Project Purley

The Local History Society for Purley on Thames

Living in Purley

This section is about life in Purley. We should explain what we mean by Purley as the distinction between the ancient parish, the civil and the ecclesiastical parish causes endless confusion. We regard the civil parish as the basis but include the Denefield ward of Tilehurst which is in the ecclestiastical parish as are the extensions of Pangbourne around the Bourne Road area which was ceded to the Pangbourne civil parish in the 1980s.

You may care to visit sections devoted to individual topics:-

Social Life


Public Services

Governance and administration

Social History


The Workplace


Until the First World War Purley was a small village depending almost entirely on agriculture to sustain the majority who lived fairly close, if not well below, the poverty line. There was a tiny minority of people who lived in big houses, and were, by any standards very well off and who generally treated the rest of the population with disdain, but more likely total indifference.

Between the wars things changed dramatically as people began to find employment outside of the village or with one of the small enterprises which set up here. New houses were built and opportunities to travel increased. A greater sense of community began to emerge as groups formed to play sports, share hobbies and interests and looked to helping their fellowe villagers.

After the Second World War Purley developed a second community, the River Estate. This had started in the 1930s as plots for outsiders to park their caravans or pitch their tents while they enjoyed the opportunities offered by the river; boating and angling mainly but also walking and swimming. The majority came from London and during the war many had established semi-permanent homes to escape the bombing. Children were evacuated to the area, often joined by their parents.

It was not until the 1960s that these newcomers had much interaction with the rest of the village. Then someone twigged that the population of the River Estate was roughly equal to the population of the rest of Purley and suggested that if they all voted the same way they could get their candidates elected to the Parish Council. The result was not quite what had been envisaged as the new parish councillors found themselves embroiled in whole village affairs and gradually the two communities grew together as they faced a huge explosion in development.

In the 1930s houses had sprung up alongside the two main roads, the Oxford Road and Long Lane. and the Purley Rise Estate to the west of the crossroads had developed. In the early 1960s further small estates established themselves and then major developments such as the Wimpey Estate and Purley Beeches changed the whole atmosphere of the village. Since then there has been further development as people have subdivided their properties and the River Estate shacks were converted to modern dwellings. The net result is that Purley has become physically linked to Reading and Tilehurst while protecting expansion towards Pangbourne and Sulham.

At the turn of the 20th century Purley still had a population of around 250 with about 70 houses. Now in 2016 the population is closer to 7000 with 1800 houses. Virtually all the busineses have disappeared and Purley is very much a commuter area with house prices well beyond the reach of most people.

Purley lacks a centre, has only three shops, one of which is in danger and one business, Merit Tyre. It has two farms and a country estate devoted to equestrianism. However it has a flourishing church community and a very active Parish Council which provides amenities such as the Burial Ground, recreation facilities and the Barn and which together with the Memorial Hall and the Church Hall provide venues for many activities. The net result is a flourishing community with over 70 clubs and societies catering to a wide variety of interests.

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