The true story of Berkshire’s California

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

California in Berkshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tales from the Dark Forest – Rosa Rose 1869

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

The story starts in Reading…

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

Bill Hill House Forest Road. Courtesy

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

Rosa walks the Forest Road

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

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

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

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

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

Rosa arrives at the Stag and Hounds to rest

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

Stag and Hounds today. Courtesy Berkshire

Stag and Hounds today. Courtesy Berkshire

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

Darkness, confusion and death

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Journey to the centre of the dark Forest

Peter Shilham

Peter Shilham

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

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

1770 monument announcing the subscribers to the Forest Road turnpike*

1770 monument announcing the subscribers to the Forest Road turnpike*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Inscription on monument:

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

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

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

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

Stag and Hounds. The centre point of the Royal Forest

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

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1860: Wokingham opens the New Town Hall

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

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

The birth of the Lending Library

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

The Competition

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

The Goodbye Guild Hall Ball

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

Just avoiding a tragedy

Town Hall circa 1832 demolished 1858

Town Hall circa 1832 demolished 1858

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

Worker Rewards

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

Early 20th century photograph of Wokingham Town Hall

Early 20th century photograph of Wokingham Town Hall

Proud of its new Town Hall

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

Who paid for the Town Hall?

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

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

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

‘Sucking the monkey’.

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

Sucking the monkey?

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


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Incredible website to incredible maps!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1857 Wokingham Elections: Tories and Whigs at war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rose Inn is now the home of Cafe Rouge

The Rose Inn is now the home of Cafe Rouge

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

Bush Walk on Market Square, Wokingham

Bush Walk on Market Square, Wokingham

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

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

The Wokingham experience and electoral legislation of the time.

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

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

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

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

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

For all the effort, was the legislation popular?

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

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The double life of Arthur Hill, 6th Marquess of Downshire

The Marquis of Downshire, one of the most wealthy men in Britain, sits proudly at the helm of Wokingham's fire engine

The Marquis of Downshire, one of the most wealthy men in Britain, sits proudly at the helm of Wokingham’s fire engine

By Jim Bell. This article first appeared in ‘The Wokingham Paper’, 24th April 2015

A young man sits holding the reins of a horse drawn fire engine. He is the chief of Wokingham’s voluntary fire service and also just happens to be a member of one of Britain’s wealthiest families. Arthur Wills John Wellington Trumbull Hill at the age of just three years old became the 6th Marquess of Downshire, whose family owned 5,000 acres in Berkshire (Easthampstead) and 115,000 acres in Ireland (Hillsborough, County Down). By 1883, the Hills family had the eighth highest landed income in the United Kingdom. For all this wealth however, he lived his life as the 6th Marquis of Downshire and as Arthur Hill, a lover of the more simple qualities of rural life. A local inhabitant of the area once observed:

“In those days everything was driven to the market. There was no transport. They used to drive cattle, sheep and cows and all from the Downshire estate to the market to be sold. The Marquess used to follow on as if he was one of the workmen, dressed in a smock. You’d think he was a normal shepherd.”
His love of the countryside was obvious, but the Marquess also possessed a love of powered vehicles. Although he had his own chauffeur, he would often swap seats, the driver sitting in the back whilst the Marquess took over the driving. The chauffeur would also join in on the masquerade by taking on the persona of gentry and waving at the locals as the vehicle passed them by.Ludgrove to Easthampstead Road 1910

One of the Marquess’s favourite pastimes was to drive his steam roller round the roads of his estate. He was doing this one day when a tramp came up the drive. Not knowing to whom he was speaking, the tramp asked the Marquess the chances of begging a meal at the big house. The Marquess responded that his chances were good. As soon as the tramp was out of sight, he got down from his steam roller, hurried into the house, summoned the butler and gave him a whole sovereign to give to the man and instructed him to see the cook give him a good meal. He then returned to his roller and continued on his drive around. Eventually the tramp emerged from the big house and the Marquess asked him how he had fared. The tramp was ecstatic.

The 6th Marquis of Downshire could mix as easily with drovers as he could with royalty

The 6th Marquis of Downshire could mix as easily with drovers as he could with royalty

He said that he had received an enormous meal, two pints of beer and to top it all, the butler had given him a half-sovereign. On learning this, the Marquess went straight back to the house and sacked the butler for dishonesty.

