Jim Bell’s new book: Memories of Wokingham Town Hall 1947-2005

jim-bellFor the most part, the histories presented in this Wokingham Remembers page are of events steeped in a past which can be recounted but not recollected by the people of Wokingham. This week however, we review JIM BELL’s excellent history of the Town Hall from 1947 right up to 2005. Review by Mike Churcher

Jim Bell’s latest offering (over thirty books on local history and still rising) is titled ‘Memories of Wokingham Town Hall 1947 to 2005’. Following an introduction to the initial building of the Hall, Jim presents six further chapters representing each decade and draws from sources such as local newspapers, magazines, books and Council Minutes.

Jim has an eye for spotting not only how the town operated following World War Two, but also the anecdotal details of life in a middle sized, middle Berkshire town. In 1973 for example, a developer approached the Council to ask if they would consider disposing of the Town Hall for future redevelopment. It does not take much imagination to discover the response from the Council. Although such proposals might seem bizarre to us today, it does indicate the post war attitude to all things old and all things new – we therefore wonder how the developers would have changed the Town Hall if they had managed to acquire it!ox roast at carnivals1

In 1954 the local newspaper reported on Wokingham’s carnival with the headline ‘Wokingham goes gay for carnival’; a reference, presumably to the fun times that were experienced on the day. It’s funny how times change even in subtle ways. The carnival, which took place on a Tuesday evening involved 2000 ‘revellers’ including a ‘rag’ activity, with such jolly japes as a ‘pub to pub’ pram race. Ragging, many readers will know as part of the student calendar which is ‘rag week’ and involved raising money for charity. ‘Ragging’ it is thought, goes back to Victorian days when it meant nagging or harassing people for charitable causes and possibly had a link in the rivalry between University College and Kings College in London. Even in the seventies, ‘rag week’ could be a fairly brutal affair especially after a few visits around the pubs, all in the cause of charity. In 1954 however, the report noted in Jim’s book is altogether more civilised as it included the participation of the Mayor and Mayoress.ox roast at carnivals2 It should be stressed at this point that they were not a part of the pub crawl, but were on hand to greet the year’s Carnival Queen; a lady by the name of Audrey Frost (are you still out there Audrey? Let us know!). The Mayor however, did not get away with it completely – this was carnival and rag week after all. In one beautifully politically incorrect activity (but not in 1954) there was a mock cutting of the Mayor’s throat – all done in good fun of course. Mayor Brindlecombe was hauled from the Town Hall and onto a platform (pre-staged it is hoped) and underwent a shave with a whitewash brush and a large wooden razor. Of course, the shave does not go according to plan and the Mayor suffers a mock execution. The paper delightfully states ‘… and the red velvet proved a satisfactory substitute for blood’. No worse for wear, the Mayor is then escorted to the borough boundary for the ‘beating of the bounds’; a national custom to re-establish the boundaries and have them blessed, usually on Ascension Day. Mock assaults on the Mayor were still taking place in 1989; the papers announce ‘Wokingham brings back the death penalty’ and this time it was Fred Clark who was for the chop. ‘Heads rolled in Wokingham on Friday when a guilootine and stocks were set up in the town centre’.

Lady Elizabeth Godsal, 1992

Lady Elizabeth Godsal, 1992

Not only did Councillor Clark have his head vicariously lopped off, but he and his wife Elsie were thrown into the stocks for good measure. All in good fun of course and it was Alec Stewart, the England and Surrey cricketer who conducted the ‘execution’. Unfortunately no one recognised him on account of him wearing a black hood and mask, which seems to negate the opportunities brought about by inviting a celebratory guest.

Mia Farrow born 1945

Mia Farrow

Mia Farrow in 1970 arrived in Wokingham to shoot a scene from her latest film: ‘Buff’ I haven’t heard of it either, but do remember her from Peyton Place, Rosemary’s Baby and The Great Gatsby. Whilst filming in Market Square, Wokingham’s Mayor John West seems to have unknowingly walked on to the set believing it was a real market stall. Having been requested to ‘clear off’ by the members of the film team, the Mayor retaliated by asking if they had paid for the stall and requested permission to film in the area. After discovering it was the Mayor they were pushing around, the film team went some way to calming down the situation by apologising and inviting him to lunch the next day. The fiasco however continued into the evening, when Mia Farrow was accused of kicking a photographer at Wokingham Railway Station.

Who said nothing happens in Wokingham ? All this and other stories are brought to you by Jim Bell in his latest book ‘Memories of Wokingham Town Hall 1947 to 2005’ and can be purchased at the Town Hall Information Centre (open between 10am – 2pm) for just £4.

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The fateful meeting on Finchampstead Ridges, 1500.

