Bray is a very pretty historical riverside village, on the banks of the River Thames, between Maidenhead and Windsor, Berkshire. It is also known as Bray on Thames. It has a wealth of cottages and very expensive riverside homes.
The expression, “Vicar of Bray”, meaning someone who will change their loyalties to achieve their aims, comes from the actions of Simon Aleyn, (Alleyn) the Vicar of St. Michael’s Church, Bray, from 1557-1565. He was appointed in the reign of Henry VIII, but retained his position in the reigns of Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I, by successively changing his religion from being a Catholic to Protestant and back again as required. The ancient ballad, “The Vicar of Bray”, mocks Simon Aleyn:-
“And this is law I will maintain
Until my dying day, sir,
That whatsoever King shall reign,
I’ll be Vicar of Bray, sir.”
Another notable Vicar of Bray, was Jane Austen’s favourite nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, who was Vicar for twenty-two years, from 1852 until his death in 1874. There is a memorial to him in St. Michael’s Church. He published, “Memoir of Jane Austen” in 1869, which is regarded as the definitive biography of the novelist.
St. Michael’s Church, built in 1293, also contains the tomb of William Goddard, who, in 1627, founded the almshouses, known as Jesus Hospital, to house thirty-four of the aged poor of Bray and six of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers.
Bray is a delight for visitors, as for over twenty-five years, the residents have participated in the Britain in Bloom competition, organised by the Royal Horticultural Society. The village has been consistently successful and their achievements are listed on an Honours Board, displayed behind the War Memorial. The heart of Bray is a conservation area and includes twenty-five listed buildings and monuments. The village community spirit has won awards at regional and national levels and in 2014, was awarded the accolade of Britain’s Best Small Village.
Bray has the distinction of containing two of the only four three – Michelin starred restaurants in the United Kingdom. The Waterside Inn, on the banks of the River Thames at the end of Ferry Road, is supervised by Alain Roux, son of Michel Roux, renowned for world class gastronomy. The Waterside was opened as a restaurant in 1972. It is the only establishment in the United Kingdom to have retained three – Michelin star status for over thirty years. Customers are attracted from across the world, including H.M. Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the Royal Family. The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray was opened in 1995 by Heston Blumenthal. In 2005, Restaurant Magazine gave it the award of being the “Best Restaurant in the World”. Heston Blumenthal also operates the restaurant at The Hinds Head and The Crown at Bray.
The village of Bray is closely associated with Bray Film Studios, which, from 1952 until 1966, was the home of Hammer Film Productions, the renowned producers of horror films. They built the studio in the grounds of Down Place and named it after the village.