To know the man, is to know why Wokingham’s fire brigade was led by one of the nation’s wealthiest men. He was as much at ease with ordinary folk as was with royalty; who loved both modern technology and a simple rural life. He was both the grand 6th Marquess of Downshire and the ordinary Arthur Hill; some might say eccentric, but one of our true characters and taken away at the relatively early age of just 46 years old. He died at Easthampstead on the 29th of May 1918 after a short illness following a chill. In his will he gave one year’s wages to those who had been in his employment for three years before his death.

Jim’s books can be purchased at the Information Centre in Wokingham’s Town Hall. They make great presents at a price of around £3.

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1830 – Wokingham fights back against arson attacks

Fire Brigade in action c 1900

The Wokingham Fire Brigade thundering out of their home in the Town Hall

By Jim Bell (this article first appeared in the Wokingham Paper 24th April 2015)

When I first started to research the local history of Wokingham I had been puzzled as to why a fire engine had been stored in the Town Hall many years before the Volunteer Fire Brigade was formed in 1876. The new Town Hall which opened in 1860, accommodated the local police force, a courtroom, cells, a savings bank, but no fire brigade. So what was a fire engine doing there? It was only when I began to study the fire fighters of Wokingham that I discovered it was the police themselves who were the fire fighters.

If the police were meant to catch criminals, why were they responsible for fighting fires at the same time? The answer points to Wokingham’s rather dark past. According to the notes of historian, Arthur T. Heelas, Wokingham’s first fire-fighting service was formed at a public meeting held in the old Wokingham Town Hall on November 19th 1830. The magistrates meeting resolved:1911 Firemen and potatoes. It must be an ox roasting at a coronation

“…on the motion of the Marquess of Downshire, and seconded by Robert Palmer, Esq M.P. for Berkshire, that the alarm created by the acts of base and lawless incendiaries in the neighbourhood districts render it highly desirable that an association be immediately formed with a view to the prevention of the acts by vigilance and firmness, having at the same time the fullest confidence in the good order which has at all times characterized the labouring classes of this neighbourhood.”

The police needed a fire engine to put out the fires from the regular acts of arson which were taking place around the neighbourhood and the perpetrators of these fires would dealt with by acts of vigilance and firmness.  To deal with these arsonists, the police needed help and therefore on the motion of Sir John Walsh:

The earliest picture of the Wokingham Fire Service

The earliest picture of the Wokingham Fire Service

“It was further resolved that the Magistrates, Gentlemen and landholders should open lists in their respective Parishes of all Householders willing to be sworn and serve as Special Constables in aid of the Civil Power within the Forest Division”.

The number of sworn-in special constables in each parish varied from five in Barkham to over a hundred in Wokingham town. Hurst and Ruscombe had ninety, which included thirty five mounted constables and Wargrave had eighty four, which included thirty four mounted. Wokingham wide, this amounted to over 500 specials.

firemen posing 1920The Specials had to watch and guard farming premises day and night with the utmost vigilance and Wokingham was the centre of communications for all purposes of the Association, with meetings held in the Rose Inn. Each parish having arranged its own constabulary force, acted in conjunction with each other and two or more persons chosen by the men themselves, were appointed superintendents in each parish. Buckets were provided and to be ready at all times, together with any other means of extinguishing fires.

The policing activities of these special constables appear to have been so effective that, according to records, there was very little trouble from then onwards.

The above photos are taken from a book ‘Wokingham in Old Photographs’ by the Mayor of Wokingham, Bob Wyatt. It can either be found online or at Bookends, in Peach Street, Wokingham. Thanks also go to the continued use of the Goatley Collection (in honour of Ken and Edna Goatley).

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2015: Waterloo’s bi-centenary

Arthur Wellesley became the First Duke of Wellington in 1814

Arthur Wellesley became the First Duke of Wellington in 1814

200 years of Wokingham, Wellington and Waterloo 1815 – 2015

This article appears in the first edition of the Wokingham Paper. If you would like to add to it, comment or criticise it (heaven forbid) please go to the comments section at the bottom of this page.

On the 18th June 1815, the Duke of Wellington’s Allied force defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in Belgium. In the coming months therefore, there will be much ceremony as the nation remembers this history defining moment.

