Coley Central Goods

 

 

 

 
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A walk along the old Coley Branch Line

Overview
Southcote Junction
Starting Point
Off we go ...
End of the Line ...
Your Comments


From 1908 until 1983, the Coley Branch railway line diverged at Southcote Junction and headed east and then back around into the Coley Central Goods yard, just south of Reading, and ran regular services mainly transporting coal, beer, jams and timber.

After its closure the whole length of the branch was traversable for a number of years. However it wasn't long before Rose Kiln Lane was first extended from Basingstoke Road and dissected the original railway trackbed near Coley and joined the Berkeley Avenue near St. Saviours Road.

Later the A33 (incorporating Rose Kiln Lane) diverged and followed the old trackbed under the original railway bridge at Berkeley Avenue and joined the A329 or IDR (Inner Distribution Road) at Reading, and completely consumed the old Coley Central Goods yard location in the process. The A33 now being known as the Reading Relief Road.

Below we take a walk along the existing short trackbed from Southcote Junction to the site of the old Central Goods yard at Coley. Approximately one third of the line is now part of Reading's road system.

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Coley Park flats in the distance

Overview

Opened in May 1908 by the Great Western Railway (GWR) using standard guage track, the branch line ran for approximately 1.61 miles (2.5 km) through open meadows until heading under the Berkeley Avenue road bridge at Coley and into the Coley Central goods yard surrounded by a then vibrant industrial area. The branch closed in July 1983 with the track connection, rail and sleepers being removed in January 1985.

Today, the remaining clinker and granite chip trackbed of the Coley branch line provides an excellent walking path for an easy short ramble through attractive countryside, with flowing rivers and green water meadows. The trackbed is raised on an embankment for most of the way, and provides excellent views of the meadows as well as keeping the pathway clear of the winter flood waters.

Unusual plants include Alexanders, small toadflax, thyme-leaved sandwort, and poughman's spikenard. Butterflies, moths and dragonflies abound in season and the area provides excellent nesting spots for birds. A number of original Great Western railway bridges can be seen along the way, built in 1908. Apart from the trackbed and the odd piece of rail used as fence posts, there is nothing remaining today of the original railway.

Coley Park Farm is a short distance from the track, and is well worth a walk around to see the restored barn, stables, and coach house, and the existing dovecote. Visit the Coley Park Farm page and Gallery 2 on this website for more information. Alternatively you could follow the path that heads in the opposite direction across the meadows to Fobney Lock, but this does require dry conditions.

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Southcote Junction

The trail starts from Southcote Junction. To get to the starting point of the branch line there are two access ways; one from Coley Park and the other from Southcote.

Access from Coley Park
Access from Coley Park is via a small alleyway (Image 1) located at the very west end of Wensley Road. Passing through the alleyway between the houses, the view of the railway line from Reading and a brick maintenance hut (Image 4) are visible. The walkway will slope down and the entry to the old disused branch line is to the left.

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Image 1

Access from Southcote
Access to Southcote Junction from Southcote is via Southcote Farm Lane. Walking under the railway bridge (Image 2), there is a footpath immediately to the left (Image 3). Meandering up the path there may be an old rose bush on the bank to the right - this embankment area was once a beautifully kept rose garden by previous owners of farmhouse approximately 50 years ago. On the left is the existing railway from Reading. Following the footpath it turns to the right and just as it straightens to go up the slope to Coley Park, there is a pathway to the right which leads to the old disused trackbed.

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Image 2
Image 3


At the Starting Point

Taking a moment to look towards the existing railway and where the fenced walkway curves to the left (Image 4) was the original location of the Southcote Junction Signal Box (Image 5). In 2007 there was a brick lineside maintenance hut on the other side of the tracks.

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Image 4
Image 5

Looking north along the railway towards Reading, Bath Road (A4) bridge over the railway is just about visible.

Where the sloping walkway is today, once stood the Iron Girder footbridge which crossed over the Coley branch line. Constructed in 1908, it was dismantled in April 2001 due to its age and lack of maintenance.


The former Iron Girder Footbridge
over the Coley Branch Line
©Kevin Rosier 1991

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Originally located between the footbridge and the junction onto the main line - just to the left of the branch track - was a small lineside hut. Located adjacent to the hut and closer to the track was a frame and net. When a train entered the branch from Reading, the driver had to pick up a wooden tablet (also known as staff or token) from the signalman. This tablet gave the train sole possession of the single line section from Southcote Junction to the Central Goods yard. Without the tablet the train cannot enter the section. The tablet was inscribed with the section it was meant for.


