Wokingham Remembers articles for The Wokingham Paper

A heritage page was launched in March 2015 with the title Wokingham Remembers with the objective of telling the Wokingham story as an area and not just the town of the same name. Local historians have given their time without charge in support of the newly launched paper along with a local business, the well-known community supporter ‘Trademark Windows’. Online support for the printed page is provided by Wokingham Remembers.com.

As we reach the end of the page’s first Summer Season, a review of the articles is provided below to give an overview of what are effectively pieces of the Wokingham jigsaw.


27th March 2015: 200 years of Wokingham Wellington and Waterloo.

27th March - Waterloo

27th March – Click on image to read article

The inaugural issue of Wokingham Remembers discusses the influence of Waterloo on the local community pointing to pubs and roads and how they are connected to the battle. There is also the opportunity to show how history can be skewed by emotions and patriotism; the Dukes Head pub shows the face of Wellington, but the pub was named well before he was given the title of Duke. The pub was more likely to be titled after the Duke of St Albans, a Lord Lieutenant. The objective of the article was to commemorate Waterloo’s bicentenary and start the story of Wokingham’s proud history – something not well known to today’s populace. Author and editor: Mike Churcher.


24th April 2015 – Those Magnificent Men in their Fire Machines.

24th April. Click on image to read article.

24th April. Click on image to read article.

Following the trial the ‘Paper’ started its regular weekly spot with the story of the extraordinary 6th Marquess of Downshire, one of the UK’s wealthiest men of his day and also the chief of Wokingham’s Fire Brigade.

A man at ease as much with travellers of the road as he was with royalty, Arthur Hill exemplified the era of the benefactors who helped build the infrastructure of Wokingham’s community.

The story includes some fascinating anecdotes of the man himself. Author: Jim Bell Editor: Mike Churcher


1st May 2015 – Why warring parties took their election battle to the streets.

1st May 2015. Click on image to read article

1st May 2015. Click on image to read article

We start to present a picture of Wokingham’s (and the nations) traditional dual personality. On the one hand it is led by an educated elite and gentry, but there existed to, a scurrilous even ‘chippy’ rural populous. This story is about the 1857 General Election and the riot which took place in Wokingham’s town centre. Particularly interesting is the hint that such brawling happened on a regular basis and the election was just a convenient backdrop. We also use this story to illustrate the corruption of the early elections and the development of the secret ballot. A theme which will run throughout these articles will be the comparison between local history and what was happening on the national stage at the time. Author: Mike Churcher. Original source: the unpublished sketches of Arthur T Heelas


8th May 2015 – 100 years ago: Wokingham’s War hits the families.

8th May. Click on image to read article

8th May. Click on image to read article

Between 2014 and 2018 there will be regular commemorations of certain battles from World War One.

During May 1915 the battle of Ypres was raging and we list the men from Wokingham’s Town Hall Memorial who had been killed between August 1914 and May 1915.

We tell the story of two brothers from Langborough Road Wokingham who were killed during the war.

Author and editor: Mike Churcher Research: Sarah Huxford


15th May 2015 – Childhood heroes, legends of the silver screen and WW1

15th May. Click on image to read article

15th May. Click on image to read article

This article has a part reminiscence theme to it, whereby it works on the readers own memory whilst also illustrating how apparently disconnected themes can suddenly tie together.

We all know Winnie the Pooh, Lassie and probably Rin Tin Tin, but what was their true story and how did they link up with the Great War?

The story is told as if sitting in the old Wokingham Electric Theatre opened in 1913.

To read this article you will need to bring along a drink and a box of popcorn. Author and editor: Mike Churcher


22nd May 2015 A tale of madness and death from the Dark Forest.

22nd May. Click on image to read article

22nd May. Click on image to read article

Historian Roger Long is well known for his tales from the dark side of Berkshire; of murder, madness and things that go bump in the night. We selected this story for a number of reasons which whilst focuses on the story of one man, it presents us with a bigger picture of the area.

Firstly, we are introduced to the notion that the area around Wokingham was both heathland and heavily wooded and a part of the Windsor Royal Forest. We also introduce the village of Crowthorne and its connection with the Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Roger cleverly weaves the story of a mad preacher in the forest with the story of Broadmoor, which still houses many of Britain’s dangerous, mentally ill patients. Author: Roger Long. Editor: Mike Churcher


29th May 2015. Finding our Fallen: visiting the Western Front.

29th May. Click on image to read article

29th May. Click on image to read article

 This article was aimed at local people using the fine Spring weather to take a trip over to the old Western Front and search for their ancestors who killed during the war. Sarah Huxford who is co-founder of the Wokingham Remembers Great War project recounts her own visits and follows the trail of the Turner brothers of Langborough Road who were named in the 15th May edition. Arthur was killed in August 1914 before the trenches were dug and brother Charles lost his life in 1917 during the worst of the trench warfare at Passchendaele. Author: Sarah Huxford.


5th June 2015. Education Education Education !

5th June. Click on image to read article

5th June. Click on image to read article

Whilst the Wokingham of the 19th century was a small market town placed in a part rural part forest setting, it built a remarkable reputation for educating its residents and the children of gentry. Jim Bell introduces us to one of the most important aspects of Wokingham’s development, which still resonates within today’s community.

The article also takes the opportunity to promote the latest short book by Jim. Promoting the works of local writers is an important aspect of the Wokingham Remembers page.

Author: Jim Bell Research: Jim Bell and Joan Dils


12th June 2015 Stampede on the Barkham Road !

12th June. Click on image to read article

12th June. Click on image to read article

This attention grabbing headline fronts up the story of how pack horses were brought over from America and offloaded at Wokingham railway station during the Great War. It’s a highly vivid story of the horses being herded down the Barkham Road and onto the Arborfield Remount Depot where the horses were then prepared for war. The story of the Remount Depot is largely unknown in the area as this piece of MOD became more famous as a REME station. It was also an opportunity to again broaden the Wokingham story beyond the town centre and to also introduce Steve Bacon and the utterly superb website Arborfield History.org.uk Author: Steve Bacon Editor: Steve Bacon


19th June 2015 Waterloo: The Battle that changed the World.

19th June. Click on image to read article

19th June. Click on image to read article

This article was published to coincide with the Battle which took place the day before (18th June 1815) 200 years ago. Again it was important to make the link between Wellington Waterloo and the Wokingham environs.

A photo of Wellingtonia Avenue is provided to show John Walter’s homage to the great battle and pointing out that Wellington College was built as his memorial and the Duke himself lived nearby at Stratfield Saye.

As it was Fathers Day that weekend we made the suggestion that Dad could receive a local book from the Information centre in the Wokingham Town Hall. Author: Mike Churcher


26th June 2015 Why this Charter was a milestone in Berkshire’s history.

26th June. Click on image to read article

26th June. Click on image to read article

June 2015 saw the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, but it was its sibling the Charter of the Forest which had the most influence on the liberties of local Wokingham people. Wokingham was part of the Royal Forest and that meant severe restrictions on what could and couldn’t be gathered from the lands around them.

The Charter improved the lot of the Wokingham people, but the royal families continued to protect what they saw as their rights to hunt the land and that meant the local people were meant to keep their hands off.

Liberty over the past thousand years was a roller coaster and this article tells the story of local life under Forest Law. Author: Mike Churcher


3rd July 2015 Charting the birth of Wokingham’s Town Hall.

3rd July. Click on image to read article

3rd July. Click on image to read article

We return to the town centre with the fascinating tale of how the town hall came to be built and why it is such a magnificently large structure. Local government in the mid 19th century was a very small and under-funded organisation and needed subscriptions to survive.

Jim Bell tells the story of how it was originally funded by the police as a new station and explains the connection with the fire brigade. Those feral locals were setting light to local buildings and the police set up the fire brigade as a swift response.

There is also a fascinating human story of an old silk weaver spending his nights drinking alcohol whilst imprisoned in the Town Hall jail! Author: Jim Bell


10th July 2015 Time travelling down the Old Forest Road.

10th July. Click on image to read article

10th July. Click on image to read article

This is the first part of a series of stories which will be focused on the village of Emmbrook.

Around this small hamlet north of Wokingham are a number of local gentry who were great benefactors in the area. In order to introduce them we took a trip along the Old Forest Road which heads straight towards the centre of the Royal Forest; the centre of course being a pub – The Stag and Hounds!

It was also an opportunity to have a gripe about the 1975 building of the A329M, a pointless strip of motorway which completely cut Emmbrook off from its close connections with Bill Hill and the surrounding farms. One farmer was so bereft at the development he took his own life. Author Peter Shilham (Emmbrook history specialist). Editor David Ford / Mike Churcher


17th July 2015 Did Rosa kill her baby or was it the Forest Road?

17th July. Click on image to read article

17th July. Click on image to read article

The problem with stories about ordinary people in local history is that we do not recognise their significance or how we can connect with them. Until something in their lives goes badly wrong. This story about a young lady by the name of Rosa Rose again uses the dark forest and the Forest Road as the back drop for the pathetic story of alleged murder of her child.

