"A village made in Heaven" Stanley Spencer called it - and local residents heartily agree. Cookham was put on the map by the artist and tourists come from around the world to see the village he made famous in his many and varied paintings. The name of "Cookham" actually covers three distinct areas; Cookham Village with its beautiful old cottages and ancient church, Cookham Rise, home to the railway station, nursery school and shops and Cookham Dean, more rural and wilder in its history.
Sitting on a beautiful stretch of the River Thames, the area has always attracted visitors - from the Romans and Danes through to more modern times when the Great Western Railway brought day trippers to see the famous cherry orchards in blossom. Many other artists and writers have been inspired by the area. among them was Kenneth Grahame, who lived in the Dean when he wrote Wind in the Willows and set it in our wild woods and river banks.
Cookham has for centuries been home to hard-working people. It still is - only the jobs have changed over time. There is evidence of an Iron Age settlement as early as 100 AD and there has been church on the site of Holy Trinity since the Domesday Book was written. It has been both an important river crossing point and market town. Nowadays, although many people work locally at Maidenhead or High Wycombe, easy access to Paddington and good connections to the M4 and M40 make it a very popular place to live for commuters to London.
As with other modern village, it has witnessed enormous change over the past hundred years. Nevertheless, Cookham seems to be surviving quite well. The areas of common land, now administered by the National Trust, have helped to define the rural landscape. Farming is still carried out, although as any modern farmer will tell you, economies clash with aesthetics most of the time. Many of the old families remain - although again the cost of living in such pastoral paradise so close to London has pushed many house prices beyond local means.
The river has played an important part in our history, giving us strategic importance in the very early days and a source of income for fishermen and boatmen alike. It has also caused some devastating floods, evidence of which can been seen in this book. Industries have come and gone: the fruit farming is now almost exclusively pick-your-own and the basket making, shoe making, paper making and brick and tile manufacture have all gone. The fruit and vegetable shops, tobacconists, tea rooms and haberdashers have been replaced by boutiques, gift shops and restaurants, but Cookham thrives. Cookham Rise still has a parade of shops which can provide for the needs of the community, although they are battling with big supermarkets for survival. We have our own nursery school and three flourishing primary schools. You can buy organic sausages, a wood burning stove, a bunch of flowers, a work of art, high class second hand clothes, a pair of knickers, an antique pot and even a pint of milk in Cookham shops. What more could you want?
We have been very greatly helped in our researches by two wonderful histories: one put together by Stephen Darby, published in 1909, and the other an unpublished history written by Brian Dodds, who died in 1958. Both these historians were meticulous in their record keeping, and have been a most useful source of dates and information. We have also been lucky enough to have seen stories written down by Norman Jordan and Jim Skinner, both full of fascinating insight into life for previous generations. Ray Knibbs wrote entertainingly of visits to Cookham Dean in the early part of the century and made us determined to find a photograph of Joe Tomlin's "wonderful long" runner bean called "Cookham Dean" - but we never did! There is much reading matter for those who want to study the history of Cookham.
This, however, is not a history book. It is a celebration of the collection of Cookham, of which there are many. Those who have shared their treasures acknowledge how important it is to hand on these images to the next generation. When we learn of the ways of the past, we appreciate the present, and learn to after the future. We certainly thank them all very much.
Many of the photographs in this book are from personal collections and have been seen by relatively few people. We hope you find them as fascinating as we do. Each one excites an appreciation of the way things were and also, we hope, a desire to maintain and preserve the best of what we still have. The costumes and modes of transport may change, but the "good, hard-working folk" are still the same, and many of our beautiful buildings have been lovingly restored. The farming landscape has not escaped so lightly and the planners of the future must be encouraged to cherish what is left.
Many stories have been related to us from memory, passed on by parents and grandparents. Where we can we have added these to the captions and hope you enjoy the diversions. We would point out though that several of these stories have been contradicted by the next version - but the memory can play tricks!
Royalties from this book will be going to help support Elizabeth house, The Day Centre for the elderly in Station Hill, Cookham Rise. This centre is a good example of how the Cookham community pulls together - the need was recognised and driven by Elizabeth Saunders, the money was raised and the centre opened. It is run by volunteer labour, cooks, cleaners and drivers. It is a wonderful facility that is appreciated by the whole community and we appreciate your help in supporting them by buying this book.
Ann Danks and Chrissy Rosenthal
If you have any photographs or memories you would like to share with other then please phone 01628-482715