During the early part of the 19th century, Wokingham like the rest of the country bristled with pride over the victory and the town provides evidence of this approval in many of its names; Waterloo Road and the Wellington Road are both in Wokingham. There was also the Wellington Brewery in Denmark Street and two pubs still existing are the Lord Raglan and the Duke’s Head. Wellington lived in Stratfield Saye, (just a 30 minute drive from Wokingham) and Crowthorne’s Wellington College was built in his honour and completed in 1859. The development of the College was to educate the orphaned sons of Wellington’s fallen men and is just a short 15 minute drive from Wokingham’s town centre.

‘Who’d a Tho’t it’ !

Out of that pride in victory grew a few tall stories; two pubs in the area, the ‘Who’d a Tho’t it’ of the Nine Mile Ride and the Dukes Head, both attached themselves to the legendary Iron Duke.

Click on this picture of Wellington's house at Stratfield Saye to find out visiting times

Click on this picture of Wellington’s house at Stratfield Saye to find out visiting times

The story goes that the Duke’s entourage decided to take a break on their homeward journey to Stratfield Saye and came upon an old beer house on the Nine Mile Ride. Having been treated to a display of welcome by the beer keeper, the Duke raised his glass to his now merry throng and declared the visit a success. “By Jove, who would have thought it!” he declared. The legend was thus born that the publican named the pub thereafter the ‘Who’d a Tho’t it’!

It’s a good yarn and would certainly have brought in a few curious customers. The story however starts to wobble when the pub shares its name with other pubs in other parts of the country. The story sadly starts to disintegrate further when a more plausible alternative appears. A book on Wokingham pubs by local historians Ayres and Hunter, quoted Bryant Lilywhite’s theory that baronies were being bestowed upon wealthy brewers and a wag came up with: ‘Who’d ha’ thought it …. Hops had bought it’.

The Duke's Head is closely associated with the Duke of Wellington. Dates though tell a different story

The Duke’s Head is closely associated with the Duke of Wellington. Dates though tell a different story

Local historian Roger Long waded in with another theory.  Sailors wounded during the Napoleonic wars would live amongst the ‘broom dashers’ of the local forest and made various nautical exclamations of unexpected pleasure; one being ‘By Woden and Thor’! The term gradually became corrupted from ‘Woden and Thor’ to ‘Who’d a Th’ot it’ !

The Dukes Head Public House

Another legend has grown up around the name of The Dukes Head in Denmark Street, Wokingham. This pub has a painting on the external wall of a gentleman with a prodigious nose and whose head is peeping out of a wellington boot making it very obvious which Duke the Duke’s Head is named after.

This painting appears on the front of the Dukes Head in Wokingham.

This painting appears on the front of the Dukes Head in Wokingham.

However, Wellington was made a Duke in 1814, whereas the name, The Dukes Head appears in 1791 when it is advertised in the Reading Mercury newspaper. The pub’s name therefore couldn’t belong to Wellington and was more likely a reference to the Duke of St Albans who was Wokingham’s High Steward during the 1700’s. Another coup for the Ayres Hunter historians!

The Lord Raglan (Denmark Street)

We mentioned the Lord Raglan earlier and you might be puzzled over the reference to the name. He was after all, more closely connected to the Crimean War (the one in 1853 – 1856) and was pilloried by the press for being responsible for both the appalling conditions of the soldiers and The Charge of the Light Brigade. Legend has is it that this tough old campaigner had his arm amputated and soon after spent some time looking for it to retrieve a ring which was a gift from his wife.  Dysentery and depression had killed him prior to the end of the war and the Wellington connection is that he was the Duke’s military secretary.

The Crimean War is associated with Lord Raglan. He was also Wellington's Military Secretary.

The Crimean War is associated with Lord Raglan. He was also Wellington’s Military Secretary.

And the point is…

History is peppered with theories which become fascinating in their own right, raising even more questions than answers. Who was Woden ? Did you know about the Duke’s association with the area? Who were these sailors living among the broom dashers in the forest? And who on earth were the broom dashers? It becomes endlessly fascinating, especially as it hints of a dark past.

If you can help enrich this article either write to the Wokingham Paper or place a comment on the same page in

Our thanks to:

  • Roger Long’s research supports this article and he continues to amaze and entertain; keep an eye out for his new book ‘The Broom Dashers’.
  • The book ‘The Inns and Public Houses of Wokingham’ was started by Anthony Cross and following his death in 1986 was completed by Dennis Ayres and Judith Hunter in 1992.
  • Chris French and his excellent set of pub photos and biographies on
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