In addition, the man who investigated the case was John Leveson Gower JP, resident of Bill Hill which coincidentally is situated on the Forest Road. Leveson Gower’s name will often appear in stories of the development of Emmbrook. Author: Roger Long Editor: Mike Churcher


24th July 2015 California? Isn’t that in the United States?

24th July Click on image to read article

24th July Click on image to read article

Local history often turns up twists and turns whereby what we think we remember isn’t always the full story. The very picturesque California Country Park in Finchampstead isn’t quite what it used to be. Most locals know this already and some will remember that is once was a holiday park ‘California England’.

Trevor Ottlewski, Chairman of the Wokingham History Group tells us of an even older history. California was once an area off the Nine Mile Ride which accommodated a Saw Mill, a brickworks with its own railway and even a rifle range; hence the names ‘Kiln Ride’ and ‘Range Road’. He speculates that the name was popular in the 1850’s and is associated with the Californian sequoia trees which line Wellingtonia Avenue. It’s a good theory; John Walter owned all the land at that time California was just witnessing the passing of its Gold Rush in 1848-1855. California would certainly have been in the news and John Walter would know – he owned the famous London Times! Author Trevor Ottlewski (Chairman Wokingham History Group).


31st July 2015 Roman around Wokingham.

31st July Click on image to read article

31st July Click on image to read article

As it is the start of the school summer holidays and the parents are out with their kids, Ancient History specialist David Nash Ford provides a fun page of facts and puzzles about the lives of the Romans and the Celts.

What gives this page its dash of brilliance, is the fact that it is focused on our local area. By the time we have finished ‘helping’ our kids colour in the pictures and find answers to the questions, we end up with a knowledge of just how much of a presence the Romans had in this area.

Watch out for the Devils Highway – it’s an old Roman Road. The article is also an opportunity to point the readership towards David’s excellent website Berkshire History.com Author: David Nash Ford


7th August 2015 New Angles on Saxon Wokingham.

Click on image to read full article

David continues his page for the kids on holiday with the story of the Saxons and again applies it to local history.

That old Saxon chief Wocca was responsible for not only Wokingham, but Woking and even Wokefield, but who was Sunna?

Not only do we find out how they lived and how many local villages are named after the Saxons, but also learn the lessons of the runes.

Have a read – why should the kids get all the fun? Author: David Nash Ford


14th August 2015 A showcase of India’s valour in the Great War.

14th August. Click on image to read article

14th August. Click on image to read article

As part of our continuing First World War remembrance program, the Wokingham and Reading Sikh community opened an exhibition to tell the unknown story of India’s involvement in the Great War.

The opening of the exhibition was a remarkable display of community solidarity, with senior figures such as the Lord Lieutenant, India’s High Commissioner and local MP’s and Councillors all in attendance.

It’s a fascinating story which gives British Sikhs great pride knowing how their own ancestors were heavily involved in saving a country which was to become the home they grew up in.

The exhibition is located at the Reading Museum and closes at the end of August 2015. Author Vivienne Johnson

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21st August. Just click on the image to open full article

21st August 2015 Review of first season of articles.

Now we have reached the end of the first summer season of articles, this piece ties together the seemingly loose connections they have with each other. Over the coming seasons we hope to build the story of Wokingham using a number of sub headings such as: education, religion, industry, transport, social structures, national politics and local government. There will need to be more use of statistics and references, but these can be placed as support material on the website.

Click on thumbnail to read full article

Click on thumbnail to read full article


28th August: Christianity Rules!

In the final ‘History for kids’ article before the return to school, David Nash Ford takes us on a trip to the birth of Christianity in Berkshire. The local Saxon kings dropped their pagan beliefs and adopted the idea of the single God and the message of Jesus Christ. David asks the question “Why did they do that”? Again a super piece to round off the end of a somewhat wet and windy summer holiday. Get your crayons out!

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George Henry PRICE, Poulterer 52 Peach Street (1857 – 1925)

Post card of Peach Street Wokingham which includes 52 Peach Street (blue house) Photo from the Goatley Collection

Post card of Peach Street Wokingham which includes 52 Peach Street (blue house) Photo from the Goatley Collection

We’re very grateful for the article provided by Diane Johansen in which she tells us about her Great Grand Uncle’s life and his death in Peach Street, Wokingham. We so often know about the buildings and the community who lived in Wokingham, but rarely discover the individual lives, their triumphs and their tragedies. Here we have just that with the story of George Henry Price

George Henry PRICE, my great-grandmother’s brother, was baptised at Lyonshall Parish Church, Herefordshire on 25th January l857, the son of Charles and Susannah PRICE.   Charles was a pit sawyer and the family lived in a small village called Holmes Marsh.  It sounds a delightful place – and, indeed, today, it is a “picture postcard” area – but back then it was quite a different place, and a newspaper article I have found tells of the reputation Holmes Marsh once had!    Apparently, the local children from the neighbouring Lyonshall village were told “to avoid the place”.  “If the mists from the marshes didn’t get them then the residents would…….!”

George Henry’s ancestral family had lived in Herefordshire as far back to the 1700s as I have managed to research, however, at some point in the 1870s, with agricultural work hard to find, the family went their separate ways.  Where all the others moved to South Wales to seek employment in the mines and iron foundries, George Henry headed south; perhaps lured by the offer of work in the open air and milder climes.  It cannot have been easy for him to know that his father continued to work in the heat of the foundries, well into his seventies.  I doubt from what I know that George Henry ever saw his parents or brothers and sisters again.

St Mary's Church Reading

St Mary’s Church Reading

I do know that, by 1879, George Henry was living in Chain Street, Reading, as in that year, he met and married Emma Sims from Brigmerston, Milton, Wiltshire.  They married at St Mary’s Parish Church in Reading on 11th December 1879.  His marriage certificate gives his age as 27, however he was actually only 22.  As Emma was 29, George Henry may have felt more comfortable with a smaller age difference…and, anyway, if it pleased him to convince Emma he was just a little older than he was, what would it matter?  Another small encouragement to marry on that cold winter’s day could well have been the rather imminent arrival of their first child!  As we well know, the first child always arrives a little quicker than the others….

Emma was one of four sisters born to William and Ann Sims in Milston, Wiltshire.  Rhoda may have been the first sister to move to Wokingham from Wiltshire.  In 1870 she had married Stephen Bristow (also Wiltshire-born) in Reading and they and their family settled in Champions Road,  Caversham. It is likely that Rhoda subsequently found work for her sister Elizabeth, who, in 1871, had moved to Wokingham to work as a housemaid for Edward Roberts, a local magistrate.  At this time, Emma was still back at home in Wiltshire however she, too, would soon arrive in Reading where she was to meet George Henry.

Rose Street approximately 1895. Picture: Bob Wyatt

Rose Street approximately 1895. Picture: Bob Wyatt

Later that year, Elizabeth Sims set her own seal on remaining in Wokingham when she gave up working for the local magistrate and married Robert Green, a master dairyman and a widower, who had a young daughter Lucy. The new family initially lived at “The Grocer’s Shop” in Peach Street.  Robert also had an infant son, John, who was born in 1870 so it is likely that Robert’s first wife died in childbirth.  For the first few months of his life, baby John lived with the Wake family in Rose Street, Wokingham, however, with Robert’s marriage to Elizabeth he was able to reunite his family.

The fourth sister, Sarah Sims, was also tempted to join her sisters in Wokingham and, after Elizabeth left her employ with Edward Roberts, Sarah came to work for him and his wife Ellen. In 1881 Sarah married a local gardener, Edwin Rattue, (also Wiltshire-born) however, it would appear they then made the decision to move back home to look after Sarah’s widowed and now poorly mother.

George Henry Price's shop 'Now and then'. Lower photo thanks to Goatley Collection

George Henry Price’s shop ‘Now and then’. Lower photo thanks to Goatley Collection

In 1881, Robert and Elizabeth Green were running their grocery shop next door to the business that had now become George Henry and Emma’s Poultry and Game Shop at 52 Peach Street.  George Henry was now the proud father of a one-year-old son, Frederick Sims Price, who was born in Caversham, where Emma’s married sister, Rhoda Bristow, was then living.

Within ten years, Elizabeth and Robert Green had moved up the road to 88 Peach Street, from where they ran their dairy. Lucy Green, now 22, and her brother John, 20, were working for their father as assistant dairymen. Within 5 years, Robert had died and Elizabeth, his widow, took over the dairy.  She died in 1904. Robert has a headstone at All Saints Church and, although Elizabeth is not mentioned on it, it is likely she is buried there too.

It is clear that the attractions of Wokingham were too strong and that Sarah and her husband Edwin Rattue eventually returned from Wiltshire to the town as they are also buried at All Saints – Edwin in 1920 and Sarah in 1925.

