Coley Talking: Realities of life in old Reading – Publishing on 21st June 2021 – pre order your copy now


  • Looks at how Coley developed in the 19th century and the harshness of everyday life in this very poor community
  • Includes a substantial central section which records memories of a way of life long gone from people who lived in Coley from 1900-1950
  • Reveals the struggles of the town, and the community, to gradually improve their lives
  • Covers the early 20th-century clearances and redevelopment that was eventually to disperse a whole community
  • Makes available once more the oral history material from the Coley Local History Group’s Talking of Coley and More Talking of Coley which are both long out of print


Nineteenth and twentieth century Reading prospered from the canal, the railway, brewing and biscuit making, but the explosion of the population in the early years of the nineteenth century had its murky side. Coley Talking lifts the lid on a dark aspect of Reading, and England’s, history. Through memories, photographs, maps and archives, the story is told of life in one of its harshest communities. Workhouses, chronic disease, insanitary back-to-back housing – all the symptoms of extreme poverty are displayed in grimy, ‘this is what life was like’ detail. Ragged schools, sanitation, Harry and Lorenzo Quelch and the early days of the Labour Party, along with resilience and a strong community spirit all had their parts to play in bringing about change. Through the microcosm of Coley, the transformations brought about by slum clearance, the NHS, state education, and trade unions provide a vantage point to look back on the initiatives that make life better today.

Margaret Ounsley. Paperback, 210 x 135 mm, 120 pages, June 2021

About the author: Margaret Ounsley has lived in Coley for 35 years. Having completed an MSc in English Local History at the University of Oxford, she is currently pursuing doctoral research on Reading’s Elizabethan Poor Law at the University of Reading. She worked on the original Coley Oral History project in 1989, with other members of the Coley Local History Group. Her fascination with this very special and absorbing neighbourhood continues.


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