The local historians who pointed to Wokingham’s Future

Edna and Ken celebrate their 50th Wedding anniversary.

Edna and Ken celebrate their 50th Wedding anniversary.

Edna Goatley passed away on Wednesday the 3rd April 2013 at the age 86 years. Her funeral takes place at Easthampstead Crematorium on Thursday 18th April at 11am.

By Mike Churcher

This is not an obituary, the Wokingham Times already provides a very good one: Click here to read it. Our page today  examines the contribution Mr and Mrs Goatley made to our understanding of Wokingham’s culture in the twentieth century and it is clear their first priority was accuracy. Edna stated in her introduction to the 2006 edition of ‘Bygone Days,’ that it is “important to have a true account of a town’s history”. During this discussion we will consider some of the difficulties and dilemmas local historians face when attempting to construct the real story of their local environment. It will also be an opportunity for us to present the vital role local historians play when providing the colour which turns a town into a community; a place where you don’t just live, but belong.

The front page of Ken's book 'The Town of my life'.

The front page of Ken’s book ‘The Town of my life’.

Edna and husband Ken spent many years examining and discussing Wokingham’s heritage; telling not the stories of Kings and Queens and pomp and ceremony, but those of ordinary people. They told the story of us; the shops, the buildings, the personalities, the simple process of daily life and how Wokingham became the place it is today. As we (Wokingham Remembers) make our way through old books and newspapers, it is hard to capture that personal touch which acts as the bridge between ourselves and the local servicemen of the Great War. The type of news reported at the time of war, tends to be on minor incidents or accidents or reports of tea parties, council decisions and an occasional reference to a death. Local historians however, are a vital part of the story telling process, bringing to life the bland newspaper reports and the higher level views and opinions of the national academics. It was Edna who gave us a story of the Great War which turned out to be the only single personal contact we have made with one of our soldiers. Edna provided home help to two old sisters from the Rideout family. She told us this story:

This is probably the photo Edna Goatley was describing. Charles Rideout is the young man wearing the apron on the right hand side. Circa 1912

This is probably the photo Edna Goatley was describing. Charles Rideout is the young man wearing the apron on the right hand side. Circa 1912

“The Rideout laddie is in a photograph I should have when the shop under me was a harness maker; he worked there before being called up. 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”.

Piena Eccles, the god-daughter of Ken and Edna, described them as Mr and Mrs Wokingham and the description sums up what local historians can mean to a community. To extend the metaphor; if they were Mr and Mrs Wokingham then their children were the town and it’s people.

Always there to help others: Sarah looks through Mrs Edna Goatley's WW1 records

Always there to help others: Sarah looks through Mrs Edna Goatley’s WW1 records

The psychologist, Alice Miller described the greatest parental love is for it to be unconditional; i.e. the ability to give everything without expecting anything in return. Ken and Edna provided their Wokingham with that undying, unconditional love. They gathered their information; they ensured its accuracy, they honed their famous talks and peppered them with personal anecdotes and photographs collected over many years.  They gave talks to any organisation who wanted their services, but their favourite times were in telling their stories to the children.

Not only were they able to galvanise the pride of local people in their environment, but they also acted as the kernel and inspiration for others to write their own observations of our history. Jim Bell, who has written nearly 30 short books on Wokingham looked to Ken for advice in the early days.  He tells us:

“When I was starting to write I told Ken Goatley that one of my biggest fears was producing a booklet with mistakes, he replied by saying that one produces a book to the best of one’s knowledge and ability. That book in turn gives others an opportunity to add information or to correct errors thereby perfecting our knowledge of our country’s history. It is a continuous process”.

Adam Smith, editor of the Wokingham Times in 2006 described Ken and Edna as something of a guiding light for the paper, providing the reporters with a knowledge of the town they could never receive from their employers. During these visits Ken would also ensure that any proposals which he believed would be to the detriment of the town were ‘fully explored’ by the Times reporters !

This attractive terrace of shops was replaced by the concrete and steel shops opposite the Town Hall.

This attractive terrace of shops was replaced by the concrete and steel shops opposite the Town Hall.

Historians have opinions, like anyone else and probably have more of them than most others. They compare one period with another, or they will challenge our perceptions not only of the past, but of who we are today. Historians are therefore inevitably emotional and those with experience make their points with passion, but without rancour. Ken and Edna remained stoic and philosophical in the face of the vast changes Wokingham went through in the latter half of the twentieth century.

A slightly different angle, but you get the picture !

The same spot as the above photo, as it looks today.

However, they continued to give their love and affection to a town which David Lee (Council Leader) some years later admitted in his talk of 2010 ‘was dying’.  This was their dilemma, to criticise what it was they loved so dearly. They were powerless to stop the self-inflicted damage to the town and yet they continued to tell the story without hesitation..

In homage to Edna and Ken’s contribution to Wokingham’s culture, we will in the coming weeks be providing a transcript of a number of conversations which took place about Wokingham in the twentieth century. It is an important document and was constructed with the aid of  Edna, Ken and their great friend Cecil Culver who died in 2009 (Ken himself had already passed away in 2006). Jim transcribed this enlightening set of interviews, which tell us of life in Wokingham during the inter-war years.

The Courtyard restaurant in the Town Hall today. Photo: waag.co.uk

The Courtyard restaurant in the Town Hall today. Photo: waag.co.uk

There is a final story, which clears away any suspicion that Ken and Edna just wanted to roll back the years and see the past through rose tinted glasses. In the late nineties, the Town Hall used the large hall facing Denmark Street as a place to house an occasional market. I remember it as a rather glum affair and before long a restaurant was built inside the room and tables and chairs were placed in the pedestrian area. The restaurant was called the Courtyard. Ken was known to object to this change of use and deplored the conversion. After a few years, the Courtyard established itself and it became a favourite spot for the town’s visitors to sit and together watch the world go by. Ken to his credit surveyed the Courtyard’s busy chatter and stated he was wrong, this is what the town was all about, people getting together and having fun. I hope this is a true story, because it perfectly reflects their approach; that Ken was prepared to change his mind if he saw something happening for the benefit of Wokingham.

The Goatley’s were historians, they loved their town, they were a vital part of its soul  and we’re going to miss them.

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