A remarkably life like painting from the Flemish artist Michel Sittow

A remarkably life like painting of Catherine of Aragon from the Flemish artist Michel Sittow

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was a part of the religious and political upheavals which had lasted over a century. So how did they begin? We take a look a look at one of Berkshire’s great legends going back to 1501 when King Henry VII introduced his son Arthur to his soon-to-be wife Catherine of Aragon. It was to change the course of British history and took place just two miles from Wokingham on the Finchampstead Ridges.

Whilst hunting on the Finchampstead Ridges, King Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch of England and Wales pointed to a carriage which was making its way along a narrow road. He was addressing his eldest son Prince Arthur and inside the carriage was Princess Catherine of Aragon, daughter of the King of Spain and Arthur’s future wife. Understandably, Arthur wanted to see his future bride prior to the marriage, but this was against Spanish custom and any contravention would be a bad omen for the future. A secret meeting was nevertheless arranged on the local Ridges and Catherine lifted her veil in Arthur’s presence. The marriage was to change the course of British history and on its path, led to the execution of Guido (Guy) Fawkes just over one hundred years later.


Prince Arthur who was to die within a year of marrying Catherine

Arthur was to die soon after the marriage of 1501 and a willing suitor soon appeared in the shape of his brother, the future King Henry VIII. Initially mesmerised by her beauty and brilliance, Henry began to tire of her and vexed over the lack of a healthy son. He wanted a divorce from Catherine, but this was impossible within the Catholic religion and he only succeeded by establishing the Church of England. As head of the new faith he would have his wish granted and his Queen was to hear the news whilst staying at Easthampstead Park (one day to become a part of Bracknell) in Berkshire.

On Henry’s death, his young son King Edward VI was to affirm the Church of England as recognisably Protestant, but his life was childless and short lived and succession therefore fell to his to sister. The sister was Mary, daughter of the divorced Catherine and Mary was a Catholic. Therefore the pendulum swung back to Catholicism and the ensuing executions gave her the name ‘Bloody Mary’.

Mary was reverse England's protestant led Church of England and return to it Cotholicism

Mary reversed England’s protestant led Church of England and return to the country to Catholicism

On Mary’s death in 1558, her sister Elizabeth came to the throne and believed it wrong to ‘make windows into a man’s soul’ and demand he declared his religious beliefs. Whilst under her rule the pendulum swung back in favour of the Church of England and persecution was this time aimed toward the Catholics. However, there was also a need to unite the country if it was to face the growing power of the Spanish and their newly established South American Empire.

As Queen Elizabeth grew old and childless she considered her successor. The challenges ahead were the religious faith in England and settlement with Scotland. The Catholic plotting during her reign was blamed onto her cousin Mary Queen of Scots and therefore Elizabeth ordered her execution. Mary’s son King James VI of Scotland was a confirmed Protestant and Elizabeth believed that if she made James her successor, there was a chance that both the Catholics and the Scots would be contained. There was even the forlorn hope that James would introduce a reasonable approach to the religious question. Therefore in 1603 James VI of Scotland became King James I of England, Wales and Scotland; a union of sorts was born. James had brought together the monarchies, but he was a Protestant and a persecutor ensuring the strong Catholic presence in the country wanted him gone. The Tudor era had passed, but the Stuart period was about to begin and Guy Fawkes amongst others wanted the era to start and finish with a bang. The bang would be the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Guy Fawkes was part of a group of conspirators. Third from the right

Guy ‘Guido’ Fawkes was part of a group of conspirators. Third from the right

Although quite a genial character, the Catholic Fawkes was a tough professional who had fought alongside the Spanish in their war to prevent the Protestant Dutch from gaining independence from the Spanish Empire. He amongst others wanted the restoration of a Catholic country and with others conspired to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

In the early 1600’s, there was no single House of Westminster as we know it today (the present building 1840-70) but a cluster of buildings of which one, the House of Lords was to hold a royal court on the opening of parliament on the 5th November, a delay of several months as there had been a nasty bout of typhoid ravaging London at that time.

Guy Fawkes caught in the undercroft of the House of Lords.

Guy Fawkes caught in the undercroft of the House of Lords.

The story of the discovery of the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ took several strange twists and turns. The plotters had decided to dig a tunnel under the House and lay down the barrels as required, but during the dig they heard noises from above. It was discovered that above the tunnel a lady had been clearing out the undercroft (cellar) and the privately owned rooms were placed directly under the House of Lords. The plotters simply rented part of the undercroft from the owner, John Wynniard and began filling it with the barrels of gunpowder.

A second extraordinary event took place when one of the potential attendants to the House of Lords was warned by letter on account of him being a fellow Catholic. The plotters were even informed that the recipient of the letter had informed the authorities and they believed it would be ignored on account of it being thought of as a hoax. It was taken very seriously though and led to the discovery of the plot and Guy Fawkes caught ‘red handed’.

