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A look back at 1967-1977 in Berkshire

PUBLISHED: 10:51 14 March 2017

Crowds gather for the arrival of the elephants in Reading  © Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

Crowds gather for the arrival of the elephants in Reading © Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

© Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo

We’re heading back 40 and 50 years. Sue Bromley takes a look at a time which saw invasions by both aliens and hippies, the M4 opening, and a row over a chalk horse

1967

Two years before the first moon landings there was a wave of supposed UFO sightings across the UK – and a couple ‘landed’ in Berkshire! The Ministry of Defence recorded more than 300 reports of UFOs, mostly oval or disc shape, although by the autumn some claims were of seeing a glowing or fiery cross.

From Northumberland to the south coast, people reported silent craft in the skies. At first experts attributed these to the planet Venus. Some of the ‘witnesses’ were police officers and things reached fever pitch when, according to the Daily Mail, a Royal Observatory report suggested ‘something is up there which is not a star or a planet’. Next came claims that it was simply US Air Force planes refuelling, but the times of these exercises did not match the sightings.

Then in September the UFOs landed. Two small silver flying saucers were found in fields in our county, at Winkfield and Welford, and three others elsewhere. Army bomb disposal units were called in, alongside the RAF and experts from Aldermaston’s Atomic Weapons Establishment. The Winkfield saucer was moved to Ascot police station, and the Welford one to Newbury police station, where it promptly began to leak a nasty-smelling grey gunge.

Although news of the ‘alien invasion’ spread across the world, it was revealed to be a hoax the same day, carried out by apprentices at Farnborough’s Royal Aircraft Establishment.

Meanwhile, firmly back down on the ground, 1967 saw the formation of West Berks Ramblers, so 2017 marks the golden anniversary of a group which enjoys walks in the local countryside, strolls to pubs and the odd coach trip. But there’s more to it than that as they monitor development proposals, inspect paths and carry out minor maintenance.

They also put up gates on rights of way on behalf of the council, installing their 250th gate since 2004 last summer at Bradfield. This March will see a 50th anniversary celebration night with quiz and fish and chip supper. Find out how to get out and about with this friendly group at wberksramblers.org.uk.


1968

This was the year when, on 1 April, Berkshire Constabulary merged with four other forces to form Thames Valley Constabulary, now known as Thames Valley Police. Joining them were Reading Borough Police, Buckinghamshire Constabulary, Oxford City Police and Oxford County Constabulary.

It was an era of change for Berkshire Constabulary, which had operated since 1855 and had its HQ at Sulhamstead House from 1949.

It was also a period of change for Berkshire County Cricket Club. The previous year their revered President, Lord Remnant, had died at Twyford, having been associated with the county club for nearly 50 years and served as President of Wargrave CC. As well as being an excellent cricketer he had served with the Royal Berkshire Regiment during the First World War. The Rt Hon Lord Palmer OBE of Farley Hill took over the role.

This year also saw final plans for the last parts of the M4 to be linked up, with a four-lane ‘relief road’ proposed through Bracknell and Ascot to Virginia Water to reach the M3. There was huge opposition and eventually the route was shortened.


1969

It was the year when Brian Jones was found dead in his Sussex swimming pool, a month after being asked to leave The Rolling Stones by fellow band members. As the world’s press chased the story their attention included former girlfriend Linda Lawrence from Windsor, who had met Jones at the town’s Ricky Tick Club.

Linda had a child, Julian, by Jones, and was shocked by his death, but the love of her life turned out to be another singer, Donovan, whom she met on the set of Ready, Steady, Go! She was his ‘muse’ for many songs and they married 47 years ago at Windsor Register Office. Linda will be 70 this year.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment (Berkshire and Wiltshire) was sent to Londonderry near the start of ‘The Troubles and over the years would lose nine men. Through amalgamations and restructures the regiment would eventually become The Rifles, via the Royal Green Jackets and The Light Infantry.

In Woodley the first members of Southlake Angling Society gathered in April, starting out with an 18 acre former estate lake there. In 1976 they took over running Redlands, a former gravel pit, buying it 1999. Since 2010, when they became a limited company, Southlake has been able to offer exclusive fishing rights to 800m of the River Loddon in Earley, see southlakeas.co.uk.

And at Thatcham the research centre known for the crash test dummies was established by the motor insurance industry.


