Chapter 8. ‘The Biggest House in Slough’

The site chosen for the School in Slough, (then in Buckinghamshire) was immediately adjacent to the railway line. It was a fine choice of site, allowing both a sense of country life and easy access to London and other notable places. The proliferation of new buildings around the school property in the years that followed indicates that many other bodies besides the ISLV thought the same.

Slough, and particularly the site chosen for the school, had its own history, worth a slight digression to see the effect on the school after its move there.

Slough, as a single borough, was a ‘new’ town, that had grown out of an army equipment dump at the end of the 1914-18 war. There are, however, records of lands and houses around the Upton and Chalvey area which were given to the followers of William the Conqueror. These grew into villages which, as they increased in size, merged into one another. The main industry of Slough was the mining of clay and the making of bricks, and it was for the transport of these that the Grand Union Canal was extended into the town. The coming of the railway took much of the traffic from the canal, but the importance of Slough as a main line station was delayed for many years by Old Etonians in the government, who thought that the building of a railway station would be a bad thing for nearby Eton College, in that it might tempt the boys to run away, and would bring the undesirable element of London too close for comfort. The trains of The Great Western Railway did, however, stop at Slough. Since there was no station, tickets were sold from the windows of the North Star Hotel.

A shrewd Frenchman by the name of Monsieur Carlo Dotesio got wind that permission to build a station might be forthcoming. With this in mind, he purchased the land from the North Star as far as Wexham Road. On this land he built “the biggest house in Slough,” in yellow brick with numerous bow windows. He travelled to Paris to buy Louis XIV and Louis XV furniture (since they no longer had the use of it) and Gabelin tapestries from the Palace of Versailles. The grounds around his building were landscaped by Sir Joseph Paxton, the architect of the Great Exhibition and Crystal Palace.

In 1841 his “house” became the Royal Hotel. The main building stood where the science block stands today and on the north side, where the sports hall stood, was a large hall for the convenience of passing travellers. The present Royal Hotel was then the stables and servants’ quarters.

So frequently did Queen Victoria and her Consort stay overnight when travelling to and from London, that a large room on the first floor was set aside for them.

10From a drawing on stone by J.C.Bourne. A print hung in the later Royal Hotel.

Near to the hotel, on a hillock, stood a tiny wooden hut. It contained the first long-distance magnetic telegraph in the world, which joined Slough with Paddington.

A murder took place at Salt-Hill in Slough in the 1840s and the wanted man boarded the train for London. He was apprehended on arrival and so gained the distinction of being the first criminal caught with the aid of magnetic telegraph.

The signal discs for the railway were changed by “policemen” in top hats and tail coats, who stood on a bridge over the line. These were for the ease of mind of the passengers rather than for any useful purpose since only one train occupied the lines at any one time.

The area around the hotel was much different from today.  No road passed near to the railway on the east side and the drive leading up to the hotel wound its way through the grounds from Wexham Road, although a footpath passed close by where Mackenzie St. (Brunel Way) now stands. A large double gate stood opposite the station for the use of travellers.

In 1849 the Windsor branch of the line was opened, thus removing the need for a large overnight hotel in Slough, and by 1852 the hotel had closed and Dotesio had moved on.

The coach house and servants’ quarters were converted into the Royal Hotel at a later date.

11

Slough Station on the occasion of the leaving of Queen Victoria’s special train

The main building stood empty for the next ten years, although in 1858 the grounds were used for an “historic” political dinner attended by Disraeli, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, and 500 guests. His caustic speech filled three columns of the next day’s Times of London.

In 1863 the buildings and part of the grounds were purchased, through the generosity of a Mr McKenzie, and given to the British Orphan Asylum, who used it as a boarding school until purchased by the Licensed Victuallers.

12The British Orphan Asylum, from an undated photograph.

The view shows the front of the building, away from the railway line.

The bay windows in the centre of the first floor belong to a room set aside for Queen Victoria in its Royal Hotel days.

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