Rhoda’s husband Stephen died in 1900.  They had ten children and, sadly, one of their sons, Harry (b.1883) died during WW1. He is remembered with honour at Reading (Caversham) Cemetery where he has a grave. He died on 21st December 1916 (Reg. No. 32420, “G” Company, Royal Engineers.)

I was given a selection of newspaper articles which mention George Henry through the years:

Reading Mercury Sat. 17th May 1884:  Edwin BRANT a boy of Wokingham, was charged with stealing a knife, value one shilling, the property of G H Price, poulterer of Peach Street, on 14th instant. He pleaded guilty and was committed to one month’s hard labour.

Reading Observer Sept. 26th l885:  Fall of a Chimney….Tuesday 22nd morning, as Mr Seaward was sweeping Mr Bedford’s chimney  in Peach Street, part of the roof fell. Mr Price, passing at the time with a horse and cart, narrowly escaped falling brickwork…..

1889, September Parish Magazine:  Mr Price, Poulterer of Peach Street, whose leg was broken by a horse jumping on him, is doing well and will soon be able to resume business. He speaks gratefully of the skill and kindness which have been bestowed on him at Hospital and of all the comforts he has enjoyed there.  He and Mrs Price also desire to return their warmest thanks to many friends and neighbours who have shown kind interest.

1889, Berkshire Chronicle Nov. 9th page 8:  Wokingham Town Council – Survey Committee agreed to recommend that Mr Price be allowed to place a bow-window to his shop in Peach Street on condition he pay a Quit Rent of l shilling p.a.

Trade Directories: 1883, l887 and l895 – PRICE, Geo. Henry, Poulterer Peach St.

Saturday 5th April 1902 in Reading Mercury:

“Good Cob wanted, 14 hands Price, Poulterer, 52 Peach Street, Wokingham”

Friday 14th November 1919 in Western Gazette:

“Wanted for Christmas trade, 60 good fat turkeys, also geese. Highest price given, G H Price, 52 Peach St. Wokingham.”

By 1891, George Henry and Emma had a further seven children, all born in Wokingham:

  • Annie, b. l882,
  • Susan, b. l883,
  • Arthur, b. l884,
  • Elizabeth, b. l885,
  • Louisa, b. l887
  • Ethel, b. l890 and
  • Emily b. 1892

(I believe all the children would have been baptised at All Saint’s Wokingham, as George Henry was a sides-man there.)

I located the family on the 1901 Census still living at Peach Street, however, I noticed that their eldest son Frederick was missing from home.  Further research sadly showed that he had died, aged just 18 in 1898.  Searches of the local newspapers found the answer:  (Taken from Reading Observer, Berkshire Chronicle and Reading Mercury 19th March 1898)

A distressing accident happened at the Railway Station on Monday. Frederick Sims Price, the son of Mr Price, Poulterer, of Peach Street Wokingham, was helping to push a truck and, in the process, his clothes caught.  He was crushed so severely that he died from the effects. Mr W. Weedon, the coroner, held an inquest at the Royal Berks Hospital on Thursday when the following evidence was given:

Wokingham Railway Station

Wokingham Railway Station

George Henry Price said he was father of the deceased who was 18 and working with witness. Occasionally his duties took him to Wokingham Station. He had no occasion to go there on the day of the accident. On Monday evening he was brought home in a fly. He told witness he was helping to push a truck and when doing so was told to go to the other side of it.  When there his clothes were caught and he was twisted up.  The doctor advised his removal to the Hospital as quickly as possible and he was taken there the same evening.

Harry Street, head porter at Wokingham Station, said he knew the deceased. He was often at the station enquiring for parcels.  Witness had never before known him to help in moving trucks. He did not know how the deceased came to do so on that occasion. They were all pushing from the back. There was a dock wall and it was very dangerous there. No one knowing his work would push from there. From where the accident happened deceased must have come from the front of the truck.  He had no business there. After the accident he came from between the dock wall and the carriage, a space of l4 inches and between the wall and the footboard 7 inches. About 8 0’clock that evening deceased saw the booking clerk about a little account.  The accident happened about half an hour after. It was very dark. There was no light after leaving the platform.  The deceased was a very good and respectable young man.

Wokingham Station. Staff plus horse. Photo: Goatley Collection

Wokingham Station. Staff plus horse. Photo: Goatley Collection

Mr M.T. Stack, home surgeon at the Royal Berks Hospital, said deceased was admitted about midnight on Monday suffering from shock.  He complained of abdominal pain. He ruptured his bladder, never rallied and died on Wednesday morning. It was a hopeless case.  He was operated upon, but at the time it was found to be of no use.

James Lancaster, signalman at Wokingham Station, said he was helping to push the truck.  There were only five of them so far as he could see and they were all pushing from the back.  A verdict was returned of “Died of shock, arising from his being accidentally crushed at the Wokingham Railway Station”.   

 This article was subsequently printed in the Reading Observer 26th March 1898 page 8:

A Volunteer’s Funeral took place on Saturday (19th)…the elements in accord with the sadness of the occasion, the rain commencing to fall about an hour previous to the time fixed for the interment and continuing throughout the whole proceedings.  The cortege started from the house of the parents, the Wokingham Town Band leading and playing the “Dead March” in Saul Members of the Volunteer Corps, of which deceased had been a member, came next, Sergt-Instructor Hanney being in command, then the Hon. Instructor Mr Harvey, Lieut A Priest and the sergeants of the Boys Brigade.  Next the corpse in a coffin of polished elm covered with the Union Jack, 4 Volunteers as bearers.  The relatives followed, also the Juvenile Oddfellows Committee.  Canon Sturges conducted the service…the church and streets were thronged with sympathisers.

The fallen headstone for Frederick Sims Price at All Saints, Wokingham

The fallen headstone for Frederick Sims Price at All Saints, Wokingham

The fallen headstone for Frederick Sims Price at All Saints, Wokingham which reads:

In loving memory of Frederick Sims Price who died March 16th 1898 in the 18th year of his age.

“Gone from us but not forgotten

Never shalt thy memory fade

Loving thought shall ever linger

Round the spot where thou art laid”

According to the 1911 Census, George Henry and Emma were still in Peach Street, living with their remaining son Arthur, who was a fly proprietor (horse and carriages), and daughters Susan and Emily.  Ethel was working as a teacher, living with the Freer family in Hungerford and Louise had moved to London, where she was working as a clerk in Marylebone. Elizabeth, now 24, was working as a baker’s shop assistant for the Russell family at Station Parade, Enfield.  George Henry’s later obituary would indicate that he was a “well-known and respected Poulterer and Livery Proprietor, who had carried on business for many years in Wokingham and who had also served as a sidesman at All Saints Church.”

Wokingham All Saints circa 1910. Photo: Goatley Collection

Wokingham All Saints circa 1910. Photo: Goatley Collection

On a visit to Wokingham in 2006, I found George Henry and Emma’s headstone at All Saints’ Church and this gave me his date of death.  However, it did not tell me the whole story.  Whilst I now knew that Emma had died in 1918 and George Henry in 1925, the circumstances of his death would sadly become apparent.

Subsequent research located George Henry’s inquest in the Reading papers as follows:

George and Emma Price headstone

George and Emma Price headstone

Inquest held on Wednesday 8th April 1925 by Coroner, R.S. Payne relating to the suicide of George Henry Price on Tuesday 7th April.  Identification was given by Miss Emily Price, his daughter, who reported that her father “had been very depressed and on the verge of a nervous breakdown”.  She found him “… in a shed at the rear of his residence”.  A neighbour, Tom Herring, tried artificial respiration without success. 

The account reported that George had had a nervous breakdown several years before.  His doctor, H.F. Curl, said he had attended George frequently and found him in a “depressed state”.   His relatives were very anxious about him and arrangements had been made to take him to a nursing home. 

The newspaper account refers to Mr Price as a “well-known and respected tradesman” who had “carried on business for many years as a “poulterer and game dealer”.  The doctor added that he had attended Mr Price for Bronchitis and he “rather thought that Mr Price had overheard him say that he would visit again in the afternoon and, having already been in an asylum some years before probably thought that he would be signed up again”.

An Advertisement taken from Wokingham Parish Magazine. Note the inclusion of Mr Herring who tried to rescue Mr Price.

An Advertisement taken from Wokingham Parish Magazine. Note the inclusion of Mr Herring who tried to rescue Mr Price.

According to the Reading Mercury dated 11.4.1925: “The tragic death of Mr Price removes a familiar personality from the town and neighbourhood. At the Wokingham and Bracknell weekly markets he was well known.  He served for many years as a sides-man at All Saints Church. He carried on, in addition to the poultry business, that of Livery Proprietor, and his service of horses and vehicles in that respect was most reliable.  His wife died some time ago and his eldest son met his death by being crushed by a railway guard’s van in the shunting dock at Wokingham station many years ago.  A son and six daughters – all of adult age – survive him”.

Inquest Verdict:  “Suicide whilst of unsound mind”. 