When on the 31st January 1606, Fawkes and three others were sent to gallows it was Fawkes who was to take the final turn. The first three plotters were duly hung and agonisingly ‘quartered’, but when it came to Fawkes’s moment he jumped from the gallows and broke his neck, saving him the agony of a painful quartering. Not discouraged by the fact that they were now dealing with a dead Fawkes, his body was still quartered and duly sent to the four corners of the country as per usual custom.

An Act of Parliament soon followed making November 5th a festival day and bonfires were encouraged to be lit in celebration. After the Jacobite King James II declared his Catholicism in 1673, the public response was to include effigies of the Pope to be burned along with the bonfire. Once the public’s ire had turned away from the Pope, the effigies later came to be replaced by those of Guy Fawkes.

Every year, Wokingham's Mayor leads the candlelit procession to the Cantley Fields bonfire

Every year, Wokingham’s Mayor leads the candlelit procession to the Cantley Fields bonfire

To continue this tradition, WOKINGHAM’S festival on Saturday night will proceed from the Town Hall at 6pm and make its way to Cantley Park. If you book in advance it will cost only a fiver with under-seven’s accepted without charge.

Wokingham’s festival is quite a genial occasion when compared to the same event in Lewes in Sussex.

Lewes's bonfire is a huge occasion with 3,000 performers alone and 80,000 visitors.

Lewes’s bonfire is a huge occasion with 3,000 performers alone and 80,000 visitors. Photo: andrewdunnphoto.com

Lewes is still unhappy about the 17 martyrs they lost during Mary’s unpleasant persecutions. On their festival 17 crosses are carried amongst some 3,000 participants and the 80,000 spectators need to beware of the tarred barrels that roll down the hill in flames. Wokingham enjoys a calmer walk to Cantley with its own participants preferring to carry the occasional candle. So much more civilised….

Some quirky facts can be found on a Daily Telegraph article (just click here)

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Welcome to Wokingham’s Halloween !

Aside from the plastic pumpkins, fancy dress witches, sweets and latent threats which accompany the Trick or Treater, there lies beneath the surface an underworld of darkness. It is the night when the ghosts and ghouls are free to roam our surface for just one night. You have been given fair warning.

Roger Long is our local Ghost Hunter

Roger Long is our local Ghost Hunter

Do you believe?
To help us rediscover the essence of Halloween, we seek the help of Roger Long, our local Paranormal Historian; a man who has spent his life disproving (or otherwise) tales from the underbelly of darkest Berkshire.
“Make no mistake” says Roger, “there are stories I have investigated which can’t be explained”. Somewhat surprisingly for a ghost hunter, Roger Long has a cheerful nature; quick to crack a joke and following up each sentence with a friendly smile. At this moment though he is deadly serious and his eyes shine like steel; eyes which have seen ‘things’ we surface dwellers could never understand. “There are places, whether they be houses, or lakes or just pieces of ground, where your sixth sense creates in you a sense of overwhelming depression and foreboding”. Halloween is the one night when these spirits are set free to feed upon the fears of the living and the organisation of parties and frivolity are the only way to keep these beasts from the underworld at bay. For the rest of the year they live only in the corner of your eye.
What then is Halloween?
The pre Christian Celts divided the year into four major holidays based largely on the changing seasons. November 1st (as we know it today) was the start of the winter months when nature enters its longest sleep and its festival, known as Samhain was a celebration of this great cycle of life. So how did this celebration become associated with all things spooky? When the Christians appeared in Britain they had a problem with removing ‘paganism’ and Pope Gregory (601 A.D.) decided rather than eliminate the pagan holidays, missionaries could replace them with Christian celebrations such as ‘All Saints Day’ which is otherwise known as ‘All Hallows Day’. Gregory knew not to get in the way of a good party. Pagan rites on this day gradually became associated with evil doings and with the help of some puritan spin, the perpetrators were deemed to be witches. The old Celtic rituals and stories told of pixies and fairies and they too become a part of the folklore of Halloween Night (the night before the new cycle of Winter).

‘The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke’ took Richard Dadd 9 years to paint. This is only a part of the overall canvas

‘The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke’ took Richard Dadd 9 years to paint. This is only a part of the overall canvas

“There was a famous local painter of fairies and the underworld”. When Roger grins, we know there will be a sting in his tale’s tail. The artist’s most famous work is ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke’, a painting which shows the fairy feller taking an axe to a chestnut for the making of Queen Mab’s new fairy carriage. It is an early example of Surrealism and we understand why. “The famous local painter was Richard Dadd who produced this work during the 1850’s in Bedlam Asylum. Dadd murdered his father and was found to be insane”.