Similar GWR Collett Class 2251
as used on the Coley Branch
(example purposes only)

On its return journey, when the train was ready to go back to Reading, the tablet had to be returned to the signalman. If the signalman was not personally available to collect the tablet, the driver (or fireman) threw the tablet into the net as they passed, so the signalman could collect it later.

If you want to see a couple of trains, just spend a few minutes here before you start the walk. This is a good vantage point with a close view of the passing trains.

 

Then and Now
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The Coley Branch line still had a twice daily service when photographed from the footbridge in April 1982
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Nine years later. The same location as above in May 1991. The Coley Branch line track and sleepers having been removed in January 1985

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Off We Go ...

You are soon greeted by the old ballast trackbed underfoot and the thick convergence of dense bushes including Blackthorn and trees including the Silver Birch, with long grasses on both sides (Image 6). I'm not an expert on plant or tree names, so please excuse my ignorance.

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Image 6

Birds
These hedgerows are the nesting place of many birds. Common birds in this area that you are most likely to see along the walk are the Song Thrush, Blackbird, Swallow, Swift, Wheatear, Wren, Sedge Warbler and the Willow Warbler. Bird Nesting season is from March to July. Please do not disturb the nests. You should be able to hear an abundance of birdsong along the way during pleasant weather conditions.

Song Thrush sitting on a Silver Birch Tree

 

As you ramble along you pass through a small cutting, and it can be quite discerning if you hear a train from the nearby railway, as the sound can be fairly loud and echoes through the cutting, almost to the point that you think it is coming your way!

A semaphore signal was once positioned along this cutting on the right. This 'Up' Distant signal was always fixed in the 'Caution' position, as a speed restriction of 10mph was imposed on trains crossing onto the main line at Southcote Junction. As far as I know there were only two semaphore signals on the branch. The other being a 'starter' signal just prior to leaving the branch and entering the main line at the junction.

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Coley Branch 'Up' Distant Signal
Photo ©1944 M.W. Earley

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As the cutting gives way, the trackbed is raised on an embankment which will stay with us for the rest of the existing length of the trackway. To the right, though a break in the bushes, the railway embankment of the line to Basingstoke should now be visible. To the left a pathway leads back around to Wensley Road, between the backyards of the houses.

Before the nearby housing estates were built in Coley Park and Southcote, there originally was a trail that led from Coley Park Farm to Southcote Farm, following the Holy Brook stream for some of the way. This track allowed the movement of animals and farm vehicles between fields and farms, and also access beyond.

The first bridge you will pass over is the old accessway between the farms as mentioned in the last paragraph. This photo (Image 7) taken in March 2007, shows that the disused path being used as dumping ground for the local rubbish, which is truly a shame.

This rounded-arch bridge structure is still in reasonable condition seeing it was built in 1908. The design being a standard GWR (Great Western Railway) style. The bricks are layered in two distinct colours of dark-red and charcoal.

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Image 7

Butterflies
Butterfly season is generally March to November, with the highest concentrations around late August / early September. The most common butterflies you may see along the branch line are the Meadow Brown, Small White and Large White, Red Admiral, Painted Lady and the Common Blue. Around late summer you may also see the Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell.
Meadow Brown
Red Admiral
Common Blue

Small Tortoiseshell

 

Not really noticeable on foot, but the branch line is on a gently falling grade all the way from Southcote Junction to the original goods yard, so a walk in this direction is slightly easier. For the small steam engines with a heavy train, this last stretch up to Southcote Junction (from the goods yard), needed plenty of steam as this was the steepest incline of the track.

There is quite a fair bit of tree and shrub along this stretch, which has enjoyed uninterrupted growth since the closure of the line. It has now encroached onto the remaining trackbed that in some places the pathway is quite narrow. I would imagine if this growth was left unabated, the path would eventually disappear.

