History of Project Purley

Project Purley is the name adopted by the local history society set up in 1982 to study the past and present of Purley in Berkshire. The name was chosen to indicate a wider interest in everything to do with our parish than just local history.

When the Queen’s Silver Jubilee was celebrated in 1977 the Parish Council organised an exhibition and invited parishioners to loan their mementos of Purley. A remarkable collection appeared but no record was kept and the objects were returned to their owners later. However it stimulated an interest in the history of our parish and a church youth group, the Pathfinders, did some research.

When Jean and Cliff Debney came to live in Purley they assembled a group of family history enthusiasts and began transcribing some of the available Purley registers and reconstructing old families. Around the same time a natural history group emerged and when the church was to be extended an archaeology group was formed under the leadership of John Chapman as the professional archaeologists did not have the funding to do a proper dig. In 1982 it was agreed to merge these groups and Project Purley was born. The inaugural meeting was held in the Pavilion at the Recreation Ground on 4th April 1982, a constitution was approved and Jean Debney was elected chairman.

We continued to meet in the pavilion at the Recreation Ground or in people’s houses; but when the Parish Office was built we moved there. Before too long our numbers had grown so much that we could not fit into the Parish Room and had to move to The Barn where we have been ever since.

The first of a number of A5 booklets was published in September 1986. It documented 21 extracts from old documents which had been discovered during our researches and was produced on Pat Deane’s photocopier. This was quite an involved process as we did not have modern compter technology other than a crude word processor. Images had to be pasted on and then A4 sheets reduced to A5 and paired up to be printed two sided. Needless to say many mistakes were made but over the years several more were produced.

The first newsletter was published in July 1982 as an A4 cyclostyled sheet edited by John Titterton. It reported on five project groups:-

  • Archaeology led by John Chapman and working on the church site
  • Census Returns and Demography led by Tom Robinson
  • Heraldry led by John Titterton
  • Maps and Topography led by Cliff Debney
  • Natural History led by Marvin Clarke

and announced our first outing to the Berkshire Record Office on the 8th July. Later we started an Oral History group to capture on tape some of the memories of people of Purley.

In January 1986 the 12th Newsletter announced that Rita Titterton had mastered the technique of using a word processor to produce two A5 pages on one A4 sheet and so it became possible to produce it by simply photocopying one side and then putting the paper back into the photocopied to do the other side.

Pat Deane took over the editorship for issue 17, January 1988 and Millie Bordiss succeeded her for issue 33 (October 1993) By now the number of members and the size of the newsletter had made it necessary to get it professionally printed and stapled. Ann Betts became editor for issue 59 (May 2002) and has remained in post since then. A major change took place in January 2006 when Ben Viljoen used his computer to professionally typeset the newsletter. Over the years the quality and length of articles had increased substantially so the decision was taken to rename it The Project Purley Journal from issue 71 (May 2006)

Our monthly meetings were initially attended by 10-20 members with speakers from Purley, but on the 15th June 1984 we had our first outside speaker in the person of Joan Dils who spoke on Making sense of the Census

On the 10th October 1986 we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the best recorded Court Baron for Purley Magna with a re-enactment in the new church extension. Jan Jones did a commentary scripted by John Titterton and Vincent West presided as the Lord of the Manor. We moved on to some proceedings from a Court Leet at which widow Dench (played by Pat Deane) was hauled before the court and fined for allowing her dung heap to spread onto the public highway.

Another memorable evening was spent in Cecil Aldin Drive when Paula Cox spoke on Bats in Your Belfry on 13th May 1988.  Paula brought along her bat-meter which could be tuned to the frequencies emitted by different species of bats so we could hear them approaching and catch sight of them as they flew over the garden in the dusk. Mostly they were pipistrelles but we did catch several other species as well and were amazed at how many bats we had in Purley.

Several exhibitions were organised in conjunction with village events, including the extension to the church, but we really went to town with a major exhibition to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Wilders acquiring the manor of Nunhide in 1497. There was a week of celebration from 2nd to 9th August 1997 . Our part in the proceedings was a display of memorabilia and we put together a large library of display panels under the direction of Jan Jones.

Following on from this we decided to make our own display stands out of 7 foot roof battens arranged in a square and bolted together to form a rigid framework. These were covered by drapery and display panels could be stapled to two rows of cross members. These were cheap, gave us a large capacity and were easy to store. Theyserved us well for many years until in 2010 we decided to scrap them and invest in professional stands.

Over the years individual members acquired copies of documents and images which were usually shared around, copied and recopied. In a few cases documents were transcribed and we took a very large number of photographs, including an attempt to photograph every house in Purley as part of the Golden Jubilee in 2002.(we did miss a few) This material was stored in attics, in drawers, under beds andwas generally inaccessible to most members. Also some material was lost as members passed on to St Peter’s domain. So in 2007 we began to digitise them and store information in electronic form in our electronic archive.

Several of the members give talks to other societies and take part in wider activities such as those of the Berkshire Local History Association, The Berkshire Family History Association and the Berkshire Archaeological Trust. We have hosted the AGMs of the BLHA on several occasions.

In 2010 we published our first major book entitled Purley in Old Images under the editorship of Catherine Sampson. It was an instant success and todate well over 300 have been sold. What it did do however, was to stir the minds of parishioners, many of whom  have long moved away, to dig out their old photos and memories of Purley.

We are always on the look out for new members, especially younger ones, but everyone is welcome as we have come to realise the old dictum The more you know the more you realise you know little or nothing.

CLICK HERE to read more about Project Purley