Richard Dadd was a famous 'local' artist; being a resident od Broadmoor in Crowthorne

Richard Dadd was a famous ‘local’ artist; being a resident od Broadmoor in Crowthorne

During the year of 1863 Dadd was moved to Broadmoor in Crowthorne and was allowed to continue his painting for reasons of good therapy. Broadmoor, although not in the same league as the ultimate symbol of Halloween as is Bedlam, does itself bear a notorious history. The siren which wails each Monday morning at 10am is a test to warn us in case a patient has escaped from his confines.

Ghosts exist, but maybe not as we know it.
Does Roger really believe in any of this ghosty nonsense? “A great deal of it is nonsense, but there are parts of it which I believe require more investigation. There is a difference between ghosts and poltergeists. A lot of the stories of ghosts I have noted to be close to water, like lakes and streams and I question this to be just coincidence.

Heath Pool in Finchampstead. Copyright Andrew Smith

Heath Pool in Finchampstead. Copyright Andrew Smith

Heath Pool in Simons Wood (Wellingtonia Avenue, Finchampstead) has a desolate feel about and I know of three accidental deaths there and the same number of suicides”. Following up on Roger’s line of thought, it seems there are a number of investigators who share his opinion. Ghosts are interpreted as merely pictures from the past and water has the ability to retain and trigger these pictures in the same way as the mix of chemicals and light create photographs. Berkshire has a national reputation for being one of the most haunted counties in England. Its geology therefore might provide a clue for this array of haunted happenings. In the Ice Age, the bergs made their way down the M1 and came to a halt somewhere just north of Watford and Reading. On their travels the bergs pushed gravel and sand in front of them. The gravel lays on top of the underlying clay which itself prevents water from draining through. The result is a plethora of murky pools in the area and a haven for gravel raising and therefore more lakes. So maybe there is a connection between water and ghostly apparitions as a result?
Poltergeists. Be very afraid
Poltergeists, according to Roger are a completely different entity however. They can be something of a menace, unlike those benign ghosts and apparitions.

The Old Forge Finchampstead. Copyright Francis Frith

The Old Forge Finchampstead. Copyright Francis Frith (click to purchase local photos)

“The doyen of all things that go bump in the night was Harry Price who was an investigator during the first half of the 20th Century. There was such great disturbance at the Old Forge in Finchampstead, that Harry and representatives from the Daily Mirror were called upon to investigate. During the summer of 1926, a Mr Goswell and his family suffered a terrible onslaught of flying bicycles, nails, tables and chairs and were forced to move into one room for safety. At one time they awoke to find the word ‘GO’ scratched onto the ceiling. The local policeman visited the family and gave them an awful telling off for wasting police time. As he rode away on his bicycle, he was hit on the shoulder by a flying brick with no one in sight to take the blame”. It is typical of Roger to end a story on a whimsical note; probably a technique he learned in order to not frighten the living daylights out of you. Roger views a lot of the stories as the subject of great amusement.

But not all of them.

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The Old Forge on Peach Street

The Old Forge as it is today

The Old Forge as it is today


The subject of the smithy run by Fred Painter in Peach Street has arisen in the local newspapers from time to time. There were actually two smithies in Peach Street. The first is still standing

According to Kelly’s and other directories, one horseshoeing blacksmith smithy was located in Star Lane off Peach Street and was run by a John Burrett. The earliest and only directory entry mentioning his name is dated 1854. He must have died at an early age because Jane Burrett, was a widow when their daughter, Alice (1864-1926) was only seven years of age. From 1883 until 1891 the proprietrix of the smithy was Mrs. Jane Burrett (1827-1894) who hailed from Stratfieldsaye. The last entry bearing her name is dated 1891. After that the smithy disappears.

Jane’s daughter, Alice (1864-1926), married George Hall carpenter (later carpenter at a private school) who hailed from Fairford, Gloucestershire. They had two children, Dorothy (b. 1895) and Albert George. (b. 1898). Alice died on Sunday 18th July 1926.

The other smithy, the building of which still stands and is referred to as the Old Forge, was run by William Loader from 1895 until, perhaps his death in November 1905 at the age of 52. 1907. From then it looks as if Harry Berry and Fred Painter took over.

Under the partnership of Berry and Painter the smithy flourished. It was the very the early days of the motor car and in this rural area, the horse was the common mode of transport, whether it was horse-drawn vehicle or by horse alone. The local hunt met regularly and many children owned ponies. .

Berry and Painter were also what they called, ‘general smiths’, and made utility products including hinges for barn door or hooks for hanging kitchen utensils. They also undertook “Memorial work of every description in marble, granite and stone designs.

Harry died in March 1943 at the age of 66 and Fred continued the business which gradually diminished as motorised vehicles replaced the horse.

