Coley was once a large producer of brick and clay products having three major working Kiln sites
Brick, Tile and Pottery Works
Click HERE to view a c1875 map of Coley Kilns.
Coley had three main clay works located all within close proximity of each other. Due to large areas of clay sitting on a base of chalk, it made an ideal location to produce clay products. The Bricks with their reddish colour were used extensively in the buildings of Reading into the Victorian era. Many older areas of Reading including Coley still have abundant examples of this brickwork.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Reading became known for the use of differently coloured bricks, often white with red or cream, creating a variety of patterns. Examples can be seen in Belle Vue Road and Field Road.
When the Pottery and Brickwork Kilns eventually closed down, hundreds of new homes were soon built on top of the abandoned chalk mines, as the fledgling town pushed past its original boundaries. Over a hundred years later, this was to become a nightmare for some residents as chalk mines started to collapse under their homes (see next section below).
COLEY KILNS (Messrs. S & E Collier Ltd) was located where the Coley Recreation Park is today. It produced Bricks, Tiles and Pottery. S & E Collier were Reading's largest brickmakers, and were established at Coley in the mid 19th century (c1850).
In 1860, Samuel Collier and his wife Jane, purchased land on the West Side of Coley Avenue from the estate owner, John Bligh Monck of Coley Park. In 1862 they built a house called Westbourne Villa (now located on the north west corner of Coley Avenue and Berkeley Avenue). In 1863 they built another house called Enbourne Villa, which was renamed to Park Villa, and later Parkfield. In 1875, Park Villa was sold to George Carley. Jane (now a widow) resided in Castle Crescent, then moved to Coley Hill (1883).
Messrs. S & E Collier Ltd. moved to Grovelands, Tilehurst in 1877 when the available clay supply at Coley was used up, and operated an extensive manufactory of bricks, tiles, pottery and terra-cotta until 1964. They were well known for their terra-cotta and 'Reading Red' bricks, and also produced pottery under the name of 'Silchester Ware'. The old Coley Kilns area was leveled around 1878 for the new recreation ground.
COLEY POTTERY was located at the corner of Lower Field Road and Berkeley Avenue. St. Saviour's Church is now situated on part of the original works site. It is believed to be the first works to open in 1770 and produced pottery products until closure in 1883, when the company moved from Reading.
Chalk was dug out from large deposits under the nearby hill area and was used in the manufacture of pottery and bricks to improve the quality and prevent shrinkage.
AVENUE WORKS was the last surviving Brickworks and was located over the area of Holybrook Road, Shaw Road and Wensley Road. It also produced Bricks, Tiles and Pottery. The east side closed in 1883 but the west portion (on Wensley Road) continued until 1900. This area was the western limit of progress at that time in the Coley area and sat on the border of the prestigious Coley Park estate.
Chalk Mines Collapse at Coley
In January 2000 part of the road surface in Field Road subsided and some houses partly collapsed as the previously long forgotten chalk mines started to cave in. Thirty homes had to be evacuated, with some residents unable to return for up to two years. An emergency stabilisation contract was undertaken to treat workings found locally to the area of subsidence
As there was originally no law requiring abandoned mines to be registered, they were soon forgotten about as new homes were built above them. Investigations are still continuing into this and other areas built over chalk mines. In the meantime stabilisation works costing millions of pounds have been continuing to prevent further mine collapse.
Part of a house collapses in Field Road in 2000
According to experts the chalk mines under Field Road were only used until 1830, but the three main Kilns reportedly remained in operation for at least another 50 years - the last closing in 1900. Whether they were still mining the chalk remains debatable. The Coley Primary School was the first major building erected near the mines area in 1874, with housing in Field Road not commencing until 1881.
However there were prior warning signs that all was not right in the area. Almost unnoticed was the collapse of a new swimming pool at Coley Primary School on Wolseley Street in 1994 - only a few days before it was due to open. No one at the time could ascertain the exact cause of the ground subsidence. The pool was situated at the base of the hill that led to Field Road above.
Field Road had to be evacuated following subsidence
In April 2001, engineers began a new phase of investigation and started probing land covering Field Road, Lower Field Road, Garnet Hill, Coley Place, Coley Hill and Dover Street.
In 2005 funding was secured to undertake further site investigation (known as phase 2) to a wider area which proved that the extent of old mine workings was much more widespread than first thought. In 2011, a third phase of the programme of work aimed to follow up on the phase 2 investigations by completing a more detailed investigation followed by stabilisation of around 53 properties thought to be affected by the mine workings. The work was funded by cash from the Land Stabilisation Programme of the Department of Communities and Local Government.
Inclined drilling machines at Field Road in 2011
Forkers Ltd were contracted to perform inclined drilling techniques for much of the drilling under the properties so it could be carried from the roadside, gardens and courtyards, rather than carrying out any of the work from inside properties which would have been immensely disruptive to the home or business occupants affected. The 45 week drilling contract commenced in January 2011 and by July it had passed the halfway stage.
During the investigation and stabilisation work continuous monitoring of properties was carried out using laser levelling, precise levelling, EDM surveys, crack monitoring ‘tell tales’ and physical condition surveys.
Coley was not the only area affected, with a series of holes appearing in Palmer Park on the other side of town in 2001 and a network of mines known to be under Emmer Green, all within the borough boundaries.