidenhead Heritage Centre.
Sir Nicholas died on the 1 July 2015, at the grand age of 106. His death came 76 years to the day after 241 of the children he saved left Prague on a train.
Sir Nicholas and his wife Grete lived for much of their married life in Maidenhead, where they brought up three children. A statue commemorating him sits on a bench at Maidenhead train station, unveiled by MP for Maidenhead Theresa May in September 2010.
War Poetry success
Our “Evening with the War Poets” on 26 May was great success, with a near capacity audience at Norden Farm’s Studio. War poems were read – and sung – by Great Dixon, Edward Dixon and David Hazeldine, with our chairman Richard Poad acting as master of ceremonies. A replica of the uniform of Julian Grenfell DSO, Maidenhead and Taplow’s own soldier poet, was kindly loaned by SGI-UK at Taplow court. The uniform was lit dramatically, standing in a circle of red poppies in honour of Julian Grenfell, who died of wounds exactly 100 years ago on 26 May 1915.
Mr Cooper gets a nose job!
This fine terra-cotta bust of John Kinghorn Cooper, founder of the Pinkneys Green Brick and Tile Works, has just one on display alongside some of his brick and terracotta products. The bust was sculpted in around 1877 bu Mr Cooper’s son Walter, and erected on Queen Anne House at the bottom of Castle Hill. Salvaged when the house was demolished in 1972, the bust has suffered some damage during 40 years of storage. Thanks to a grant from the AIM Conservation Scheme, it has been restored by specialist conservator Sarah Peek of Brighton.
The decorative roof tiles and finials from Pinkneys Green can be seen on rooftops all over Maidenhead, especially in the Furze Platt conservation area.
Do come in and see this wonderful relic of Maidenhead’s past.
Long serving volunteer Trevor
Jones leaves Maidenhead
Richard Poad (Chairman of the Heritage Centre) is seen here presenting Trevor Jones with a picture and something in a bottle! Trevor moved back to his native Wales on July 15th. Trevor was one of the early people to help get the Heritage Centre off the ground 20 years ago. Thanks for all you have done Trevor. And we wish Trevor all the best back in Wales.
20th Anniversary Celebration Dinner
The people are left to right, Richard Poad (Chairman Maidenhead Heritage Trust), The Right Honourable Theresa May MP, Colin Rayner (Mayor of Windsor and Maidenhead), Samantha Rayner (Mayoress of Windsor and Maidenhead), Peter Murcott (Trustee, the Advertiser Trust), Graham Barker (Trustee, Maidenhead Heritage Trust)
On Friday May 10th 2013 supporters of Maidenhead Heritage Centre gathered at Hall Place, Burchetts Green for a 20thAnniversary Celebration Dinner. Attended by the Mayor and Mayoress of Windsor and Maidenhead and by The Right Honourable Theresa May MP.
Proposing a toast to Maidenhead Heritage Centre, Mrs May congratulated all its volunteers on turning what began as a 6 month experiment in 1993 into a valued part of Maidenhead’s cultural scene. Confirming that for her “heritage matters”, she praised the temporary exhibitions staged at the Park Street venue for helping to inspire Maidonians of all generations about the history of their town.