Physically, the key features of Purley on Thames are the River Thames, the railway (the main London-Bristol and South Wales line) and the A329. These three “corridors” now form significant physical barriers and in some respects the village can be regarded as being at least three different areas: the area between the railway and the river, the area between the railway and the road and the area south of the road.
Purley stretches from the hills upon which Tilehurst is situated to the water meadows of the Thames and from the Reading boundary to the countryside. On two sides we are bordered by the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Farming is still practised in Purley and, although the vineyard has gone, arable farming, dairy and livestock farming still exist in the parish.
Purley today is a village of more than 1,600 households and is still growing. There is no doctor’s surgery, no pub, no police station, no cash dispenser/ATM, no petrol station and only a limited mobile library service. It does have a highly valued Post Office and a car tyre garage on the main road and another shop in Colyton Way.
About one third of the dwellings are north of the railway line on the flat water meadow land and some of them susceptible to flooding. Others border the main road or form the old village on slightly higher land. A further 40% of the dwellings are South of the A329.
Purley on Thames may be fragmented by the road and railway and it may have few amenities in the way of shops or facilities. However, it does have a very strong sense of identity and supports a very large number of special interest organisations and groups. These include several sports clubs, two social clubs, a local history society, a ladies’ walking group, a drama society, a WI and a bell ringing group among many others.
The church is an important focal point for the parish (the ecclesiastical parish is not co-terminus with the civil parish, having not undergone the various local government reorganisations). The recreation facilities at Goosecroft are also an important focus for the community as is the Sports and Social Club located there. The Purley Memorial Hall was built after the Second World War in lieu of a war memorial and was built by the community itself. The Memorial Hall, the eighteenth century Barn at Goosecroft which is used as a community facility and the church hall between them provide venues for many local organisations and activities.
There are two recreation grounds, a cemetery, allotments, a bowling green and Pikeshaw (a “wild area” between Simons Close and Huscarle Way for use by local residents). There are also a number of footpaths enabling walks to be taken by the river or through Sulham Woods.
The Purley Parish News, produced by St Mary’s Church, but read by a wider audience than simply the active churchgoers, provides an excellent vehicle for keeping parishioners informed. About 800 copies are regularly distributed. Almost 58% of the respondents to the Village Plan Questionnaire said they used it as a source of information on what was going on in Purley.
Purley on Thames has two schools within the parish, an infants’ school and a primary school. There is also a special school (Brookfields, for children from 3 to 19 years) on the Purley/Tilehurst boundary (just in Tilehurst) and the school has achieved a national reputation. There is a secondary school (Denefield) close to the boundary of Purley, but within Tilehurst, and many of the Purley children attend this school. Both Denefield and Long Lane Schools are being updated to improve their buildings, and the CofE infants school also has plan to change.
Since the Second World War, Purley Park has provided a home for people with learning disabilities. The main house, a mansion designed in 1800 by Wyatt, has been used to house a number of those with learning disabilities, even while much of the land has been progressively sold for development. Now the main house has been converted into flats and those with learning disabilities have been re-housed in “family” groupings in newly built accommodation on the Purley Park land.