Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Caversham Heights Society

ON January 17 Catherine Sampson enthralled members with a fascinating and informative talk on Purley from the 1800s to the 1960s.

Her talk was illustrated with sepia photographs and postcards selected from more than 60,000 photo plates from down the years.

She also used pictures taken by local photographers, such as the Dann and Lewis Studio (1856-1940), Rev Henry Wilder (1834-1908) and Phillip Osborne Collier (1881-1979). Each had a different aspect which interested them, such as views along the river, people, agriculture and farming scenes, or family groupings.

These were the early years of photography which coincided with a growing interest in fishing and lazing about in boats on the river as well as with tourism, which brought more folk from London into the countryside.

Old Purley was essentially a closed village of about 200 people in the 1860s because most of the houses and cottages were occupied by employees of either Purley Hall or Purley Park.

By the Sixties the population had risen to about 4,500. Major floods in 1947 had a profound impact on the village but it was the development of what became known as the “shanty town” in the Sixties that changed the ambience of the place.

London buses, railway coaches and caravans were allowed on small plots of land which in due course had bungalows built around them, many of which still exist. As shops and small businesses also sprang up, a real sense of community developed.

It was the telling of individual stories, both humorous and sad, that brought the story of old Purley to life for members, some of whom remembered different people and incidents. An intriguing evening.

On January 31 the hall was packed as Pam Reynolds BEM spoke to us about the Gurkhas and the Gurkha ladies project in Reading.

She had visual aids in the shape of ex-Gurkha soldiers and their wives in different Nepali tribal costumes.

Pam also talked about SSAFA, the Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmen’s Families Association, the oldest military charity, which was founded in 1885 with the purpose of caring for the wives and families of former service personnel.

She gave some information about Nepal, its people and the dialects of the Nepali language which are largely associated with the four main tribes, the Gurung, the Rai, the Limbu and the Magar.

The Gurkha connection with the British army dates back 200 years and it was the bravery of the Gurkha soldiers that has struck fear into their enemies, whether during the two world wars, especially in Burma and Malaya, and in Afghanistan.

In the Falklands War the Argentinians refused to fight against them!

The Gurkhas’ motto is “Better to die than be a coward”.

Unfortunately, the British did not treat the Gurkhas well by way of pensions and welfare benefits until Joanna Lumley shamed the Government of Gordon Brown into taking action.

The result was that in 2007 they began to receive pensions and from 2009 were granted citizenship rights.

As mothers and wives began to settle in and around Reading, it was recognised that they needed to be taught how to read and write, both in English and Nepali, how to understand British customs and culture and how to access medical and other services.

Supported by the SSAFA and other charities, classes are provided for these ladies by volunteers led by Pam.

The result is that these ladies have grown in confidence. This project is now being replicated in other parts of the country.

The society meets every other Wednesday in the Caversham Heights Methodist Church hall with coffee at 7pm and the talk at 8pm. Newcomers are always welcome. For more information, email contact@caversham
heights.org or visit www.cavershamheights.org

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