Bracknell was designated a new town in 1949 and developed accordingly. Very little of the pre-existing village remains.
The name Bracknell is first recorded in a Winkfield Boundary Charter of AD 942 as Braccan heal, and may mean "Nook of land belonging to a man called Bracca". An early form of the town's name, Brakenhale, has been used in the name of one of its schools.
The town is surrounded, on the east and south, by the vast expanse of Swinley Woods and Crowthorne Woods. The town has absorbed parts of many local outlying areas including Warfield, Winkfield and Binfield.
Very early remains in and around Bracknell include:
- The Quelm Stone, a standing stone
- Bronze Age round barrow at Bill Hill.
- Caesar's Camp, an Iron Age hill fort.
Easthampstead Park was a favoured Royal hunting lodge in Windsor Forest and Catherine of Aragon was banished there until her divorce from the King was finalised. It was later the home of the Trumbulls, who were patrons of Alexander Pope from Binfield.
One of the oldest buildings in the town is the 'Old Manor' public house, a 17th-century brick manor house featuring a number of apparent priest holes. Next door once stood the 'Hind's Head' coaching inn, where it is said Dick Turpin used to drink. It is believed that there were once underground tunnels between the two, along which the famous highwayman could escape from the authorities.
It was at Bracknell, in 1723, that a troop of mounted Grenadier Guards had a pitched battle with an infamous band of ruffians known as the Wokingham Blacks. They had been marauding around this area of Windsor Forest for over a year, but, after one of their number was forced to reveal the gang's whereabouts, the authorities finally caught some 29 men.
Surviving old pubs are the Old Manor, Red Lion and the Bull, all timber-framed and dating from before the 18th century. In front of the Bull stands one of Bracknell's many unusual fountains: a large rotating granite ball suspended in a pool of water. Not far away, in Charles Square, is a large clock-fountain.
Oscar Wilde is said to have visited South Hill Park but this has never been verified. It is believed he wrote his short story; the Selfish Giant, whilst in the gardens. Furthermore, he named a character Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.
The oldest place of worship in the town is the parish church of St Michael and St Mary Magdalene in Easthampstead. There has been a church there since Saxon times, although the present building dates from the mid 19th century, except for the lower portions of the Tudor tower. Holy Trinity church near the town centre was built in 1851.
Bracknell was designated a new town in 1949, in the aftermath of the Second World War. The site was originally a large village in the civil parish of Warfield. Very little of the original Bracknell is left. The location was preferred to White Waltham, which was also considered, because the Bracknell site avoided encroaching on good quality agricultural land and had the additional advantage of being on a railway line.
The new town was planned for 25,000 people; it was intended to occupy about 6 square miles of land in and around 'Old Bracknell' in the area now occupied by Priestwood, Easthampstead, Bullbrook and Harman's Water. The existing town centre and industrial areas were to be retained with new industry brought in to provide jobs. However, the town has since expanded far beyond its intended size into farmland to the south, and major expansion is now, as of 2008, under way to the west of the town at Peacock Farm, and on the site of the former RAF Staff College.
The town centre is a 1960s design, and considered by many to be in need of a major refurbishment. The Borough Council is working in partnership with the Bracknell Regeneration Partnership (Legal & General and Schroders) to regenerate the town centre with new shops and facilities.
At the heart of most Bracknell neighbourhoods is a church, a small parade of shops, a primary school, a community centre and a pub. There is a church in Crown Wood School (part of Easthampstead Baptist Church). The neighbourhoods varied in population from 3000 to 9000. The plans included pedestrianisation, the construction of a ring road, and segregation of industrial areas from residential areas.
A slightly confusing feature of some of the estates is that streets only have names, not titles - in Birch Hill, Crown Wood, Great Hollands and others there is no 'Road', 'Avenue', 'Street'; just 'Frobisher', 'Jameston', 'Juniper', 'Jevington'. The residential streets are, however, named in alphabetical order: in Great Hollands and Wildridings the streets begin with As; in Hanworth with Ds, such as Donnybrook; in Birch Hill with Js, such as 'Jameston' and 'Jevington'.
Because of Bracknell's age, it was decided that it should undergo renovation. Designs and plans were submitted and rejected first time round. The council went for a second attempt and were accepted, work was due to commence early in 2008 but due to the global credit crises it appears that plans have been postponed until a more suitable time, although in January 2009 it was still publicly stated as being planned. The cost is estimated at around £750 million. It is hoped that the regeneration will provide brand new services, a completely redeveloped town centre, 1,000 new homes and new police and bus stations.
The new town was successful in attracting high-tech industries. Today Bracknell is one of the leading centres of the IT industry, with many top companies located there.
Manufacturing industry has largely disappeared since the 1980s.
The most visible landmark in the town centre is Winchester House, formerly owned by 3M and informally known as the "3M Building", as it had the 3M logo in large illuminated red letters in a prominent place at the top of the building. It is a twelve-storey structure and it can be seen from miles around. Today it stands as a decaying monument and a bad example of brutalist architecture. It used to house the company's UK headquarters before being abandoned in favour of new premises in Farley Wood on the town's northern edge in 2004 – since then, the building has had the 3M logo removed and has been heavily vandalised inside. It is also due for demolition. The town was also the home of Racal and Ferranti Computer Systems Ltd. The Meteorological Office maintained a large presence in the town until 2003, when it relocated to Exeter in Devon, though the junction of the A329 and A3095 is still known as the "Met Office Roundabout".
"Arlington Square", a 22-acre business park (first stage completed in 1995), is home to several of the town's businesses. Others are on the Western and Southern industrial areas.
- Mills, A.D: A Dictionary of English Place-Names, page 46. Oxford University Press, 1991.
- Holy Trinity church
- English Partnerships
- New Town Development Corporation
- The Parks, Bracknell
- Easthampstead Baptist Church
- New Town
- Boost for Revamp Welcomed, Bracknell News, http://www.bracknellnews.co.uk/articles/1/5161
- Plans for New Centre on Course, Bracknell News, http://www.bracknellnews.co.uk/articles/1/8545
- About Arlington Business Park