In August 1959 Fred was summoned to the Town Hall where he was welcomed by the Mayor, Alderman Stanley Bowyer and Mr. W. Harold Lee who presented him with a framed portrait of himself as an appreciation of the town for his service particularly with regard to the pre-war carnivals.

Fred Painter 'The Blackie'

Fred Painter ‘The Blackie’

It looks as if Fred retired in 1967 and, until his death in November 1969 would visit his premises and chat to friends in the garage next door. He is buried in the Free Cemetery in Reading Road beside Margaret Sophia Painter, possibly his wife, who passed away in 1950.

24th July 1926 (RM)


On Sunday Mrs. Alice Charlotte Hall, widow of Mr. George Hall, of 78 Peach Street, passed away after a short illness, aged 62 years. She was a daughter of the late Mr. William Burrett, member of an old Wokingham family, and some 50 years ago the well-known blacksmith, of Peach Street, Wokingham. The funeral took place on Wednesday, the first portion of the service being conducted by the Rev. R. Martin Harvey (pastor) at the Milton Road Baptist Church. The internment was in the free Church Cemetery.

The mourners were Mr. Albert G. Hall (son), Miss Dorothy hall (daughter), Mrs. A.E. Ayers, Mr. W. E. Hall, Mrs. A.G. Hall.

Sat 11th Sept 1954 (RM)


For fifty years now, old Fred Painter has been bending over his anvil in the Blacksmith’s shop in Peach Street, Wokingham, attending with pride and skill to the shoes of countless horses. And fifty years, as most will agree, is a long time to stay in one place doing the same job—especially one that demands above average strength.

“You’ve got to be as fit as the animal you have to deal with,” Fred will tell his many visitors. And he will show them a scar behind his right ear which is a permanent reminder of a day many years ago that a horse kicked out in protest at what Fred was engaged to do. But the horse did not win the argument. Fred had to give it new shoes and it did not leave the shop until it had them well and truly nailed on.

Strangely enough, it was a midget-sized pony that caused Fred the most trouble he has ever experienced.

“Do you know, that pony jumped on my back to avoid being shoed?”, said Fred. “But I never gave up. He tired of his antics sooner than me.”

There was a time when Fred put on no fewer than 400 shoes a week. There were always horses in the shop and five men to attend them. In fact, there were once seven blacksmiths in various parts of Wokingham. Today, Fred and one other on the edge of the town are the sole survivors of their trade.


Everything else changes but the blacksmith’s shop. That is an undeniable fact. At 69, Fred is using the same tools, the same forge and making shoes in exactly the same way that he did when he gave up a job with a firm of engineers to become an apprentice “blackie.”

The sad thing is that because everything else changes and horses are replaced by mechanical vehicles and machines, Fred’s 150-years-old shop is often empty. He has no reason to keep his forge burning as fiercely as it once did. If he is lucky he will, perhaps have to put on forty shoes in a wee. His customers are mainly riding or hunting establishments. Today, only one local tradesman—a baker—sends his horse to Fred. The rest send their vans to the garage.

Fred is still fit and there is plenty of work in him yet. But there must, he admits, come a time when he will have to close the shop. And when he does, it will be unhappily permanent, for there is no son or assistant to carry on the business..

Till then, the sound of his anvil and the glow of his forge will continue to arouse the curiosity of sightseers who could be forgiven (in such an age) for thinking of horseshoes not as things which provide a man with his livelihood, but rather as—lucky charms.

Sat 29th Aug 1959 (RM)


Half-a-century is a long time for anyone to remain in business in one shop in the town. Yet Fred Painter has been at the blacksmith’s shop in Peach Street, Wokingham for 53 years.—and still the ring of his hammer as it sends showers of sparks cascading over the anvil draws children—and adults—to his dark doorway, eager to see an old craft being perpetuated. Today his forge is flanked by garages on either side, and the days when he and other brawny men made and fitted no fewer than 400 shoes per week are gone forever. Fred has seen many changes in his street—he is one of the oldest still working there—but time has not changed his shop. He still uses the same tools, the same forge and the same technique that he was taught as a lad when he left a firm of engineers to become a “blackie.”

On Tuesday, however, the usually placid Fred was a worried man. He had been asked to attend at the Mayor’s Parlour at 10 a.m.—and could not think why. Perhaps the authorities were going to close his smithy…to retire after all these years, this was something he had not planned. But his fears were unfounded. He was welcomed by the Mayor, Ald. S.L. Bowyer, and Mr. W. Harold Lee, and, to mark the town’s appreciation of his services, particularly with regard to pre-war carnivals, was presented with a framed portrait of himself—taken by Mr. W.H. Lee.

