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:  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

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 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 Author: David Nash Ford


7th August 2015 New Angles on Saxon Wokingham.

Click on image to read full article

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

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

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

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


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

14th August. Click on image to read article

14th August. Click on image to read article

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

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

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

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

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

21st August 2015 Review of first season of articles.

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

Click on thumbnail to read full article

Click on thumbnail to read full article


28th August: Christianity Rules!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Mary's Church Reading

St Mary’s Church Reading

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

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

Rose Street approximately 1895. Picture: Bob Wyatt

Rose Street approximately 1895. Picture: Bob Wyatt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 5th April 1902 in Reading Mercury:

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

Friday 14th November 1919 in Western Gazette:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wokingham Railway Station

Wokingham Railway Station

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

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

Wokingham Station. Staff plus horse. Photo: Goatley Collection

Wokingham Station. Staff plus horse. Photo: Goatley Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gone from us but not forgotten

Never shalt thy memory fade

Loving thought shall ever linger

Round the spot where thou art laid”

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

Wokingham All Saints circa 1910. Photo: Goatley Collection

Wokingham All Saints circa 1910. Photo: Goatley Collection

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

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

George and Emma Price headstone

George and Emma Price headstone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inquest Verdict:  “Suicide whilst of unsound mind”. 

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Johansen


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Local exhibition for India’s warriors of the Great War

Legacy of Valour-Exhibition flyer-A5

Leaflet for the exhibition. Click on image to increase size

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

Percentage of Muslims in India 1909. Click to enlarge

Percentage of Muslims in India 1909. Click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

How did the Indian Army view the Western Front?

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

WW1 exemplifies Britain and India's common history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on the Sikh community:


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The true story of Berkshire’s California

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

California in Berkshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tales from the Dark Forest – Rosa Rose 1869

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

The story starts in Reading…

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

Bill Hill House Forest Road. Courtesy

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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