The History of Eton
Although there is evidence of an ancient crossing of the Thames at Windsor and Eton, the history of Eton as we know it today probably started with a Saxon settlement. It is said to have been called ‘Eyton’ or ‘Eytun’ meaning a settlement on an island. It is mentioned in the Norman Domesday Book of 1086. Here, it is listed as having once been a royal manor held by Queen Edith, wife of King Edward the Confessor , whom she married in 1043. Lands and estates held by Saxons would have been re-appropriated to Normans after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The town was ‘Etonne’ in the Domesday Book. In these early days of Eton, the way across the River Thames here to Windsor was by ferry or by a small wooden bridge. It would have been a difficult and risky crossing and so horses were usually kept stabled in Eton and the site of one of these would have been at King Stable Street. By 1198 Eton was the size of Windsor , which itself was a very important place in England at the time.
The roots of the world famous Eton College stretch way back to 1440 when an 18 year-old King Henry VI was granted Papal permission to found the College of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Eton. The college had the effect of making the town famous, wealthy and bestowing it with a great deal of credibility. However, Eton's growth has been restricted by the College because it physically blocks expansion to the north while the river stops the town to the south and east. This situation is not helped by the fact that ancient trusts and rights restrict activity on much of the remaining open land.
Archaeological evidence uncovered in the late 1990s suggested that a bridge existed between Eton and Windsor, over the Thames, from as far back as the bronze age in 1400-1300BC. It seems, however, that by the Roman occupation there was no longer a bridge at the crossing. We know that the Normans established a wooden bridge there again after building a castle at Windsor, probably in the 12th century. Records
survive which tell of the year of 1172 and a landowner called Osbert de Bray. He managed to rake in the not inconsiderable sum at the time of £4.33 from tolls levied on vessels passing under the bridge.
Local oak trees from Windsor Forest were used to rebuild the Norman bridge in 1242. Amazingly, this ancient oak bridge struggled through the ages and survived until the 1820s. A new stone and iron bridge was designed by Charles Hollis and by William Moore. Work on the new bridge started with the Duke of York laying the the corner stone in July 1822, it was completed at a cost of £15,000 by June 1824. The bridge opened as a toll bridge, but a campaign in the 1870s was ultimately successful and tolls were scrapped in 1897.
Over the next century cracks in the cast iron due to weight of traffic became a major issue and in April 1970 the bridge was closed to road vehicles. Work finally went ahead to repair the it and the Queen re-opened the Windsor and Eton bridge at midday on June 3rd 2002.
Eton was the first town in the country to have a complete modern drainage system, it was also the first in England to posses a Victorian post box and this is still in service today. Eton is a pleasant and affluent town that is still dominated by the presence of one of the most famous schools in the world.
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