Windsor & Royal Borough Museum

History of the Windsor Guildhall

Windsor’s Guildhall was designed by Sir Thomas Fitch in 1687 who oversaw its initial construction but died in 1688 before the building was completed, nine days after having been created a baronet. The Guildhall was completed in 1690 and instantly became the home of Windsor’s Town Council.

The building consisted of a vaulted cellar, corn market and council chamber above, supported by columns on all four sides of the corn market. Legend has it that when Sir Thomas Fitch died, Sir Christopher Wren came to finish the building. It is said that he was asked by council to put in the pillars that stand in the middle of the corn exchange because they did not believe that the ceiling would stay up. Wren did not agree but installed the pillars as requested. However, after they were installed, there was a gap between the top of the pillar and the ceiling; the pillars were not supporting anything! Wren was determined to be right and the ceiling did stay up. It is a wonderful story but there is no evidence that Wren was ever involved personally in building the Guildhall. It is more likely after Fitch died, that the work force of builders continued alone. The original Guildhall documents seem to suggest that Wren could be consulted if necessary but there is no evidence that he ever was. He was a little busy building St. Pauls and 51 other churches at the time. Wren had grown up in Windsor and his son, also Christopher Wren, would represent Windsor in Parliament. It was this Christopher Wren who commissioned the Statue of Prince George of Denmark, Queen Anne’s husband, in 1713, on the south end of the building and Wren’s name inscribed underneath. A statue of Queen Anne stands on the other end, commissioned by the council in 1708.

In 1829 the Guildhall was extended at the back by James Bedborough (a Mayor of Windsor; there is a painting of him inside the building). It may have been him that moved the pillars, which supported the eastern side of the Guildhall, into the centre of the corn market. Perhaps the councillors did request this. Perhaps they did not trust Bedborough’s extention and thought the Guildhall might collapse. Perhaps it was Bedborough who put the pillars in the middle of the corn market with a gap at the top. We will never truly know.

Bedborough’s extention included a market space underneath, like the pillared corn market of the original building. This market space replaced the butchers shambles at the back of the Guildhall. the market space was enclosed in 1905 and you can still see the enclosed archways which are now windows. The room later became the home Windsor’s first museum exhibition until 1982. The Museum moved around the town for a number of years but moved back into the same room, known be then as the Maidenhead room, in the Guildhall in 2011.

 

The building is a Grade II listed building. It ceased to be the home of Windsor’s town council in 1974, when the local authorities of Windsor and Maidenhead joined forces and became the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, incorporating the two main towns and several surrounding villages in Berkshire region. The main home for the Royal borough council is now the town hall in Maidenhead but the Guildhall, Windsor is still owned and run by the local authority and is host for various council meetings, corporate events and most especially, civil marriage and civil partnership ceremonies. HRH the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles were married here on the 9th April 2005. The same year, Singer, Elton John and his partner David Furnish had their Civil Partnership ceremony here on the 21st December. The first day civil partnerships were allowed to take place in England and Wales. Marriage between same-sex couples became legal in 2014.

The Queen has visited the Guildhall on several occasions over the years. As Princess Elizabeth, she unveiled the refurbished Guildhall and first museum display in 1951. She did it again in December 2011 when the Museum returned to the Guildhall. Most recently, she visited as part of her 90th birthday celebrations in 2016, meeting twenty 90 year old local residents, and cutting her birthday cake made by Nadiya Hussain, Great British Bake Off Winner 2015.

Information on booking a corporate event or civil ceremony in the Guildhall, Windsor

 

 

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