1970

Remember this? Billy Smart’s Circus, was once a regular sight in Hills Meadow, Reading, and made a dramatic spectacle when its largest participants arrived by train. Here they are in August, 1970 and parading up Station Hill. The circus ceased touring in 1971, but continued to attract huge audiences on TV for a dozen more years.

The Smart Brothers had opened Windsor Safari Park in 1969 and at its height it featured Seaworld, complete with dolphins and a killer whale, as well as drive-through areas with big cats, bears, apes and a hippo lake.

The Smarts later sold it to Themes International but it went into receivership in 1992 and is now the site of Legoland Windsor, which opened in 1996. The surviving dolphins were moved to a marine mammal park in the Netherlands.

At the start of the new decade West Berkshire Council began to identify and designate Conservation Areas with special architectural or historic interest. There are now 53, but it began in 1970 with Aldworth, Farnborough, East and West Ilsley and Kintbury. History was in the spotlight, with The Berkshire Archaeological Society’s research group and Reading Museum poring over finds from the continued M4 excavation, with the westward stretch from junction 9 to Swindon due to open the following year.


1971

We all became used to new look coins in our purses and wallets as decimalisation of the currency took place, with ‘the new pee’ replacing thru’penny bits and silvery sixpences in February. It was good news for those crossing the toll bridge between Pangbourne and Whitchurch as from decimalisation walkers went free.

This was a National Census year and showed 636,857 people lived in Berkshire – it’s closer to 870,000 now. Around 65% of Berkshire households had a car by 1971, the first time this question had been asked.

Work started on construction of the Butts Centre (Broad Street Mall) in Reading, which would fully open the following year. But the major tenant, Tesco, opened as soon as possible, with a couple of thousand people turning out to see a ceremony where TV presenter David Jacobs ‘cut the ribbon’. This was a big year for Reading as Friars Walk was being built and the inaugural Reading Festival would take place.

You could buy a weekend ticket to the festival for £2 (now £205 plus £20 if you want an early access pass and right up to £452.50 per person for a spot in a luxury glamping ‘podpad’ for four nights). The headliners were Arthur Brown, East of Eden and Colosseum, plus Lindisfarne, Wishbone Ash, Medicine Head and Rory Gallagher.

The Bracknell & District Historical Society was formed in June of this year.

The end of the year saw the English section of the M4 fully open when the 50-mile stretch between Junctions 9 at Maidenhead to Swindon was declared open just before Christmas.


1972

HM The Queen visited West Berkshire in May, arriving by train at Newbury, and still makes her way there, now usually by 4x4, when there’s a horse she wants to keep an eye on running at the racecourse. And there was a royal visit to Bucklebury, now known across the world but in those days more ‘locally famous’ for being the oldest landed estate in the county, and descended through one family since 1540 to current owners Willie and Marina Hartley Russell.

New oaks were planted to mark this event, joining an ‘Avenue of Oaks’ at Bucklebury Common which includes ones planted to celebrate a visit by Queen Elizabeth I and younger ones planted to commemorate Wellington’s victory at Waterloo in 1815. Since the 1972 Royal visit more oaks have been planted at Chapel Row Green to mark the marriage of Bucklebury’s Catherine Middleton to Prince William.

On 5 June Edward, Duke of Windsor, the Queen’s uncle who had abdicated from the throne in 1936, was laid to rest in the royal burial ground at Frogmore, Windsor, having died the previous week at his home in Paris. The castle was closed, but flags flew at half mast in the royal town and hundreds gathered outside.

The first ‘Windsor Free Festival’ took place in Windsor Great Park, attracting anti-monarchists, hippies and commune dwellers. Reading Festival welcomed The Faces and Genesis, and Bracknell had its own rock coup with Free playing at the sports centre in October.

In Mole Road, Sindlesham, The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution built and opened Lord Harris Court, where today some 90 residents live and receive nursing care.

For the first time the Duke of Kent reviewed 500 Venture Scouts who had gained the Queen’s Scout Award. The ceremony took place in Windsor Castle on St. George’s Day.

This is also a year when a sport made its mark: the Berkshire Junior Badminton Association held its first open tournament.


