Purley on Thames

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For other uses, see Purley (disambiguation).
Purley on Thames
St. Mary The Virgin, Purley-on-Thames - geograph.org.uk - 789898.jpg
St Mary The Virgin
Purley on Thames is located in Berkshire
Purley on Thames
Purley on Thames
 Purley on Thames shown within Berkshire
Population 6,573 (2009)
OS grid reference SU661762
Civil parish Purley on Thames
Unitary authority West Berkshire
Ceremonial county Berkshire
Region South East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Police Thames Valley
Fire Royal Berkshire
Ambulance South Central
EU Parliament South East England
UK Parliament Reading West
List of places

Coordinates: 51°28′51″N 1°02′48″W / 51.48088°N 1.04665°W / 51.48088; -1.04665

Purley on Thames or simply Purley, is a village and civil parish in Berkshire, England. It forms part of the Reading urban area, but remains politically outside of the borough, in West Berkshire. Purley is situated about 3 miles (4.8 km) north-west of Reading, 2 miles (3.2 km) east of Pangbourne, and 24 miles (39 km) south-east of Oxford. In mediaeval times the parish had three manors, Purley Magna centred on where the church is today, Purley Parva centred on Westbury Farm and Purley La Hyde centred on what is now Sulham Home Farm and Purley Hall.


Purley lost most of its old houses due to emparkment around 1800 and redevelopment in the 20th century. It is bounded to the north by a stretch of the River Thames, to the east by Reading Borough, to the west by Pangbourne and to the south by Tilehurst and Sulham. After the sale of Purley Magna in the 1920s most of the eastern part of the parish has been developed but there is easy access to rural areas to the west and south. The area encompassing the other two manors has also retained a rural character.

Changes in the 20th century began with ribbon development along the Oxford Road and Long Lane and in recent years these properties have been redeveloped with modern housing estates. The Purley River Estate was sold off in small plots in the 1930s and for many years suffered much non-planned development. As a result of the guidance plan agreed during the 1960s it has gradually developed from what was known as shanty town to an area with well designed houses, with a wide selection of architectural styles.

Present Status[edit]

Previously a rural village, Purley is now a prosperous suburb of Reading within West Berkshire. There is a wide range of housing. Although the majority of houses in Purley are detached, family houses, affordable housing can also be found, including a large council estate, which makes up a significant part of Purley. There are two primary schools. Purley's close proximity to Reading has made the village an attractive location for commuters. Sulham Woods, a local place of natural beauty, and views of the river (sometimes at very close range) are also factors in attracting people to the area.

In terms of demographics, the ethnicity of the population is predominantly (88%) White British. The White Other population stands at 4%, the Asian population constituting 3% (above the West Berkshire average of 2%), the Mixed Race population is 2% and the Black population stands at 1%.[1]

40% of the population own their property outright and 45% have a mortgage; the remainder live in social or rented accommodation, with the large council estates - off of St Mary's Avenue - accommodating the bulk of the social housing provision.[1]

Due to its proximity to the River Thames, Purley has suffered severe flooding [2] It is not widely known that the part of Purley closest to the river has changed radically, with most properties having been built since the 1970s and, with a very few exceptions, it was a condition of planning approval that the houses were built at or above the 1947 flood level. Some builders chose to make the whole of the ground floor as garaging and other non-habitable areas with the living accommodation being on the first floor. Some gardens and roads flood on occasion but very few houses have been damaged. Homes that have been damaged by flooding are generally those whose owners have chosen to use as accommodation the non-habitable areas. There is also an Environment Agency planning application [3] in process for a flood alleviation scheme in the form of a clay bund at the rear of Wintringham Way. Subject to approval and weather conditions this work is due to commence in August 2014


The main village was at the edge of the flood-plain of the River Thames, where the valley side starts to rise sharply. Both the Reading to Oxford road (A329) and the Great Western Main Line railway pass along this slope higher than the original village centre, which is linked to the A329 by two steep lanes crossing the railway.[4]


Although the main line railway passes through Purley, it is mostly hidden in a deep cutting and the nearest stations are Tilehurst and Pangbourne.


Purley is served by Reading Buses services 16, 28,[5] and Thames Travel services 132, 133. 142[6] For those with mobility problems ReadiBus provides door to door services.