In George Henry’s Will of 1925, he bequeathed the shop and business to his son Arthur, however, by this time, Arthur had moved to Hounslow where he was settled and so, in 1926, the shop was sold to Henry Bowyer whereupon it became a corn chandler’s. His daughters were all mentioned in the Will, however Emily received a special word of thanks “in recompense for her kind care.”

Emma's sudden death may have triggered George's visit to the asylum for his depression (click on image to increase size)

Emma’s sudden death may have triggered George’s visit to the asylum for his depression (click on image to increase size)

Eighty years after this event, I, as a member of his family, was much saddened to discover the story surrounding George Henry’s passing however I do feel that the overriding message in his story is one of a life of achievement and good works. From humble beginnings, in a small Herefordshire village, with few prospects, he worked his way up in the world to owning his own property and business – all the while providing for his family whilst suffering from an inner turmoil.  Clearly, the death of his son – and the shock of it – must have contributed to George Henry’s mental health.  It may be no coincidence that my own Great-Grandmother Susannah, George Henry’s sister, died some years before him, suffering from a similar malaise brought on by the loss of two of her own much-loved daughters.  It would be easy to look upon the family as having a “weakness of mind” however I prefer to look upon it as a family who knew great love for each other, so much so that the coping with the loss of those loved ones simply became too great a burden to bear.

I shall not continue here with any additional information on George Henry’s descendants, but would be happy to correspond with anyone connected to the family.  I would, of course, welcome any additional information on George Henry’s life in Wokingham….and maybe, just maybe, we will one day find a photograph of him.

Diane Johansen


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Local exhibition for India’s warriors of the Great War

Legacy of Valour-Exhibition flyer-A5

Leaflet for the exhibition. Click on image to increase size

An exhibition organised by the Wokingham and Reading Sikh community will recount India’s support for the British Empire during World War One.  India provided Britain with a massive volunteer army in its hour of need with over 1.5million Indian soldiers and support personnel serving during 1914 to 1918. Their contribution to the early part of the war was especially critical; Britain had seen most of its professional army wiped out by the summer of 1915 and Kitchener’s army were not ready to fight until the September of that year. To tell their story, the exhibition hosts many rare documents and photographs unseen in public for over a century and can be seen now at the Reading Museum on Blagrave Street until Monday 31st August 2015.

Percentage of Muslims in India 1909. Click to enlarge

Percentage of Muslims in India 1909. Click to enlarge

The geographical and political changes which took place on the sub-continent in the following one hundred years means that the India of today is not the country it was when it entered the war. Following WW2 the India divided along largely religious lines forming Pakistan and Bangladesh (Muslim communities) and India (Sikh and Hindu). Therefore, from a historical perspective it is important to note India’s warriors came from across its religious spectrum.

Another significant point made by the researchers was that over 1.5 million Indian soldiers served across the warring territories; more than the Australians, Kiwis, Canadians and South Africans put together. Although this is not a competition of numbers, the question arises as to why their story has never attained the same recognition as those other members of the Empire.

The Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle commemorates over 4,700 Indian soldiers and labourers who lost their lives on the Western Front during the First World War and have no known graves.

The Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle commemorates over 4,700 Indian soldiers and labourers who lost their lives on the Western Front during the First World War and have no known graves.

If there is a year which defines the Indian Army’s greatest moment, then 1915 would be a favourite. In Europe, India’s soldiers fought at Ypres at La Bassee, Neuve Chapelle, Auber’s Ridge, Festubert, Loos and again Ypres. Their contribution at this point of the war was critical; Britain had seen most of its professional army wiped out by the summer of 1915 and Kitchener’s volunteer forces were not ready to fight until the September of that year. They were also to serve at Gallipoli in 1915, Givenchy and Somme in 1916, Passchendaele and Mesopotamia in 1917. Wherever the war was fought, the Indian army was omnipresent.

How did the Indian Army view the Western Front?

The Western Front experience for many members of the Indian Army was totally alien to their existing way of life; cold and wet was the start, but every other sense was also invaded. What they saw, could smell, what they heard and touched would have been totally alien to them. However, amongst all the horrors and obvious carnage they came across, the soldiers enjoyed other more positive experiences. Here are some extracts from the soldiers’ letters to home (thanks to the Sikh Foundation for the following fascinating account):

WW1 exemplifies Britain and India's common history

WW1 exemplifies Britain and India’s common history. Photo Times of India

Bakhshis Singh (Sikh) of Sialkot Cavalry Brigade writes (in Gurmukhi) from France on 27th February 1916 to Sher Singh (Ferozepur District, Punjab)

“Here is very cold at present. It snows much. The little discomfort that we experience is due to cold and rain. Otherwise the country is like heaven. It rains frequently. You are, no doubt, astonished at what I say and wonder how this country can be heaven. Listen to one little thing. Here no one drinks water. When they desire to drink, either at meals or any other time, they drink the juice of apples. So many apples are produced that the people press the juice and store it in barrels, (from) which they drink throughout the year. They let us have a bottle full for two pica (paisa). All the men drink it. There is no prohibition – you may bring as much as you like inside the house. Barrels upon barrels are full of it. Moreover there are barns full of apples. If I return alive I will tell you all about this country. You shall be staggered at all I shall tell you. It is real heaven. There is plenty of milk, but only cow’s milk. The people, however, drink very little milk. They milk the cows and then they extract the butter at the rate of a mound (40 kilo) of milk in ten minutes. The skimmed milk they give to cows, calves and pigs. The people are very honest. There is no sign of theft. Goods to the value of lakhs (hundred thousands) of rupees lie in glass houses. No one pays any regard to them. Grain, potatoes and such like things lie in the fields unguarded. In short, the cat plays with pigeons and chicken and the dog plays with the cat and tends the sheep, churns the butter and draws a cart and guards it too. When a cow calves, they immediately take away the calf and do not let the cow see it. They rear it on skimmed milk. They milk the cow daily – two or three times daily – without the calf being present. The cows in fact do not know whether they gave birth to a calf or not. It is the golden age!!

Kartar Singh (Sikh, 15th Sikhs) to Gurdit Singh (Raswind, Punjab) from Milford –on –Sea on 24th February 1916 (Gurmukhi)

“You say that you have heard that the entire Indian Army has left France. This is not so. The infantry have left but the cavalry is still upholding the honour of the Government here. By the Grace of God the cavalry are flourishing like fields of Sarson (rape seed) in the Spring. At the present time much rain and snow are falling and consequently the cold is very severe. The snow accumulates all day….. Sirdar Buta Singh of Rawalpindi has sent a copy of the Granth Sahib. He has conferred a great favour on us, since we can have worship during our sojourn in a foreign land.

Sowar Natha Singh (SIKH) to Sapuran Singh (Lyallpur District, Punjab wrote in Urdu from FPO 19, France on 4th January 1916.

“The country is exceedingly pleasant. In it India is forgotten. I do not wish the war to end soon. I should like to die in this country and I have no intention of returning to India. If you want anything, write to me. May the Holy Guru save me from India? I hope you will answer this quickly, telling me you are well. I am in great comfort as I am always away from the squadron. Tell Basant Kaur from me to look carefully after the children and have them well schooled, fed and clothed. There is no need to think of the cost. She can spend as much as she likes on them. But I have no hope of seeing them again – nor do I wish to see them. For I have found a good opportunity of sacrificing my life and I hope to pay my debt with loyalty.

*Isher Singh (Sikh, 59th Rifles) to a friend (50th Punjabi, Punjab) wrote in Gurmukhi on 1st May 1915 from Indian General Hospital, Brighton describing the war of New Chappell.

“The battle is being carried on very bitterly. In the Lahore Division only 300 men are left. Some are dead, some wounded. The division is finished. Think of it – in taking 50 yards of German trench, 50,000 men are killed. When we attack they direct a terrific fire on us – thousands of men die daily. It looks as if not a single man can remain alive on either side – then (when none is left) there will be peace.

When the German attack they are killed in the same way. For us men it is a bad state of affairs here. Only those return from the battlefield that is slightly wounded. No one else is carried off. Even Sahib (English officers) is not lifted away. The battleground resounds with cries……. Here thing are in a very bad way. In France the news is that dog churn milk in machines and look after the cattle. A man who keeps a dog has to pay five rupees a month to the King.

Do not be anxious about me. We are very well looked after. White soldiers are always besides our bed – day and night. We get very good food four times a day. We also get milk. Our hospital is in the place where the king used to have his throne (Brighton Pavilion). Every man is washed once in hot water. The King has given strict order that no trouble be given to any black man in hospital. Men in hospital are tended like flowers and the King and Queen sometimes comes to visit them.’’

For more information on the Sikh community:



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The true story of Berkshire’s California

Trevor Ottlewski photoThis week’s contributor is Trevor Ottlewski; researcher, author and Chairman of the Wokingham History Group. Trevor has a wide knowledge of local history and specialises in the area’s historic buildings. (This article originally appeared in the Wokingham Paper 24th July 2015).

