Cookham is a village in Berkshire in a lovely setting on the River Thames, four miles north of Maidenhead, between Marlow and Taplow. The village is distinct from Cookham Rise, which has a railway station and Cookham Dean, which are both close. In the Domesday Book, the village is listed as, “Cocheham”. “Coche” in Old English, means hill.
Cookham is closely associated with one of the greatest British painters of the 20th century, Sir Stanley Spencer R.A. He was born in 1891 in Fernlea, a Victorian semi-detached house in the High Street. Cookham was his inspiration. He called it “Village in Heaven” and in fact, “Cookham” became his nickname. He lived in Cookham until his death in 1959. Local scenery was used as a background to many of his paintings. Over one hundred of his works are displayed in the Stanley Spencer Gallery. The Gallery was the King’s Hall, the village hall, until 1960 and previously a chapel where Stanley Spencer attended services with his mother.
Holy Trinity Church has parts dating back to the 12th century. The Lady Chapel was built on the site of the cell of a female anchorite who lived next to the church and was paid a halfpenny a day by King Henry II. In the churchyard is a monument in the form of an angel, which is the subject of Stanley Spencer’s paintings.
Mill Lane leads down to Cliveden Reach, which is considered to be one of the prettiest parts of the River Thames. On the opposite bank is Spring Cottage, part of the Cliveden House Estate, which was the home of Stephen Ward, who hosted the infamous house party in July 1961, which was attended by John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, Christine Keeler and Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet Naval attache. The affair between Profumo and Keeler and the scandal that followed, resulted in Profumo’s resignation and the downfall of Harold McMillan’s Conservative Government. Spring Cottage, which was built in 1857, was often visited by Queen Victoria. It is now known as Cliveden Spring Cottage and is available to stay in for guests of the Cliveden House Hotel.
The river scenery between Cookham and Henley inspired Kenneth Grahame to write the children’s novel The Wind in the Willows. Since 1908, children have been fascinated by the adventures of Toad, Mole, Badger and Ratty. Kenneth Grahame spent much of his early life at Cookham Dean with his grandmother.
Cookham is well served by country pubs. The Crown Inn on Cookham Moor, the village green, is family owned and was originally a wattle and daub building, dating from the 1700s. It suffered a disastrous fire in the 1890s and was rebuilt as the Crown Hotel. In 1929, fire again destroyed the inn and it was replaced by the present Crown Inn. The pub, as well as having a popular restaurant, also provides eight en-suite bedrooms. The Bel and The Dragon, one of the oldest coaching inns in England, dates from the 15th century. It was previously called The Olde Bell and now provides ten en-suite bedrooms. The Kings Arms, originally The Kings Head, is a renowned 17th century gastro pub in the High Street.
In July every year, the annual tradition of swan upping is carried out at Cookham by H.M. The Queen’s Royal Swan Uppers. Swan Upping is a census of the swan population, including cygnets, on the River Thames, carried out since the 13th century. Sir Stanley Spencer’s famous oil painting of Swan Upping at Cookham, is in the Stanley Spencer Gallery.