Mapledurham Lock is close by.


The civil parish of Purley on Thames stretches roughly 1.5 km both north-south and east-west and is within the area of West Berkshire Council (Unitary). It has its own Parish Council of 13 elected members with the Parish Office at Goosecroft (off Beech Road) The eastern half is almost completely redeveloped but the western half includes meadow land alongside the Thames and agricultural land on the north slope of the escarpment. There are small settlements in the extreme west (around Sulham Home Farm) and in the north west around Springs/Westbury Farms. The parish also includes Mapledurham Lock on the Thames. The parish is within the Reading West parliamentary constituency.[7] and the South East European Constituency.


Early settlements[edit]

Purley has been settled since at least Saxon times. The original settlements were based on Purley Magna (to the east), Purley Parva (to the north-west) and Purley La Hyde (to the west). Ownership of these manors changed several times over successive centuries but the parish remained almost entirely agricultural until development began in the 20th century, with a population of 150–200. Since then it has grown to 4,232 (2001 Census) and around 5,300 people today.

Well-known families[edit]

It has associations with several well-known families, for instance the Huscarles, Siffrevasts, Carews, St John's and the Hydes and, through its connections with the Carews and Huscarles, gave its name to the much better known Purley in Surrey. Part of Purley Parva was donated to Reading Abbey in the 1190s and, after the Reformation, came into the hands of the Earls of Shannon with connections to the Boyles (of Boyle's law fame). Relatives of Lord Lister settled in the parish in the 1920s with Major Hugh Lister winning the Military Cross in World War II as a combatant priest.


Manor house and mansion

A timbered Elizabethan Manor house was constructed in the 1540s, to be replaced by a brick house in 1740. This was demolished around 1800 to be replaced by the Purley Park Mansion designed by Wyatt in 1800 and located on the brow of the hill to be well away from flooding. At the same time most of the eastern part of the parish was emparked; a new road (New Hill) constructed to provide access to the residual village and the Turnpike Highway diverted to the south. The Mansion House has now been converted to flats.

Purley Hall

Purley Hall was built around 1608 to replace the manor house of Purley La Hyde and was home to personages such as Warren Hastings, Lady Baden-Powell (as a child) and Thomas Hawes (of South Sea Bubble fame)

Farm buildings

When the Purley Park Mansion was built, the farm was moved further west and was home to the South Berks Hunt for many years. Its Master of fox hounds, Cecil Aldin, ran a Remount Depot there in World War I, employing his friend and fellow artist, Alfred Munnings as a horse doctor. After World War II the property was sold to Messrs G Percy Trentham who used it as the head offices for their civil engineering business. In the 1990s this too was redeveloped and the barn which had originally been adjacent to the church, donated to the Parish Council as a community facility.


Several smallholdings were established between World War I and World War II, one by Mortimer Menpes, the artist and friend of Whistler. These have almost all now been redeveloped.



The church was described as 'ancient' in a founding charter of Reading Abbey in 1121. It is believed it was burnt down in 1135 in the Stephen/Matilda anarchy and replaced by a Norman church around 1150. The new church was built on an excavated platform and graves dating from the 10th century or 11th century were discovered in 1982 only about a foot from the surface. This church was modified and added to in the 1300s and 1600s and completely rebuilt in 1870 in the Gothic revivalist style by G. E. Street. A further major extension was added in 1983.

Vicars and rectors[edit]

There is an almost complete list of vicars and rectors dating from the mid-14th century. Purley's clergy suffered ejection almost every time a national religious change happened. John Leke, in Queen Mary's reign, for having been married, Richard Gatskyll, in Edward VI's reign, for being a Catholic, Thomas Handcock, in 1563, for not being Protestant enough and Daniel Reynor, in 1662, for being a Congregationalist. The current Rector is Reverend David Archer, who was appointed in May 2009.


  1. ^ a b http://www.westberks.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34005&p=0
  2. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-25661494
  3. ^ West Berks Council application no. 14/01372/FUL
  4. ^ Ordnance Survey (2006). OS Explorer Map 159 – Reading. ISBN 0-319-23730-3.
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ Oxfordshire and Berkshire Bus service. Thames Travel. Retrieved on 17 July 2013.
  7. ^ "Election Maps". Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 27 February 2008. 

External links[edit]