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History

The Fisheries started being developed in the 1880’s on land owned by Annie Smith. The first houses to appear were West Court, Langtry House, Fisherman’s Cottage and Wych Elm , which had all been developed by the turn of the century.

Lily Langtry was born Lily Breton in Jersey in 1853. The daughter of the dean of the island, she married Edward Langtry in 1874. She did not make her first stage appearance until 1881 but soon obtained the reputation as one of Britain's most beautiful actresses. Nicknamed the Jersey Lily, Langtry became the mistress of the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII. Lily's husband, Edward Langtry died in 1897, and two years later she married the extremely wealthy Hugo de Bathe. Her autobiography, The Days I Knew, was published in 1925. Lily Langtry died in 1929.

Queen Victoria disapproved of Edward's interest in horse-racing, theatre-going and yachting. Edward had several mistresses including Lily Langtry, Alice Kepple, Lady Brooke, Princess de Mouchy and Princess de Sagan. Edward was involved in several scandals. On one occasion it was discovered that he had been playing in an illegal card-game and in 1870 he was accused in court of having an affair with Lady Mordaunt. Victoria was horrified by her son's behaviour and warned that evidence of a pleasure-loving and immoral aristocracy might provoke the working class into adopting radical political ideas.

The affair lasted from 1877 to 1878. Edward had construction begun on the Red House (now Langtry Manor Hotel) in Bournemouth, Dorset in 1877 as a private retreat for the couple. He allowed Lillie to design it. Edward once complained to her, "I’ve spent enough on you to build a battleship," whereupon she tartly replied, "And you’ve spent enough in me to float one."

The truth about Langtry House needs further research, as there is nothing on the web that links Lily with House.

Bray is mistakenly said to have been Bibriocum in Roman times. Unfortunately, such a place never actually existed. It was a story was invented by a cartographic forger, called Richard of Cirencester. There does appear to have been Roman activity in the region, especially in Water Oakley.

The Sheela-Na-Gig up in the rafters of St Michaels’ may have come from an old church building in Water Oakley. This Irish name refers to a small stone female figure with large breasts and legs akimbo (the Bray figure has lost her head and breasts). She is the Celtic mother goddess, incorporated into churches to remind the faithful of the temptations of the old religion. The Chantry Chapel of Our Lady that stands in the churchyard was probably built around the same time as the church. The carving of a dog (?) encased in its walls may also be from the original Saxon building. It had its own chantry priest who, after 1448, lived in the cottage built over the lych gate. This later became the Six Bells Inn, named after the instruments hanging in the church. The parish church has two further chantry chapels within its walls. The Foxley Chapel (or Chapel of All Saints), from where the brass of Sir John Fowley (1378) and his two wives came, now stands in the south aisle. The church is littered with numerous other interesting monuments, including the brass of a fifteenth century judge (with lost wife) and the beautiful demi-figures of William Goddard and his wife, who founded the Jesus Hospital in 1609. This was built to house thirty-four of the aged poor of Bray and six of the fishmonger’s company to which he belonged. It still stands in the village with his effigy, full-height this time, standing above the entrance.

The famous Singing Vicar of Bray had had a popular “schoolday” song written about him in which he promised to remain the “Vicar of Bray, Sir” no matter what religious denomination he had to adopt. The ballad indicates he was Francis Carswell (Vicar 1650-1709), but the story was recorded of the rector through the turbulent Tudor years as early as 1662. This, much more likely candidate, was named Simon Alleyn (Vicar 1523-65) and his memorial slab lies in the middle of the nave. The Hind’s Head in the village is a 15th century hall house. Its origins are obscure. Some say it was once a Royal hunting lodge or cottages for the builders of the church. However, it appears to have been a guesthouse of the Abbot of Cirencester who owned Bray church from 1133. The present Queen has entertained five other monarchs to lunch there!

A famous hotel not far from the village is the Monkey Island Hotel, named after the islet in the Thames on which it stands. The name of the island is popularly supposed to recall the painted monkeys fishing and shooting on the hotel ceiling. However, it was originally Monk’s Eyot and was used by the monastics from the nearby cell of Merton Priory at Amerden (Bucks). For centuries the island was part of the Whiteknights Estate (Earley) and in 1744 the 3rd Duke of Marlborough had a fishing lodge built there for use when attending the Kit-Kat Club at Down Place (Water Oakley). Hence the fishing monkey paintings by Andieu de Clermont. Some people, however, say they represent the pet monkey of George III who was banished here during his mad fits. The building was converted into a hotel in 1840 and has always been popular with high society. H.G. Wells and his lover, Rebecca West, were frequent visitors and the lady set her first book, Return of the Soldier, here. Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were also particularly fond of the place.