Coley Park and Beyond

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Old Coley

 

For early residents at Coley Park estate the nearest primary schools were Coley Primary (on Wolseley Street) and Katesgrove Primary (on Dorothy Street), which were both located on the other side of the 'busy' Berkeley Avenue. In 1967 a new primary school was opened in Coley Park which took some of the pressure off the other schools.

 

Coley Primary School (Wolseley Street)

As a result of the Education Act in 1870, the Reading School Board was set up, and its preliminary survey showed that there were working class areas with many children where no schools were available. As a result, Coley and Katesgrove Schools were proposed. Coley Primary School was started alsmost immediately and was completed in 1872, originally providing education for Girls and Infants only.

The school was built on the farmland of Little Coley Farm known as Pigney Meadow. Little Coley Farm and most of Coley was owned by the Vachell family of Coley Park until 1792, and then owned by a number of successors. Little Coley Farm was in existence for at least 300 years prior to 1850. Located nearby was a tannery and a small open quarry (probably for chalk). Between the farm and the nearby Holy Brook stream was a large area of land used for textile bleaching, known as Sudbury's Bleaching Grounds. Before the invention of chemical bleaches in the early 19th century, cloth was whitened by leaving it in the sun for weeks or months. It needed to be dampened and the clean water of the Holy Brook was ideal for the purpose. There was also a large bleaching ground to the north of the farm.

 

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Wolseley Street - Coley Primary School on the right
©Uli Harder 4-June-2006

Coley was initially a school for all ages up to about sixteen, although many children left school and were working by 15 years old. Later the school became a mixed Primary school with the maximum age of eleven.

Coley Primary School was roughly divided into three distinct age group areas. At the left rear was the Nursery (Infants School) and this had its own grassed play area. Centrally there was a small playground for the six to eight year olds, with their classrooms on the ground floor level of the school. Also located in this playground was a small but very quaint caretaker's cottage (see below for more info).

The nine to eleven year olds had classrooms on the first floor of the school and their playground was to the right of the school. It was a larger playground and was enclosed on the Wolseley Street side by a row of c1870 Victorian Terrace houses. The far end of the playground once backed onto the much earlier dwellings of the original Coley district.

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During the early 20th century, some of the poorer children of the area were given free dinner tickets, issued by the school in the morning. The meals were provided at the old British School on Southampton Street (known as the Southhampton Street Feeding Centre). Here many children from around Reading who qualified for free dinners gathered every school day lunch time. The children were escorted from Coley School usually by a headteacher, and if they were late they missed out on dinner. After the second world war, school dinners were provided for all students at the school for a small fee.

The school remained relatively unchanged until the mid 1960's, when a new canteen was built to cater for the obligatory midday school dinners. Money was also raised to build an above ground swimming pool and change rooms adjacent to the canteen. Also around 1965 the small row of terraced houses (on Wolseley Street) were demolished which enabled expansion of the main playground.

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In 1994 a new swimming pool fell victim to subsidence only days before it was due to be opened. No one at the time could ascertain the exact cause of the collapse. However, in 2000 there was a major collapse of the road and adjacent houses in nearby Field Road. It was discovered that long forgotten chalk mines were the problem for the subsidence.

In 2001, Coley Primary headteacher Eleanor Bedwin said: "We assumed at the time (of the swimming pool collapse) that the sub-soil had been washed away by a water-mains fracture. After Field Road collapsed we made the council aware of what happened but until investigations are carried out there is no point in speculating."

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Waiting for 'Schools Out'.
It's 3.15pm on September 4 2008.

Teachers and Staff

At the request of some readers, I have listed some of the names of staff who were at the school around the 1950's and into the 70's. Sorry if I have missed anyone - but most of these names are from memory. Please note that female teachers have been referred to as 'MISS' - as this was generally the correct way to address female staff at the time, whether they were married or not.

Headmaster / Mistress:
Mr Tilly - 1920's & 1930's
Mr Chandler - ? to late 1950's.
Miss Scoble (nickname 'Snowball') - Late 1950's to Mid 1960's.
Mr Knott - Mid 1960's to 1970's

Miss White, Miss Galloway (Nursery School Teacher), Miss Burgess (Year 1), Miss Wheeler (Year 2), Miss Woodward, Mr McQueen, Miss GlenMurphy, Miss Prentigast, Miss Collier, Miss Downing, Miss Davis (teacher's aide - lovely older lady remembered by her charming welsh accent), Miss Goddard.

Charlie Welfare (Sports) - 1950's

Mrs Button (Dinner Lady) - 1960's

 

The Caretaker's Cottage

As mentioned, located in the rear playground was a small but very charming Caretaker's Cottage. Ann Mitchell (nee Beavis) remembers the cottage well. Her father, Harry Beavis was the caretaker from 1949 until 1969 and with his wife Bridget lived at the cottage and raised their family. They were a well known and popular couple around Coley. Their children were Ann, Mick and Jackie. Thanks to Ann for her contribution.

 

School Memories by Geoffrey Weller - Student from 1948-1955

All of my family, including my Mum went to Coley School. That was when it had a Senior school also. Mum left in 1930 and Mr Tilly was the Headmaster at the time. My brother Tony, and sisters Janet and Wendy Weller also attended Coley School. We lived in Bright St, just behind the Simmonds Malthouse which is still there. When I attended between 1948 and 1955 approx., I remember the Coronation celebration when many Mums made the children's Elizabethan Costumes. My mum made costumes for myself and my sister Wendy.


Geoffrey Weller and his sister Wendy dressed for the Queen's Coronation celebrations in 1953
(Image courtesy Geoffrey Weller)

I also remember the Infants had to have a lie down after dinner time, I think on stretchers. Mr Chandler was the Headmaster until Miss Scoble came along. I remember Miss White and particularly Miss Clemurphy who was a really nice teacher. She always remembered you if you saw her in later years. I also remember Charlie Welfare who ran the football teams and somehow used to take us up to Wembley to watch schoolboy Internationals. I have attached a picture of our sucess as runners up in the Primary 'B' League in 1953 and the Coronation costumes. My Mum was born in Coley as was all of us children and we are proud of it even though times were obviously hard for our parents.


Coley Primary were 'runners up' in the Primary 'B' Football League in 1953
(Image courtesy Geoffrey Weller)

I have some very fond memories of times and friends in Coley, everyone knew everyone else and Mums door was always open for neighbours to come in for a cup of tea or borrow a cup of sugar etc., Lovely times! Pollys shop and Orchards shop in Willow St ... I could go on for ever.

(Geoffrey Weller - November 2011)

 


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