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The Coley Park WWI Aerodrome and the CWS Jam Works


In 1915, it was realised that the war (World War 1) was not going to be over quickly. More RFC (Royal Flying Corps) squadrons would be required and this moved the War Office to expand its training organisation. To meet this requirement the No.1 School of Military Aeronautics and the No.1 School of Technical Training were formed in Reading.

An airfield and small aerodrome (officially known as Coley Park) was built on low-lying ground near the River Kennet at Coley alongside the new CWS (Co-operative Wholesale Society) Jam Works near Berkeley Avenue. It was opened in 1915 and by 1916 was providing advanced training to the trainees from the School of Technical Training.

AVRO 504Click to Enlarge Image

Although construction of the Jam Works was completed in 1916, the factory could not start production due to the shortage of glass and sugar. Part of the jam factory buildings were then used for aircraft construction and the offices used for the RFC pilot training school. The main aircraft in use was the AVRO 504, but reports of other aircraft have been noted. The aerodrome was plagued by river fogs and by the end of the war was no longer of use and the land was released. Today there is no trace of the aerodrome.

The CWS Jam Works was able to commence production in 1919. In its heyday it produced over 1.7 million jars of jam per year. In 1968 the works were closed and the production moved to Manchester. The buildings were bulldozed and the area is now a light industrial estate.

The Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) also owned a printing works in Elgar Road (c.1919), which presumably printed the labels for their jam jars etc.


Thanks to Julian Tominey for the following contribution regarding the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) at Coley Park in Reading...

“One famous person who learned to fly with the RFC at Coley Park was none other than Capt. W.E. Johns – the author of the Biggles, Gimlet, Worrals and other stories. He trained there in an aircraft type known as the Maurice Farman SH (where SH = Short Horn; yes there was a LH variant). By the way the No 1 Training School you mention had its H.Q. at No. 14, London Road, Reading.”

Here are some pictures of the MFSH aeroplane that Johns would have trained on at Coley Park.

Following on from Julian's information, William Earl Johns (born February 1895) was taught to fly by a Captain Ashton and many of his experiences were to go into the book Biggles Learns To Fly. Johns had an aptitude for flying and soon went solo, but actually stalled and crashed on his first flight!

On January 20 1918, W.E. Johns was posted to No.25 Flying Training School at Thetford in Norfolk, closer to where his wife and son lived.

Young W.E. JohnsBiggles BookW.E. Johns

Captain (a rank imposed on himself) W.E. Johns went on to write 169 books, and over 100 of these were Biggles books. He died in June 1968.


If anyone has a photo, drawing or any more info or memories of the RFC or CWS Jam Works, please email me at the address at the bottom of this page. Thanks.

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