Thur 29th April 1971


The Old Smithy in Wokingham fell into disuse about 1967 four years ago and two years later (1969)  the last farrier who practised there, Fred Painter, died in his eighties. Until his death, Mr. Painter would still come up to his premises and keep a watchful eye while chatting to friends in the garage next door.

His former partner, Mr. Harry Berry had died way back in 1943. Under the partnership of Berry and Painter the smithy flourished. It was the very the early day of the motor car and in this rural area, the horse was the common mode of transport. Whether it be horse-drawn vehicle or by horse alone. The local hunt met regularly and many children owned ponies. There was work in plenty for the farrier.

The history of this smithy, one of three in the town (the others were in Station Road and Peach Street) is a little hazy. According to the Wokingham Society the building is definitely Victorian. It is also believed that the premises were originally owned by a veterinary surgeon before he sold out to Berry and Painter.

The smithy had a regular clientele as well as the casual customer who would pop in for a quick shoeing as one would now for a petrol fill-up. Berry and Painter kept a good stock of ready made shoes for clients such as the Garth Hunt and, as well as being farriers, or catering, as they put it “for practical shoeing,” they were general smiths. This included making utility products like hinges for barn door or hooks for hanging kitchen utensils. Berry and Painter also undertook “Memorial work of every description in marble, granite and stone designs.

Now the smithy lies dormant, its future undecided. Inside are all the tools of the former trade, anvils, hammers, bellows, immediately recognizable but now rusting.

The Borough has received 11 offers for the premises including at least one to return the smithy to its former use and another from Reading University for all the tools. The town and the environment may have changed in the sixty or so years since Berry and Painter first let off steam but the actual character of the smithy has hardly changed one bit.


The Wokingham Times reported:-

Thur 16th June 1983


Wokingham’s Old Forge has new tenants. The former smithy in Peach Street now houses the offices of SavaCentre, owners of five hypermarkets. Previously the company’s offices were just down the road in Wokingham Market Place where they had been since 1980.

The Mayor and Mayoress of Wokingham, Cllr. and Mrs. David Ireland and Mr. Philip Robinson, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce were among the guests at an informal opening of the new offices last week. The ceremony was performed in the reception area of the old town forge which has now been completely refurbished and contains a small display of blacksmith’s tools and pictures of the smithy at work.

Although the building has been completely modernised, the architecture is of a traditional style to fit into the traditional market town townscape.

The Old Forge is now occupied by Berkshire Healthcare. On the ground floor is an area which accommodates memorabilia of the smithy.


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The Great War: 1915 – Wokingham’s Volunteers go into battle.

Charles Rideout died on the 25th September 1915 during the Battle of Loos. His body was never recovered

Charles Rideout died on the 25th September 1915 during the Battle of Loos. His body was never recovered

The Wokingham Town Hall opens its doors once again for the highly popular Heritage Day; this time opening on Sunday 13th September between 11am – 4pm. More information can be found on: http://www.wokingham-tc.gov.uk/heritage  Today’s article focuses on the war memorial which is placed inside the Town Hall and can be viewed on the day.

Wokingham’s Town Hall Memorial in Market Square is a composite of four church memorials around the town and names 217 of the local servicemen who lost their lives in the First World War.

Thirty one of these Wokingham men died in 1915, most of them under the age of 25, during the Second Battle of Ypres, Gallipoli, Loos or else from sickness or occasional sniper fire. This is the story of one of those men.

Charles Rideout: 1891-1915

One hundred years ago in September 1915 a long forgotten battle was about to take place near to the village of Loos just to the south of Lille in northern France. The Battle of Loos was significant because it was the first time Kitchener’s volunteers entered the battlefield and the first time gas was used by the British army – with disastrous consequences. It was also the month when Charlie Rideout, a 25 year old harness maker who served in a shop in Peach Street Wokingham, was to lose his life.

Charlie was a well-known figure in Wokingham’s pre-war community; a keen cricketer and footballer and also working for a Mr Evans who owned the local harness makers at 19 Peach Street. Local historian Edna Goatley knew Charlie’s two sisters Florence and Winifred:

Photograph of actual attack from the British at Loos. The first attack was made under cover of smoke

Photograph of actual attack from the British at Loos. The first attack was made under cover of smoke

The Rideout laddie was a harness maker; he worked in Peach Street before volunteering. I was home help to his two sisters who died over 40 years ago. They talked of the last words he said to them; “look after Mum & Dad, because I won’t be back”. He was going back to the front line and knew of his chances of making it home again.