California in Berkshire

When most British people hear the name California, they think of California USA, and perhaps sunny beaches, Hollywood, or the gold rush, however there are some seven places named California in Great Britain.

Trevor holds one of the railway sleepers which was a part of the brick works.

Trevor holds one of the railway sleepers which was a part of the brick works.

In Berkshire, the name California refers to an area of land that runs alongside Nine Mile Ride; it is now wholly in the parish of Finchampstead, although in the past has had portions in Barkham, Wokingham and Wokingham Without.  Defining the confines of California is not easy as it had no specific boundary; by the late 1850’s the name described the area around a brick yard and sawmill located in today’s terms at the Nine Mile Ride end of Kiln Ride, however some seventy years later it extended further west to California cross roads at the junction of Nine Mile Ride and Finchampstead Road, and then further still to California in England, the holiday camp.

The area of “California in England” had historically been Longmoor Bog and after the lake was formed, Longmoor Lake, the adoption of the name California seems only to have extended west with the new attraction. It is the latter feature, now a local country park that in most minds is the focus for the name California, albeit a mile or more away from the original site/centre of California.

That was then... the yellow dot on this 100 year old map shows the junction of Kiln Ride and Nine Mile Ride. (click to enlarge)

That was then. The yellow dot on this 100 year old map shows the junction of Kiln Ride and Nine Mile Ride. (click to enlarge) ….

Why California? There is no definitive answer, but the most likely reason being an appreciation of California in America by one of its land owners; whether the subsequent planting of Wellingtonia (Sequoia) trees nearby in Finchampstead was deliberately intended to add to the character of California is not known, but they were a notable feature in California USA.

It would seem that the name California and the business arrived together in the early 1850’s; details are not clear regarding its original size, however by 1856 it had not only the brickyard and sawmill, but its own rail link, the California Tramway, that joined the main South Eastern and Chatham Railway line between Crowthorne and Wokingham, at California Junction. The original brickworks may have been located a little to the east of its eventual site, but by the early 1870’s it was firmly established with at least four kilns, two clay mills, a brickyard, sawmill and timber yard.

This is today... the same junction today, which is the site of the California brickworks.

…. and this is now. The same junction today, which is the site of the California brickworks.

In addition there were 5 homes built for employees, one detached for the manager, and two semi detached. The houses remain to the present day and are among the very small number of 19th century buildings that were built on a virtually undeveloped Nine Mile Ride. Whilst the main tramway ran east from the kilns crossing Sandhurst Road and on to the main line, a further line ran from the brickworks to a clay pit at Wick Hill to assist in carrying clay to the clay mill.

The business was first in the hands of civil engineer and surveyor, Henry Read, but was soon incorporated into the huge Walter estate. It is reputed that bricks from this yard were taken by rail to London and used to construct The Times newspaper printing office.

Kiln ride focusRange Road focusThe other feature of note within California was a rifle range, this was sited east of the brickyard and was established by the 1870’s. Shooting was directed from south to north at which point there was a large target site cut into the hill with a signal post and hut. Distances were laid out in intervals of 50 yds, starting at 50 and reaching 650 close to the junction of range Road and Nine Mile Ride; by the 1890’s this had been extended to 950 yds by increasing the range across Nine Mile Ride (then a little used forest track), a situation hard to imagine today.

There was little change to the area until after the First World War, when throughout the 1920’s a steady stream of people moved to the area, many buying plots fronting Nine mile Ride, but also sites along other previously undeveloped roads; the plots were often narrow, but very long, probably because the price was based on the width of the frontage. California at this time described land on both sides of Nine mile Ride from the junction with Finchampstead Road, east to some point beyond Range Road. A huge number of bungalows were built, and in a wide variety of materials; timber, asbestos, breezeblock and brick were all in common use, and even today a few of these original buildings survive. Reputedly a lot of the incomers were ex servicemen and /or Londoners. The influx of new residents continued throughout the 1930’s and it could be argued has never stopped.

The development of shops and service station around 1930 moved the emphasis of California further west, and the establishment of the “California in England” amusement park and eventual holiday camp virtually relocated the name away from its original site, even the speedway team were known as the “California Poppies”.

The area now bears almost no resemblance to that of 100 years ago and for most people California is the name of a managed country park, its original history long forgotten.

The map below shows the area which was once a brickfield and rifle range called California. Click the bottom right icon for full size.

The map below shows the area which is now known as California Park. Just click on the arrow and watch the map change 100 years!

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Tales from the Dark Forest – Rosa Rose 1869

Roger LongThis week local historian ROGER LONG tells of the mysterious story of Rosa Rose, accused of murdering her son and a case investigated by Mr Leveson Gower JP to assess if there was a case to answer. The drama unfolded along the Forest Road, which ran through his large estate of Bill Hill.

The story starts in Reading…

Rosa Rose, an attractive girl of twenty six, gave birth to her second illegitimate child in early December 1869. Rosa was staying with a Mrs Emily Hearne and her daughter in Church Street Reading. The birth had been traumatic and Rosa had become weak and thin, but nevertheless, the baby boy survived and Rosa decided he was to be called John Rose. Bill Hill and Leveson GowerIn spite of being unwell, Rosa decided to visit her mother in Warfield and the Forest Road would help her trek the required 12 mile walk. The route could be precarious, but the road itself was in decent condition and there were established houses (including Bill Hill) along the way if she encountered any problems. Mrs Hearne however was concerned about the trip because Rosa and her mother suffered a poor relationship, but nevertheless encouraged the reunion.

Bill Hill House Forest Road. Courtesy berkshirehistory.com

Bill Hill House Forest Road and home of John Leveson Gower JP. Courtesy berkshirehistory.com

Rosa walks the Forest Road

On the Friday of 17th December, Mrs Hearne, a nurse fought through the awful wet and blustery weather to visit a patient in her care. The visit was interrupted when her daughter Alice rushed in to say that Rosa had returned and was in an awful state.  Mrs Hearne made her way back to her home to see Rosa, but not before Alice had blurted out “Mummy, little Johnny is dead”.

The sight that met Mrs Hearne at home was distressing indeed. Rosa was standing in the hall motionless, soaking wet and still holding onto the body of her son. Events then moved quickly. Mrs Hearne, having ascertained that baby John was dead called Mr Muggeridge, the local doctor. He arrived and following a few checks decided the baby had died by drowning (correctly) and called the police. Rosa muttered “I fell in a ditch with him last night”. Rosa was arrested and arrived at Reading Gaol  still exhausted from childbirth, the recent journey and the immediate loss of her son.

Magistrate John Leveson Gower of Bill Hill, was required to investigate the case prior to the court hearing and was an excellent choice due to his local knowledge of the area. Rosa would have walked the Forest Road during her journey to see her mother and by twist of fate, passed through Mr Leveson Gower’s Bill Hill estate.

Stag and Hounds over the bridge on the Forest Road, Binfield

Stag and Hounds over the bridge on the Forest Road, Binfield

Rosa arrives at the Stag and Hounds to rest

Rosa explained how she left Mrs Hearne’s house on the 16th December and returned the next day. Rosa said she could not afford the coach fare and decided to walk the twelve miles to her mother’s house; a decision foolish in the extreme given her poor condition and the day’s appalling weather. Rosa passed though Binfield and arrived at the Stag and Hounds public house at around 4.30pm and was met by the publican, Harriet Roberts. She told Justice Leveson Gower that Rosa had requested brandy but advised her to take a pot of tea given her distressing condition. By this time it was already dark outside.

Stag and Hounds today. Courtesy Berkshire History.com

Stag and Hounds today. Courtesy Berkshire History.com

Rosa continued her journey over the Cut at Pitts Bridge and towards Warfield, arriving by early evening according to witness George Lamb. He saw Rosa knock on her mother’s door and when it was unanswered, left to return on the road on which she arrived.

Darkness, confusion and death

Rosa stated that she became disorientated in the dark and lost the road falling into a number of ditches. She found a hut to stay the night and strangely stated that “I think I could hear the baby murmuring outside the shed, but I could not be sure. I was too exhausted to move”. She fell asleep and waking later with drenched skin she found John and believed him (rightly) to be dead. Carrying the baby towards the road she tripped over her petticoat several times and therefore discarded it. The police later found the petticoat and it was measured to be less than 200 yards from her mother’s house and 80 yards from the nearest path.

Mr Leveson Gower asked if she had seen her mother at all during her visit and when Rosa answered in the negative, he asked her if she was upset about the baby why did she not go back the 200 yards to her mother’s house rather than the twelve miles to her friends? Rosa’s response was that she was disorientated and that her friend Mr Hearne was very much like a mother to her.

