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.