Slow Worms
The slow worm is a common reptile (actually a legless lizard) which lives and nest along the railway embankments. It is completely harmless to humans. Generally golden-brown to grey in colour, they grow to about one foot (30 cm) in length. The female has darker line markings traveling the length of her body. If you see a reasonable size stone, brick, piece of tin or even cardboard, there may be a slow worm resting underneath. Please do not pick up the reptile or disturb it from its habitat. Take a photo and then gently replace the stone or covering. The slow worm may take fright and disappear into the grass, but that's okay.
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On the right is the Holy Brook as it flows from under the railway bridge of the Basingstoke line, and meanders closer towards us, dotted with large trees along its banks. A train is heard quickly passing in the distance as we near a fence made of old rails (Image 8).

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Image 8

Continuing on, a small grassed field now fills the void between the track path and the houses, with the three high-rise flats (Image 9) now dominating the skyline. The field has a small grove of trees to the east (Image 10), which partly hides a small offshoot of the Holy Brook stream. Kingfishers have been seen nesting here in the past.

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Image 9
Image 10

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Moving along, the next bridge (Image 11a & 11b) is the largest of the remaining bridges and spans the Holy Brook stream. This bridge's brickwork also seems to be in the best condition and the original safety railings are still in position on both sides, although signs of missing brickwork is now evident near the top of the bridge.

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Onto the Straight
Image 11a - March 2007

Here the Holy Brook heads towards Coley and runs past Coley Park Farm. The stream is generally clear and clean, with small fish including dace and minnows. The banks are covered in thick weed growth in most places. The stream is prone to heavy flooding in late winter, which covers large areas of the adjacent meadows. The track is now very overgrown at this point, which is very evident from the photos (Images 11c & 11d) taken in mid-summer - August 2008.

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Image 11b- August 2008
Image 11c
Image 11d

As we round the last of the curve in the trackbed, large steel 'electricity' pylons stand towering over us in the fields on the right. The original pylons being erected in the mid 1960's. In the distance on the right is the Fobney Water Treatment Works, which was extensively expanded in 2005. The new sewage treatment works on Reading's Island Road is one of the most technically advanced facilities of its kind in the UK.


Fields south of Coley
©Andy Webb - 4 July 2006 (CCL)

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The last bridge (Image 12 & 13) is another farm access bridge. This bridge is starting to lose its brickwork from under the arch, so it's only a matter of time. It was near here in November 1962 two light aircraft collided in mid-air and crashed into the fields on the right.

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Image 12 - ©Andy Webb (CCL)
Image 13

On the left in the near distance, is the Allotment Gardens located at the rear of the houses in Lesford Road. Further along to the right, quietly nestled amongst the trees is the restored Coley Park Farm, with its historic buildings and restored and new cottages. A pathway leads from the trackway across the field to the farm crossing over the West Bridge (Image 13) into the farm. Please remember this a private estate, so please keep to the public access paths. (See the Coley Park Farm page and the Gallery for more information and photographs).

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Image 14 - West Bridge
New Houses on the Old Lane

Back on the trackbed, and onto the last existing stretch of the branch line. Up ahead looms Rose Kiln Lane which abruptly cuts across the trackbed. However, before this in the field to the left where the sheep still graze today, was the location of the Reading Volunteer Rifle Range, which existed from c1860 to 1908 (See map from c1870).

 

The end of the line ...

Today the A33 (incorporating Rose Kiln Lane) diverges and follows the last of the old trackbed under the original railway bridge at Berkeley Avenue (Image 15) and joins the A329 or IDR (Inner Distribution Road) at Reading, completely consuming the old Coley Central Goods yard location in the process. The A33 now being known as the Reading Relief Road. Located on the old railway bridge is the maker's plate, showing the date of completion in 1908 (being the same year the branch line opened).

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Image 15 (looking south)
Railway Bridge Plate

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And finally ...

.... A couple of photos of where the Coley Central Goods Yard used to be located. There is very little except for a few houses left on Lower Brook Street and a piece of track crossing the road into the former Simonds brewery.

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This was the Goods Yard - looking south !
(Berkeley Avenue bridge in the distance)

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A row of houses survive in Lower Brook Street
Rail tracks still cross Fobney Street to nowhere

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An unusually quiet Berkeley Avenue

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The Holy Brook still flows under the Berkeley Ave
River Kennet at Berkeley Ave



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Thanks to ...

Adam Dunne - for the use of his photo images

Uli Harder - for the use of his photo images

The late Linda Walls for her Butterfly images
( http://www.butterflygarden.co.uk)

Images by Andy Webb (Creative Commons Licencing)

Signal photo by the late M.W. Earley


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