Charles was killed on the 25th September 1915; Loos was a bloody battle and the attack of the 25th was the bloodiest.  Corporal Read of Henley described the morning wait:

“It was awful. Never shall I forget it! I can well remember looking at my watch about five minutes before we had to leap out of our trenches. Those remaining minutes seemed like years but they had an ending. The whistles sounded all along the line and over we went to meet the awful fire of the Germans”

Gas attack at Loos on the 25th September 1915

Gas attack at Loos on the 25th September 1915

The Battle of Loos saw the first use of gas. A sergeant of the Berks 8th Battalion recounted later:

“On the Saturday the order was given to release the gas. Unfortunately there was not sufficient wind to carry it to the enemy trenches and a number of our men suffered considerably. About 20 minutes was allowed for the gas to settle and then the order was given for the advance”.

With the wind changing direction, the gas began to drift back across the 1st Division trenches. One of the 10th Glosters, a Private W Jennings, reported

“The gas caused a lot of trouble and men were lying in the trench bottom foaming at the mouth”.

The British had lost some 60,000 men and the Royal Berks themselves lost nearly 500 men; half the battalion.

Brother Frank was to return badly injured, but survived.

Brother Frank was to return badly injured, but survived.

We do not know of the exact circumstances of Charles’ death on this day and his body was never recovered. His loss was particularly hard on the Wokingham community; Charlie was one of the Bell ringers of St. Paul’s Church, and also a member of the Wokingham Town Band. A muffled peel was rung on the Sunday following the news of his death. The family had lost Charlie in 1915; his brother Frank was to return home badly injured and youngest brother Leslie was to die after the war aged just 21 years.

Summary of the Great War in 1915.

Battles at Ypres in Belgium in October 1914 and April of 1915 were not enough to force a conclusion to the war – even after the introduction of chlorine gas. Germany was fighting Russia on their eastern front, winning on the battlefield and choking supplies via the Black Sea. Churchill planned to open up the entrance to the Black Sea at the Dardanelles, but would need to break the resistance of the resident Turks first. After over 8 months in January 1916, the campaign failed on the peninsular of Gallipoli, inflicting losses of nearly 400,000 men from both sides.

Gallipoli represented a year of general failure for the Allies. By mid-1915 the professional army and the reserve forces had been virtually eliminated and the British war effort also was blighted by a lack of equipment and munitions, culminating in another failure at the Battle of Loos. At the end of 1915, Sir John French was replaced by Douglas Haig as Commander of the Armed Forces and along with the Government, the war effort began to be reorganised. The following year, Kitchener’s volunteer army was to face its greatest challenge on a hitherto quiet enclave on the River Somme.

Thanks to John Chapman, Jim Bell and Edna Goatley (deceased) in the research for this article.

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1856: Cholera arrives in Wokingham

Silent Highwayman. Death rows on the Thames, claiming the lives of victims who have not paid to have the river cleaned up, during the Great Stink

Silent Highwayman. Death rows on the Thames, claiming the lives of victims who have not paid to have the river cleaned up, during the Great Stink

Flush the loo, turn on the taps and wash your hands; a simple act which came from decades of debate on the diseases and deaths which accompanied everyday life in Victorian Britain. Thanks go to Jim Bell for uncovering the local side of this disturbing story.

By 1870, Wokingham had an abnormally high death rate for a town lying outside of the traditional squalor of the industrial cities. Suspicions pointed to the possibility that there was something in the water.

In 1831 Cholera had landed in the port of Sunderland and for the rest of the century it terrorised local populations, killing them by the thousand. Concerns about disease had reached such a state that following the findings of Edwin Chadwick, the Public Health Act was introduced in 1848. The Act required local boards of health to be established in places where the population’s death rate exceeded 23 per 1,000.  In Wokingham during the year of 1870, Professor J G Barford, surgeon and chemist of the local Wellington College reported Wokingham’s mortality rate  at 29 per 1000, some 25% higher than the towns which were of most concern to the Public Health Act. For all Wokingham’s protestations that it was one of the most healthy places to live, there lay underneath  a dirty secret which was to be exposed in 1872 by a man who was prepared to fight for a cause; an engineer by the name of John Thornhill Harrison. Before we judge Wokingham’s own sanitary failings, it is worth noting the state of Britain’s general approach to the health of its people at the time.

London 1858: The Great Stink

Faraday and Father Thames by John Leech - 1855

Faraday and Father Thames by John Leech – 1855

It was a particularly hot summer and the fetid poisons which lived within the realms of the River Thames were letting off a stench which had become unbearable to the local inhabitants. Queen Victoria had set off on a pleasure cruise, but returned within minutes due to the unbearable atmosphere and the MP’s in the nearby Houses of Parliament were left gagging into their handkerchiefs unable to cope with the stench of the river. Their solution was to propose relocating the legislative chamber to the cleaner air of St Albans! For years, the leaders in London had been aware that the filthy water had been the cause of disease; in 1849 John Snow had proved the connection between cholera and the water supply and by 1856 John Bazalgette had completed his plans for a complete overhaul of London’s ancient sanitary system. The government was shocked into action and within ten years London had built a sewage network which was to be the envy of the world; except not in East London when in 1866 another cholera outbreak claimed the lives of over 5,000 inhabitants after the local water company contaminated its own system with sewage. If the connection between dirty water and death was not realised before 1866, the enormity of these deaths drove the point home once and for all.