1973

Racegoers knew that Gertrude Shilling would always appear at Royal Ascot in an extraordinary hat designed by her son David, and this year was no exception. Her millinery delight was ‘The Common Market Hat’ (we joined that year), swamping Gertrude with what looked like a giant flower bearing the names of founder members on its petals, the biggest reserved for ‘UK OK’.

The early 1970s had seen a flurry of Conservation Areas designated in West Berkshire, from Newbury town centre to Chieveley, and they were joined in 1973 by Eastbury, Lambourn and Inkpen.

Berkshire Community Service Council (now CBB, Community Council for Berkshire) was formed this year. The independent charity based at Swallowfield supports local communities with advice and training as well as individuals and volunteers, see ccberks.org.uk.

All kinds of other organisations were also coming into being. The Berkshire Freemason’s Lodge at Sandhurst was founded, while the first gathering was also held of the Berkshire branch of The Bracknell Chopper Club at South Hill Park, promoting custom motorcycling, bracknellchopperclub.com.

The second ‘Free Windsor Festival’ in Windsor Great Park drew thousands, with Hawkwind on the bill. At Reading Festival Rod Stewart strutted his stuff with The Faces, and also on the bill were Status Quo and Genesis.


1974

This was the year when the county took on a new shape. Boundary changes meant Abingdon, Didcot, Wallingford and Wantage ‘moved’ into Oxfordshire, while part of Burnham and Wexham, plus Datchet, Eton, Horton, Wraysbury and Slough found themselves transferred from Buckinghamshire into Berkshire.

Not everyone was happy. Newbury’s MP, Michael McNair-Wilson, rose in the Commons to unsuccessfully demand ‘the return of the White Horse to Berkshire’. The Uffington chalk figure with its connections to the Bronze Age appeared on the county council’s coat of arms (the council itself would be abolished in 1998) and on the badge of The Berkshire Yeomanry (now part of The 39 (Skinners) Signal Regiment, based in Windsor, and still using the White Horse insignia).

And The White Horse dispute hasn’t gone away. Two years ago Nikolai Tolstoy, patron of CountyWatch and based at Southmoor in Berkshire, urged that the Vale of the White Horse be returned to Wessex under further local government reorganisation, King Alfred having been born near Wantage. He said that having the vale in its Mercian neighbour was ‘the grossest act of historical ignorance and insensitivity.

But it’s still in Oxfordshire… for now!

What turned out to be the final Windsor Free Festival was scheduled to last 10 days, but after nearly a week it was broken up by Thames Valley Police. The next year organisers ‘King of the Hippies’ Sid Rawle and anarchist Ubi Dwyer were jailed for trying to promote another festival there.


1975

Berkshire Family History Society was formed. Today it has some 2,000 members worldwide and assists those researching their ancestors. The family historians meet in Abingdon, Bracknell, Newbury, Reading, Windsor and Woodley and volunteers regularly provide advice at libraries in other towns. There’s also a research centre in Reading, see berksfhs.org.uk.

The year also saw the first meeting of Berkshire Conservation Volunteers, who carry out voluntary work on nature reserves in Berkshire and neighbouring counties. Most Sundays they are out and about, perhaps clearing heathland or working on footpaths and fencing. New volunteers are welcome, see berkshire-conservation-volunteers.org.uk.

Also founded in 1975 was West Berkshire Golf Club at Chaddleworth, Newbury.

Actress Kate Winslet was born in Reading, and would go on to attend Redroofs Theatre School in Maidenhead from the age of 11.


1976

The year of a well-remembered scorching summer saw biscuit manufacturers Huntley & Palmers finally close down in Reading. The announcement had been made four years earlier in ‘Biscuit Town’, where they had operated since 1870, employing 5,000 people at its peak. The previous year the Kings Road factory had been used for the location for the bar scenes in the film ‘Bugsy Malone’.

Also leaving town were Sutton Seeds, founded in Reading in 1806, operating from Market Place. The company had moved to premises in London Road in 1962 but relocated to Torquay in 1976, citing staff shortages.


And on to 1977

And so we reach 40 years ago. The first Reading Community Carnival was held, Berkshire Bedlam, a Morris Dancing team was formed in Wokingham and The Berkshire Outdoor Education Trust Ltd, which gives grants to assist schoolchildren to participate in a visit to a centre in the UK, began to operate.

But most people were busy celebrating the Silver Jubilee!

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