Rosa's case was heard at the Reading Gaol in 1870. Courtesy Reading Central Library

Rosa’s case was heard at the Reading Gaol in 1870. Courtesy Reading Central Library

This was a strange account of Rosa’s 24 hours; how could she leave her son outside of the hut? Why too exhausted to bring him out of the rain, but later able to walk the return journey?  Why did she not go back to her mother’s house just a few hundred yards away rather than the 12 mile hike back to Reading? Strangest of all when the police went through her personal belongings at the time of her arrest, she was found to have 19 shillings and sixpence in her pocket. This was a large sum at a time when wages for the working man was approximately £15 per annum and could have provided a coach ride fifty times over.  How did she come across this amount of money? Unsurprisingly Mr Leveson Gower decided there was a case to answer and Rosa was sent to trial for the murder of her son John Rose.

Was she found guilty? The trial was never heard as the judge considering the proceedings simply believed her story and Rosa walked free. A strange end to a strange tale, but the story provides a strong picture of the Forest Road and the precarious nature of life in the mid Victorian period. We find it hard to believe someone can become disorientated so easily, but today we rarely experience true darkness or the complete absence of light at night time. The moors around this part of Berkshire even today can be a barren place, where the ground can be solid at one point and then quickly becomes a sodden bog. So be warned when venturing into this Dark Forest!


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Journey to the centre of the dark Forest

Peter Shilham

Peter Shilham

In last week’s article we discovered the origins of the Royal Windsor Forest and its influence on the early communities of Wokingham and its surrounding villages. This week and with the help of local historian PETER SHILHAM we take a journey along an old turnpike road and into the centre point of the forest.

Driving from Winnersh on the Reading Road towards Wokingham, we pass under the M4 and soon after on the left hand side is a small turning called ‘Old Forest Road’. Many parents will know this as the road to ‘Monkey Mates’, a veritable factory of fun for our younger residents. In 1770 however, it was a busy ‘turnpike’ road which was built by a wealthy consortium who lived along it and would receive a range of obvious benefits. A monument is placed on the road which provides a list of those who paid the not inconsiderable sum to build it.

1770 monument announcing the subscribers to the Forest Road turnpike*

1770 monument announcing the subscribers to the Forest Road turnpike*

Turnpikes were roads built by private subscription and tolls charged either for profit or at least to pay towards the maintenance of the highway. They developed over the course of the 1700’s as a response to the appalling condition of existing roads, which in some places were so bad that travellers were known to drown in the pot holes!

Modern image of A329M overlays Thomas Pride map of late 18th century Wokingham. (click for full size)

Modern image of A329M overlays Thomas Pride map of late 18th century Wokingham. (click for full size)*

Just over the railway bridge on the Old Forest Road was Toutley Hall on the left side. The Reading Mercury and Oxford Gazette of 17th November 1788 carried a notice of the sale of Toutley Hall to be held at The Rose Inn, describing it as:

‘A modern built brick villa completely adapted for a small family with coach house and stabling for four horses, and two acres of rich meadow adjoining, most agreeably and delightfully situated on an extensive lawn called Toutley Common, within one mile and a half of Wokingham, and five from Reading, commanding a variety of beautiful prospects and near a turnpike road.  A coach goes by the door to and from London every day.

Driving along Toutley Hall. No doubt making full use of the Forest Road. Courtesy J & R Lea.

Driving along Toutley Hall. No doubt making full use of the Forest Road. Courtesy J & R Lea.

For about a mile the road runs along the north side of Emmbrook village, but then swerves hard right into an industrial area before coming to an abrupt end.

The Forest Road was closed when the A329M was built. It starts up again on the other side.

The Forest Road was closed when the A329M was built. It starts up again on the other side.

The building of the A329M in the 1970’s obliterated Emmbrook’s connection with the rural beauty of the village of Hurst and surrounding farms.  Prior to 1975 the Old Forest Road carried on into Binfield and a road which was also cut off was Dunt Lane, which followed the winding Emm Brook towards Dinton Pastures and Hurst village. For the villagers of Emmbrook after 1975 access to this beautiful part of the country must have been sorely missed.

On the Twyford Road side, the Forest Road starts from this point.

On the Twyford Road side, the Forest Road starts from this point.

If we are to understand how the Emmbrook community connected to the villages of Hurst and Binfield, we need to follow the Forest Road and imagine a bridge crosses over the A329M. The Forest Road now continues past Pike Farm on the right and we pass the historic house of Bill Hill which is now a stud farm and even today has horses racing along the fields and can be viewed from the roadside. During the 1800’s however, Bill Hill was occupied by Justice of the Peace, John Leveson Gower whose family owned 1000 acres of land in the area.

The magnificent Bill Hill House is now a stud farm located on the corner of the Forest and Twyford Roads.

The magnificent Bill Hill House is now a stud farm located on the corner of the Forest and Twyford Roads.

In the course of his duties Mr Leveson Gower’s name appears in a number of grizzly articles reported by the press during this period. His name also appears in the history of Emmbrook’s efforts in building both a library and school for the area.

From our imagined bridge across the A329M it is only a half mile before we reach the junction of Forest Road and the Twyford Road. Before crossing we can look to our right back into Wokingham and the Cantley House Hotel.

Cantley House Hotel was the Nicholson home prior to Glebelands. Photo: Natasha Thompson

Cantley House Hotel was the Nicholson home prior to Glebelands. Photo: Natasha Thompson

This house, a part of the Matthews Green Estate was owned by the Nicholson family who were also leading members of both the Wokingham and Emmbrook community. The family built High Close (now Barnados), Clare Court (now flats) and Glebelands (now a care home). Four sons entered into the Great War with only one, Walter surviving. He was killed in the Second World War.

We cross the Twyford Road and continue along the Forest Road where we can see the houses which made up the Ashridgewood Estate and housed the Allfrey family. Frederick De Vere Bruce Allfrey, the only son and heir was a 9th Lancer and in September 1914 charged in Europe’s last lance on lance battle. His friend Guy Reynolds was unseated in the charge against the German lancers and Frederick was shot dead whilst attempting to remove a lance from Guy’s leg. The wider Allfrey family also owned Wokefield Park near Newbury.

Lt Frederick Bruce De Vere Allfrey's family were residents of the Ashridgewood Estate. He was killed on 7th September 1914

Lt Frederick Bruce De Vere Allfrey’s family were residents of the Ashridgewood Estate. He was killed on 7th September 1914

  The Allfreys were another family who were leaders of the community and whose descendants’ lives were snuffed out by war

After only a few miles we enter the village of Binfield and not far from the Forest Road is White Hill (now Pope’s Manor), where poet Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 was brought up as a child. Besides being one of the most influential writers of his generation, authoring such works as ‘Windsor Forest,’ he is well known to Wokingham residents for composing the ‘Ballad of Molly Mogg,’ in honour of his waitress at the old Rose Inn (which stood where Costa Coffee/Clinton Cards is) where he sat sheltering from a storm.

We now arrive at the centre of this dark old forest and the end of our brief journey. Can you imagine where this can be?

Popes Manor in Binfield, home of Alexander Pope (1688-1744), one of the most influential writers of his generation.

Popes Manor in Binfield, home of Alexander Pope (1688-1744), one of the most influential writers of his generation.

Not surprisingly it’s a pub and once an ancient coaching Inn: ‘The Stag and Hounds’. In next weeks article we will learn of a very dark tale of intrigue and death which was played out in this old Inn and in 1869 was investigated by Bill Hill’s resident and Justice of the Peace, John Leveson Gower.

Today the fields of Emmbrook and north Wokingham have been separated from the villages of Binfield and Hurst ever since the four mile stretch of A329M sliced them in two in 1975.

Alexander Pope 1688 - 1744. His vision of England inspired the landscaper 'Capability Brown'.

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744. His vision of England inspired the landscaper ‘Capability Brown’.

In the coming weeks we will learn of a time before the building of this road and how the people already named in this article contributed to the education and well-being of the Emmbrook community in the second half of the 1800’s.

* Inscription on monument:

This Road was made by the Subscription of
The Countess of Leicester.
Lady Hervey.
Mrs. Montague.
Mrs. Hewer.
Mrs. Barrum.
Rd. Neville
James Edwd. Colleton Esqr.
Saml. Bowes Esqr.
Romsey Bowes Esqr.
Rd. Palmer Esqr.
Surveyed by Mr. Basnett.

* Thanks to David Nash Ford for the map with the placements of the names described in this article. David Nash Ford is the publisher of the excellent www.berkshirehistory.com

The old Elm Tree, regarded as the centre point of the Royal Forest in the grounds of the Stag and Hounds pub.

The old Elm Tree, regarded as the centre point of the Royal Forest in the grounds of the Stag and Hounds pub. Photo: BerkshireHistory.com

Stag and Hounds. The centre point of the Royal Forest

Stag and Hounds. The centre point of the Royal Forest. Photo: BerkshireHistory.com

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1860: Wokingham opens the New Town Hall

jim-bellJim Bell is renowned for the 30 short books he has written on Wokingham. In this article Jim tells the story of how the Wokingham Town Hall was built and a fascinating tale of an old silk weaver from the 1800’s.