1866: Wokingham’s Sanitary Committee  

A new law, the ‘Sewage Utilization Act’ entered the statute books in 1865 to tackle the nation’s sanitary crisis; Wokingham had suffered its own cholera attack in 1856 and endured a further two visits from the equally perilous typhoid fever. The purpose of the Act was to create a tax raising body which would provide works in areas where there was no sanitary authority. Wokingham set up a Sanitary Committee (not without great objection) to carry out these requirements. However, possibly due to the objections raised and the potential costs in building the sanitary infrastructure, it met only once and a record of the meeting was never discovered.

After five years, the central Local Government Board ran out of patience with the Wokingham Council after doing nothing to aid the town’s appalling health record. Enter the Board’s Inspector John Thornhill Harrison, a hardened engineer who had trained under the guidance of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and who came from the Sunderland, coincidentally the source of the first outbreak of Cholera back in 1831.

Charles Kingsley of Eversley. Author of the 'Water-Babies'. He was a great advocate for the importance of clean water and good for the soul. Wokingham's James Seaward was the inspiration behind Tom, the dirty chimney sweep.

Charles Kingsley of Eversley. Author of the ‘Water-Babies’. He was a great advocate for the importance of clean water and it being good for the soul. Wokingham’s James Seaward was the inspiration behind Tom, the dirty chimney sweep.

It must have been like a gunslinger riding into town; this was a community in which even the appearance of a stranger would hit the newspapers, never mind a hard bitten northern engineer who was about to put the locals on trial. Harrison’s intention was to sort out this dirty old town and he was about to do some very straight talking. His report of February 1872 to the Local Government Board was very clear; Wokingham was sick and it was all down to the water, or to be more precise, the sewers. Furthermore he was angry no action had been taken in the six years since the committee first sat and stated there were no excuses. He was not alone in his fears; Professor JG Barford of Wellington College was also deeply worried by the perils of contaminated water (he later lost his position at Wellington in his zealous fight against diphtheria) and the great Christian Socialist and local author Charles Kingsley frequently gave sermons on the subject. It was no coincidence the Reverend Kingsley chose water as the subject for his 1863 book ‘The Water-Babies’. Professor Barford’s analysis of the local water showed it to be heavily contaminated with ‘solids’ and Harrison was able to point to the overflowing cesspools and open jointed piping on drains which were only designed to take away rain water. This sewage ran through the subsoil’s sandy structure and rested onto the thick London clay beneath, prompting Harrison to remark

“Can any system be conceived better calculated to pollute the water below the surface?”

Map shows water works location in Wokingham 1890

Click on image to view. Before it became Tescos. Map shows sewage and water works location at Finchampstead Road in Wokingham 1890.

With the threat of central government taking direct control and the financial implications it involved, the Council lurched into action. A new committee of nine men was set up and they diligently set about listing and removing various ‘nuisances’ around the town. By 1876 the Chief Medical Officer was able to report the health of the town was showing improvement and the number of deaths had reduced from 29 per 1000 in 1870 to 16 per 1000 in the current year; below average compared to towns of similar size.

By 1878 Wokingham was credited with a much improved sanitary condition and in that year some 110 nuisances had been removed. In April 1881, Wokingham opened its new water company from a fresh water supply discovered in the Langborough area with the additional sanitary benefit that it was soft in nature and therefore highly beneficial for washing clothes.  Finally, the ‘Reading Mercury’ newspaper reported on the satisfactory conclusion to the opening ceremony: ‘At two o’clock about 80 gentlemen sat down to luncheon in the Town Hall; Mr. W. Landsdowne Beale the chairman of the Wokingham Water Company Ltd presiding’.

The various causes of death in Wokingham during the latter half of the 19th century

Click on image to view: The various causes of death in Wokingham during the latter half of the 19th century

Ways to die in Wokingham

The death reports in Wokingham for these years make interesting reading; the major killer through illness was diarrhoea (probably via the water system), but the largest group of identifiable deaths were those caused by violence. Victorian Wokingham it seems had more troubles than the water supply.

It is also worth noting that drinking beer at that time was understandably healthier than drinking the local water. In the time of the appalling condition of Wokingham’s water supply the number of beer houses in the area increased from about 4 in 1840 to 17 by 1869. Although the increase was in some part due to the reduction of levies in the supply of beer and cider provided in the ‘Dukes Beerhouse Act of 1830’ (that man Wellington again) it is also possible the local populace may have turned to an increased consumption in beer in order to live longer!

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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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