Saturday, 13 August 2022

Caversham Heights Society

THE Society held two meetings during February.

The speaker at the meeting on February 1 was Carl Feltham, an ardent member of the RSPB, whose subject was “Birds of Berkshire pt 2”, which concentrated on farmlands and waterways.

This was a follow-up to a talk last season and was given at short notice because the scheduled speaker was unable to attend.

There are about 250 breeding bird species which can be seen in the Berkshire area. Farmland is a good habitat for insect life, which forms much of the food chain for birds, and farmers want to encourage bird life. Set-aside is good for wildflowers, which in turn encourages insect life.

Carl showed a superb set of photographs of different birds, each image being accompanied by a recording of the bird’s song. He gave us much interesting background information on each one.

Many of the birds migrate to and from Berkshire at different times of the year. For example, the house martin returns year after year to Africa while the Arctic tern migrates between the Arctic and Antarctic each year and can often be seen in this area.

Many local species, such as the swallow, have experienced a fall in numbers over the years and the house sparrow is now an endangered species because its habitat has been gradually destroyed. Interestingly, sparrows never stray more than 250 yards from where they were born.

The song thrush is also a “red-listed” bird but its population is thought to have bottomed out.

The crow is a very intelligent bird, able to solve problems, and the linnet, a popular cage bird in the Mediterranean, is also falling in numbers locally.

The real success story is the red kite, which was re-introduced some years ago and now has a higher concentration in the Chilterns than anywhere else in the world.

Of other birds that Carl mentioned, the corn bunting apparently has regional dialects with birds from even neighbouring areas sounding different from one another.

The turtle dove is also a critically endangered species while the lapwing population is increasing. The raven, a scavenger, is also regularly seen in Berkshire.

Carl then showed many pictures of birds found near waterways, such as the heron, the kingfisher, which is very common, and many types of duck, swans, geese and others too numerous to mention.

He closed his talk by showing a picture of a “murmuration” of starlings filling the sky with patterns which can quickly change.

This was an absolutely fascinating talk, lavishly illustrated by superb pictures, which was of interest to both seasoned birdwatchers and newcomers to the subject.

For more information about the local RSPB group, visit

On February 15 there was another talk arranged at short notice, this one given by Louise Vincent, who told the story of the family firm of Vincents of Reading.

Louise is the great granddaughter of William Vincent, the founder of the company.

Long-term residents of the town may well remember the distinctive Vincents’ building opposite Reading station.

William Vincent started work in 1866 in a workshop in Arborfield, making wooden horseboxes and coaches.

He bought an interest in the company and made several innovations which he showed at an inventors’ exhibition, winning two silver medals from the dairy show.

William and his son, also William, worked 12-hour days six days a week to build up the business and by the early 1900s had moved into car manufacture.

They built their first motor body at their workshops in Castle Street, Reading.

In 1904 William Snr took part in the London to Brighton car rally. By this time they were making cars, carriages and taxicabs as well as horseboxes.

They supplied coachwork for a Rolls Royce and in 1912 they displayed a motorised horsebox. During the First World War they were making carriages for the army.

They designed a horsebox suitable for travel in an aeroplane and had a thriving business hiring out horseboxes with a driver and groom to take horses to races in the country.

The premises in Station Square opened in 1928, selling and maintaining cars as well as providing a 24-hour petrol station.

During the Second World War the company branched out into making parts for

In 1946 it built a wooden horsebox for George VI. The firm’s engineers extended the wheelbase and fitted it out so that it could be lived in for a short time.

They once tested the strength of a horsebox with two elephants.

The largest horsebox could carry four horses and carriages and had sleeping accommodation for the driver.

All Vincents’ horseboxes were constructed of wood and the company exhibited at the Motor Show until the Fifties.

It ceased trading in the Seventies after becoming part of a larger group and acted as agents for Austin, Rolls Royce and later BMW.

The talk was well illustrated with pictures of many vehicles which had been made by Vincents from the late 1800s to the time the firm closed.

The society meets fortnightly at Caversham Heights Methodist Church hall in Highmoor Road on Wednesday evenings, beginning with coffee at 7pm. New members are always welcome.

For more information, call Carol Cozens on 0118 946 1509 or email her at or call Jill Hodges on 0118 959 5307 or email her email at

Alternatively, please visit

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