At a public meeting held in mid-1858 it was resolved to replace the dilapidated 17th century Guild Hall with a new multi-purpose building designed to accommodate a police station, complete with quarters for police officers, plus two cells for prisoners, a courtroom, a savings bank and a reading room for the Literary Society. In the courtyard there would be an exercise yard for prisoners, a covered market and a fire engine. In those days the police were also firemen whose duties were to apprehend arsonists (then known as incendiaries) and fight fires. It was not until 1876 that Wokingham formed its own volunteer firemen. So really the new town hall also accommodated a fire station.

The birth of the Lending Library

Less than five years later the Bank Room itself became dual-purpose when on alternate Saturdays, this room became a Parochial Lending Library organised by the local churches from 11.00 am until 1.00 pm. This continued until 1890 and resumed in 1924 when the County Council was persuaded to provide a public library for Wokingham. Eventually in 1951 the library vacated the town hall and moved to Montague House in Broad Street which the Berkshire Education Committee had purchased for £5,000 for that purpose.

The Competition

The designs of eight architects were considered the winner being Messrs. Poulton and Woodman of Reading. Building would be carried out by Mr. Woodroffe of Reading whose tender was within the limited sum of £3,500. Masonry work would be done by Messrs Wheeler.

The Goodbye Guild Hall Ball

Before demolition commenced a Farewell Ball, organised by the Wokingham Cricket Club was held in the Guild Hall in September of 1858 and it was reported that, the company numbered about ninety of the principal inhabitants of the town with several officers of the 36th Regiment of Aldershot. Dancing was kept up with untiring enjoyment until 4.00 a.m. The excellent music and the sociability of the whole party rendered this final ball a scene to be remembered with satisfaction.

Just avoiding a tragedy

Town Hall circa 1832 demolished 1858

Town Hall circa 1832 demolished 1858

The Guild Hall was duly demolished and construction began at the end of the year. During construction of the new town hall there was only one reported accident which occurred in April 1859 and which involved five labourers. They had just reached the top platform on the inside of the building, each carrying a hod full of bricks, when a portion of the scaffold gave way. Two were comparatively unhurt, but the other three were quite confused and shaken. Two surgeons promptly attended to the sufferers, two of whom were conveyed in a fly to the hospital, but after being attended to were enable to be brought home.

Worker Rewards

Upon completion of construction of the new town hall in November 1859 the inhabitants of Wokingham showed their appreciation of the ‘orderly conduct of the workmen’ by treating them to a supper and evening’s entertainment at the Bush Inn. It was recorded that an excellent repast was served up and a most agreeable evening was spent, the treat being most thoroughly enjoyed by its recipients. They all acknowledged with much feeling their grateful sense of the kindness shown them which they would long remember with pleasure the completion of their part of the building of the Wokingham Town Hall.

Early 20th century photograph of Wokingham Town Hall

Early 20th century photograph of Wokingham Town Hall

Proud of its new Town Hall

The New Town Hall was officially opened on Wednesday, 6th June 1860 amid the usual pomp by the High Steward of the town, Richard Cornwallis Neville, 4th Lord Braybrooke.
The High Steward, attired in military uniform, arrived by rail at about a quarter to one o’clock, and was received by the Alderman, J. L. Roberts, Esq., the members of the Corporation, and a large number of the inhabitants of the town, the band playing the National Anthem, and the bells of the old church ringing out a merry peal.

Who paid for the Town Hall?

Payment for construction and furnishing of the new town hall would comprise a grant of £2,000 by the county to pay for the police quarters, £200 from Wokingham Corporation and the remainder by public subscription. Approximately a hundred and twenty subscriptions were received from the townspeople the largest being £100 from the High Steward.

Town Hall 1920's The entrance between the two cars leads to the jail which was known as the Dark Hole

Town Hall 1920’s The entrance between the two cars leads to the jail which was known as the Dark Hole

‘Sucking the monkey’.

In 1930 local historian Arthur T Heelas (part of the local draper family) wrote a fascinating story about his conversations with some of the old residents from Wokingham, one of which describes the life and times of Chalky, an old silk weaver. In his unpublished memoir ‘A historical sketch of Wokingham’ he writes:
‘Several old inhabitants have told me tales of a well-known local character named Chalky, the last of the silk weavers. Like many of his fellows he liked good ale, not wisely but too well; he used to get very intoxicated and this led to his making the acquaintance of the ‘Dark Hole’, as the dismal lock up under the old Town Hall was called. The only light came from an iron grating about eighteen inches square, through which he could mournfully survey the stocks close at hand, his destination on the morrow following an interview with the bench of magistrates. On one of his frequent visits to the Dark Hole in his usual condition when taken out in the morning, to the surprise of the only constable, he was still in an intoxicated condition. It appears that some jokers during the night went with a funnel and beer, the spout of the funnel was introduced between the iron bars whilst the other end terminated in old Chalky’s mouth’.

Sucking the monkey?

For fluid intake, sailors in the West Indies would drink coconut milk through a straw. Replacing the coconut milk with rum ensured guilty pleasures could take place undetected. Therefore ‘sucking the monkey’ is ‘the surreptitious intake of alcohol taken through a straw’. The ‘monkey’ was used to describe a container of grog.


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Incredible website to incredible maps!

Click on this pic to go to this map. Slider in bottom left corner will show today's layout

Click on this pic to go to this map. Slider in bottom left corner will show today’s layout. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Arborfield historian Steve Bacon, sent a link to an incredible website which overlays old maps onto new ones !

The link zooms in on the Keephatch side of Wokingham; the overlay map is pre Great War. However, you can do exactly the same to any part of England and Scotland
On the bottom left corner there is a slider, just drag it left and the old map become transparent leaving the new one in its place.
What this one shows is just how much the A329M slices into the old countryside, but on the Wokingham side it is built up, but on the Bracknell side it is still green. You can look all over the UK. I’m sure if you go to the mining areas, you will see the reverse in action.
Many thanks to Steve.
Here is the link: https://shar.es/128zDh
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1915. Wokingham’s heroes from The Great War

The start of 1915 is characterised by the German attack on Ypres and the Allies' dogged defence.

The start of 1915 is characterised by the German attack on Ypres and the Allies’ dogged defence.

In this article we will take you back one hundred years to early 1915, a time when the first cinema had recently arrived in Wokingham, when the unsealed roads were either rutted in the winter or dustbowls in the summer, the occasional car trundling down country roads and the half-light of the gas lamp. It was a quiet place with only a few thousand people living in this ancient forest town and at the back of many of the houses there were miles of open fields and heathland. But this was not a place of peace; for months a dark shadow had been tightening its grip on a town which was only just coming to terms with the full horror of war. In 1915, they still had no idea of the hundreds of deaths they would be facing or the maimed and mentally scarred soldiers who would one day return home.

Arthur Turner was from a family of ten and joined the army as did men from many poor families

Arthur Turner was from a family of ten and joined the army as did men from many poor families

Wokingham was not a wealthy town and although it had its share of rich landowners and industrialists, it was for the most part the labourers, brick makers, farm workers and domestic service girls who made up the local population. Another option for any hard pressed family needing to move their sons out of the nest (to make way for the new borns) was for them to join the services; sometimes the navy, but mostly the military and that meant the Royal Berkshire Regiment.

It was the First Battalion of the Royal Berks who were one of the first regiments to enter the war’s early battles and Arthur Turner of Wokingham was our first to be killed during fighting at Mons on the 26th of August 1914; only five days after Britain’s first casualty, John Parr lost his life, also at Mons. Parents Abraham and Sarah Turner had ten children in total, all of whom survived into adulthood and the family worked hard to move out of the slums of Queens Terrace in Rose Street and into a comfortable home at 65 Langborough Road, Wokingham. Having already lost Arthur in 1914, lightening was to strike the family a second time when Mr and Mrs Turner lost their second son Charles in 1917.

Charles Turner, Arthur's brother, in 1917 was also killed.

Charles Turner, Arthur’s brother, in 1917 was also killed.

It was these hard pressed families who took the brunt of the losses in the First World War; hard lives made all the harder after the loss of their young sons.

By early 1915 news was filtering home of another wave of losses as a second battle around Ypres had just followed one which had taken place prior to Christmas. The German army was determined to break through Ypres and capture the Channel ports of both Boulogne and Calais. Had Ypres not been defended by Britain and its Allies, the vast German army would have been able to commence with their plans to invade Britain’s southern coast. The pre-Christmas 1914 battle was known to the Tommy simply as ‘First Ypres’ or ‘Wipers’ which virtually wiped out Britain’s small, highly skilled professional army.  Time was spent mustering the remains of the professionals, the reserves and territorials for ‘Second Ypres’ and by sheer grit and determination, managed to hold off an army of vastly superior proportions. It was not until later in the year that Kitchener’s volunteers were able to complete training and enter the field at the Battle of Loos in the September.barnard dudley portrait

Among this small band of British heroes, were two men from the same Froghall Road, off the London Road in Wokingham. One was Dudley Barnard, a Wellington College educated young man and the other, an illustrious neighbour, Lieutenant General Samuel Holt Lomax who lived in Frog Hall in the same road. Dudley was 21 and had joined the Royal Horse Artillery (Wokingham was an equestrian area) and by 1915 was a Second Lieutenant serving as a French interpreter. He died of blood poisoning following active service on the 10th February 1915.

