Memories and Trivia


The first two years of my life were spent at Coley Primary School and at the age of 7, I was sent to St James RC school in the Forbury Gardens.  The scary thing for me is that I  have absolutely no recollection of my time at Coley PS.  This bothered me to the point that I contacted Coley PS to see if they still had records of that time.  The school responded promptly advising me that all the records of that time were in the Berkshire Records Office.  Nora Neville – God bless her, paid a visit to the Berkshire Records Office and located the actual record that proved I had been at Coley PS for 2 years.  I do have some memories of St James but not as many as I would have liked.  I have a separate web page for St James school and that can be found at .  I was fortunate at St James to pass the 11 plus exam so in September 1952 I went to Reading School.  I almost didn’t make it as my step father was against it because of the costs involved, but my mother, supported by her mother – my grandmother – insisted and won the day.

Coley Swimming Baths

Dez Maule reminded me of the Coley Swimming Baths. He says he remembers going there on many occasions because it was outdoors and on a sunny day, it was great to lounge around at the side of the pool with his mates after a swim.  As he lived in Whitley Wood at the time, it was a fair old bike ride to the baths!

Bob Coombs also remembers the Coley Baths but not such a pleasurable memory as Dez obviously – see his email to me below:

Hi John,
I think I saw somewhere that you didn’t know the size of the Coley swimming pool. I took this test there and only remember that it was wide, mucky and horrible and that we had to swim the width not the length ! We had our usual swimming lessons at Arthur Hills so were spoilt I suppose. I only went to the Coley pool the once and had no memory as to where it was, but from things I have read recently it would appear to have been close to Gascoines and the Berkeley Ave. bridge.

I remember the Baths being somewhere near Gascoignes.  I have a memory  of a guy who used to swim there on the coldest of days.  I was very impressed to the point that I decided to give it a try one wintry morning.  The water was so cold I couldn’t bring myself to ‘sneak’ in so I jumped in.  I nearly died with the shock.  I don’t remember how long I stayed in but it wouldn’t have been long.  I never tried it again!

The Josey family

{This next recollection is genuine but I may have it wrong – after all I was only 8 at the time – but for some reason it is still vivid in my mind – and yet  a mind that has no memory of my two years at Coley PS.  If it is wrong then I unreservedly apologise to the Josey family and will remove the item.}

Although my recollection of life in Coley isn’t as strong as I would like, I do have some memories that are sharp in my mind.  One of them concerned the Josey family who lived somewhere in the Grape Passage/Boarded Lane/Hosier St area.  To me, the father seemed to be a big strong man and I was in awe of him.  Audrey assures me he wasn’t a big man but I was only 8 at the time.  To me then, people who were 40 were old!  There were several kids in the family and one of them was a mute and he was called “Dummie”.  He was playing in the rail yards in Berkeley Avenue one day when he was hit by a train or a carriage and he was killed.  And this vivid memory I have is of the father striding purposefully along Wolseley Street – in the middle of the road – with other kids in tow – and carrying a sack over his shoulder – and in the sack was poor “Dummie”.  I’ll never forget that.  I think I cried as he passed.

Because I am suspicious of my memory, I decided to check the Births and Deaths records and found a Ronald Josey born in Reading in 1942 and died in Reading in 1949.  I feel sure that Ronald Josey was “Dummie”.

 Rodney Court and Cranford Mews

Google Maps show the area at the end of Wolseley Street as Rodney Court and Cranford Mews.  I have absolutely no recollection of either of those names.  I do remember an “area” between the end of Wolseley Street and Berkeley Avenue where you walked through a sort of lane way to cross over Berkeley Avenue on the way to the Rec.  There were a row of houses there and I feel I should know at least one of the then residents.  At the northern end of that “area” of land was a garage or service station where I used to take the accumulators to be recharged – I think we used these accumulators to listen to the radio.

There was a rumour which I didn’t know whether or not to believe that a bomb landed near this “area” during the war – thought to have been dropped by a German plane retreating back to Germany – the bomb didn’t go off.

Les Harper

Les Harper also went to Reading School and I think he passed his 11 plus at Coley PS.  I always thought that Les was the first person from the Coley area to go to Reading School.  If my memory is correct, he lived in or near Dover Street.

The Rec

I seem to recall that there were buildings on a high area of ground – presumably a sports pavilion, toilets and a caretaker’s house and maintenance sheds.  Then there was a large playground nearby.

The local Barber

There was a barber who operated out of the front room of a house in Field Road near the corner with Garnet Street/Garnet Hill – not far from the fish and chip shop.  He only worked evenings and I remember he was a surly fellow and not too careful with the scissors.  I often went home after a haircut with small nicks where he had been less than careful.


I remember Gascoignes situated just off Berkeley Avenue near the river left of the Rec.  I found the following information on Gascoignes on Google:

  • 1927 Gascoignes (Reading) Ltd were established at Coley by George H. Gascoigne with premises in Berkeley Avenue, Reading, Berkshire.
  • 1937 Listed Exhibitor – British Industries Fair. The Milking Machine Specialists, displaying complete Auto Releaser Milking Machine and Bucket Type Plant. The most complete and modern Milking Equipment on the market. (Stand No. B.712) [3]
  • 1970s The company merged with Melotte, also a family firm that was established in 1852, in the 1970’s to form Gascoigne-Melotte, who specialise in milking machine design and development.

I understand the company is no longer in Berkeley Avenue.

The Jam Factory

The Jam Factory – or to give it is full name –  The Co-Operative Wholesale Society Preserve Works – used to be located in the area just before the junction of Berkeley Avenue and Elgar Road – on the right hand side just before Elgar Road.  I have seen reference to the fact that the entrance was in Elgar Road, but I only remember going there from an entrance in Berkeley Avenue.

My connection with the Jam Factory is – when I applied to join the Intelligence Corps late 1959 to become a translator, I had to wait for three months to get a security clearance and I spent that three month period working at the Jam Factory.  I seem to recall it was hot, messy and hard work!

Dez Maule sent me the following photo which he found among his late mother’s papers.

The wording in case you can’t read it is:

Canning fruit at the CWS preserve factory, 1947.  Built in 1939 on land between the Kennet and Elgar Road. the Co-operative Wholesale Society preserve factory supplied Co-operative stores across the country with “own brand” jams, tinned fruit and pickles.  The factory’s operations were labour intensive and employed large numbers of local men and women.

Bob Coombs, who lives in Tilehurst, has kindly sent me some information on the old Jam Factory which you can see at:

Jam Factory PDF file

Because the documents Bob scanned were old xerox copies, the end result is understandably grainy but if you play around with the Adobe Reader zoom function, you should be able to read most of the wording.

Bob also sent me the following pictures with his comments beneath:


Hi John,

             I found this old 2.5 inch/mile Ordnance Survey (1971) map in the loft and it shows the distinctive outline of the factory “wrapped” around the bend in the Kennet.

             The old railway line has long gone and been replaced by the A33 relief road, which goes from the inner distribution road near where MIll Lane used to be, under the old Berkeley Avenue railway bridge, and then somewhere at the old factory site, leaves the line of the track and heads south towards the M4 motorway junction 11.

Cheers Bob

 Click here to go to the next page