Lt General Samuel Holt Lomax was about to retire from the military when war broke out in 1914

Lt General Samuel Holt Lomax was about to retire from the military when war broke out in 1914

Just three months earlier on the 31st October 1914 in the same area of Ypres, 58 year old Lt General Samuel Lomax had been injured during a bombing raid at Chateau Hooge. Lt General Lomax was unable to recover from the wounds he had suffered five months earlier and died on the 10th April 1915 and his remains buried at Aldershot Military Cemetery. He had been due to retire in August of 1914, but was called back into active service on the outbreak of war.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described Lt General Lomax's loss as a 'brian bleed' for the British Army

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described Lt General Lomax’s loss as a ‘brain bleed’ for the British Army

He fought in the Zulu Wars, the Boer War and had been recognised as the most successful General of the early part of the Great War following the Battle Le Cateau in August 1914. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described his death as “a brain injury to the Army and a desperately serious one.” Two soldiers, one at the beginning of his career, one at the end. They died within two months of each other, in the same area of Ypres and came from the same Wokingham road. One hundred years ago.

In little more than two months, Wokingham suffered the following deaths (24 since the start of war):

Barnard Dudley Second Lieutenant 10/02/1915 21
Sargeant Robert Emeny Bombardier 28/02/1915 23
Brackley Charles Sergeant 15/03/1915 37
Lomax Samuel Holt Lieutenant General 10/04/1915 59
Giles Joseph Company Sergeant Major 23/04/1915 26
Perry James Private 28/04/1915 23
Maynard Percy Selby Redgrave Private 28/04/1915 23
Robins Arthur Corporal 29/04/1915 37
Cloth Hall in the centre of Ypres was destroyed in the Great War. It was rebuilt from 1928 using money from German Reparations. Thanks to Keith Browning for this photograph

Cloth Hall in the centre of Ypres was destroyed in the Great War. It was rebuilt from 1928 using money from German Reparations. Thanks to Keith Browning for this photograph

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1857 Wokingham Elections: Tories and Whigs at war

A scene of typical chaos on a British election day, by William Hogarth

A scene of typical chaos on a British election day, by William Hogarth

This article originally published in 1st May Wokingham Paper 2015.  In this week’s edition of ‘Wokingham Remembers’ we turn our attention to Wokingham’s contribution to the national General Election of 1857. Our story is about two political parties vying for the votes of the local electorate; the Tories (Conservatives) with their ‘office’ at the Rose Inn and the Whigs (Liberals) embedded in the Bush Inn, situated opposite in Market Square. Mike Churcher explains:

Acts of electoral bribery had been legislated against by 1857, but the supply of such ‘treats’ as free beer were still to be outlawed. As there was no secret ballot at this time, the political parties used every means they could to influence which way the electorate would vote. This is a time when elections all over the country were lively, bawdy and even dangerous. Wokingham’s election of 1857 followed that same blue print.

In the following passage, Arthur Heelas, (a local historian writing in the 1930’s) tells of a conversation he had with William Breach, a local resident, who shared his reminiscences of Wokingham’s part in the 1857 General Election.

‘Mr Breach had a vivid recollection of the election held shortly after the Crimean War (1856). 

The Rose Inn on Denmark Street, (then Down Street) was the 'office' for the Tory groups

The Rose Inn on Denmark Street, (then Down Street) was the ‘office’ for the Tory groups

In front of the old coaching inn “The King’s Arms” was a raised platform on which a band was playing lively airs, to stir up the enthusiasm of the crowd; a proceeding that was hardly necessary as great difficulty was experienced at these elections in controlling the excited mobs, especially as each side supplied a lavish quantity of strong beer to its supporters. 

The Rose Inn was the headquarters of the Tories, while the adherents of the Whig Party made The Bush Inn their political centre.   Each inn was zealously and strongly guarded by its partisans against any sudden raids from their rivals.

The Bush Inn on Market Place (now Bush Walk) was the office of the Whig (Liberal) group.

The Bush Inn on Market Place (now Bush Walk) was the office of the Whig (Liberal) group.

In order to strengthen the fighting elements of a party, hefty men from the neighbouring towns and villages were recruited and brought into the town; at this particular election some of the roughest characters from Reading were engaged, among them were several notorious sporting sweeps who were considered rare fighters.   These men were smuggled into The Rose by the back entrance and held in reserve until all the arrangements for a great sortie were completed. When all was ready the large gates of the archway were opened and out rushed the hirelings and local firebrands, fully armed with staves and cudgels, making for the rival crowd outside The Bush Inn.

Within a few minutes a big fight was raging, men were knocked over like nine-pins and victory was temporarily claimed by the ruffians; but suddenly one of the best known local characters, Harry Horne, appeared on the scene.   Horne was a great powerful fellow and a born fighter, he soon managed to capture a stout staff and then he set about the hirelings.   It was deemed a wonderful bit of cudgel work as Horne ably defended himself against their blows and dealt with them unmercifully.   At the end of the fray the pavement and road were strewn with the victims and covered with blood, in fact it had the appearance of a miniature battle field.

The Rose Inn is now the home of Cafe Rouge

The Rose Inn is now the home of Cafe Rouge

Now the fortunes of war were reversed, attention was directed by the Whig victors toward the Tory Rose. With a great cry and a rush the old inn was attacked. All the windows were completely destroyed as well as everything within reach of the mob and those within pelted with all kinds of missiles thus forcing their retreat from the front rooms of the house. Meanwhile great efforts were made to destroy the large gates to effect an entrance into The Rose, but fortunately the defenders within managed to prevent this and were thus able to save the old inn from being ransacked.   Mr Breach, had very strong recollections of the part he played himself and although just nine years old managed to do his bit and get a good blow in without ill results to himself.’

Bush Walk on Market Square, Wokingham

Bush Walk on Market Square, Wokingham

Although the Whigs were the better fighters, the winner of the election was the Conservative, Robert Palmer, who you might remember from last week’s article on the Wokingham Fire Brigade. Palmer created a force of Special Constables which ensured a strong response to the acts of arson which were becoming a habit around the locality. Similarly, it seems election time shows just how feral and lawless Wokingham could be, with two sets of fighting tribes; the Whigs in one corner and the Tories in the other.

These brutal occasions were a national habit and the result of a corrupt electoral system with votes taken in open view and not by the secret ballot we have today. Open ballot meant everyone could see which way individual votes were cast and  had repercussions after Election Day, often leading to job dismissal, loss of home or even a beating.

The Wokingham experience and electoral legislation of the time.

Particularly interesting in the Arthur Heelas story, are the dates and the electoral legislation of the mid to late 19th century. The election of 1857 took place after the Corrupt Practices Act of 1854 which sought to prevent the buying of votes. Therefore providing free beer (as Mr Heelas stated) may not have been a straight bribe, but because of the open ballot system, was still a useful tool to win votes. It would have taken a brave man to drink free beer and vote for the opposition in full view of the mob! Following the1872 ‘Ballot Act’ (which introduced secret ballots) and the 1883 ‘Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act’ (which limited candidate expenditure), treats such as free beer finally began to fade from election day.

Did these Acts of Parliament eradicate the scenes of violence from Wokingham’s later elections?

No. Violence was still a part of the election atmosphere well into the 1880’s as Mr Heelas describes in one of his own election experiences:

‘The writer has also had some rough experiences in defending the Rose Inn, some years later during elections.  “On one occasion a sortie was made to enable a sporting “young blood” (who had earlier in the day flicked his whip whilst driving and upset the crowd) to return to his house.  With the twenty or thirty men surrounding him, the sortie fought its way through the hostile crowd where blows were freely exchanged and several persons knocked down.  The crowd at the time was burning the election boards and notices in the street.   Great difficulty was experienced in shutting the gates to the Rose during the struggle as a determined attempt was made to capture the place.  However, no serious damage occurred as a force of police arrived and soon restored law and order’.

Arthur Heelas was not born until 1869 and therefore, none of the electoral legislation quelled the violent episodes he experienced as a young adult. If Wokingham’s elections were indeed still violent affairs as Mr Heelas suggests, then something other than an election was driving the fighting.

For all the effort, was the legislation popular?

Unsurprisingly the legislation was not popular amongst the drinking classes; elections were a time when the drudgery of everyday life was interrupted by a day of partying and free drinking. The legislation, whilst clearing away some of the elements of the corrupt practices within the electoral system, did nothing to quell Wokingham’s attraction to violence. In future editions of this Wokingham Remembers page, we will examine further irksome customs which threaded their way through Wokingham’s bygone communities.

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