‘Spring Gardens’ appears in the Commissioners’ Map of 1834 as a partially developed cluster of houses on the west side of Whitley Street.
The 1842 Post Office Directory includes a map that shows more houses had been built. The directory lists the residents of these houses.
Before that, despite the appearance of some housing at the top of Katesgrove Hill in 1798, the area was dominated by fields and gardens, which is presumably what lies behind the ‘Gardens’ part of ‘Spring Gardens’.
The ‘Spring’ part of the name comes from the spring at the top of Whitley Street. It is thought that water from this spring was channelled through pipes to Reading Abbey, hence the name ‘Conduit Crescent’ for the four houses (now the shops and flats pictured below) at the top of Whitley Street.
The 1722-23 Plan of Land Belonging to Reading Borough in the parish of St Giles, Reading shows ‘Conduit Field’ near the east side of what is now Highgrove Street, and another piece of land ‘Conduit (indecipherable ?)’ between the west side of Highgrove Street and Whitley Street.
The history of The Old Conduit at Whitley, Reading was the topic of a paper by Edward Margrett in the Berkshire Archaeological Journal in 1908. At this time the conduit could still be visited although it was said to be in bad repair.
The reservoir at the top of Whitley Street is one of the older features of the area which has survived until today. It was built in 1820 as part of a re-engineering of Reading’s water supply and was enlarged in 1826. Real improvements came in the 1850s when the Bath Road reservoir supplied filtered water to Reading for the first time. This water did not go to the Spring Gardens reservoir, but to a new reservoir on Christchurch Road. The old reservoir still received unfiltered water from Mill Lane pumping station (marked 4 on the 1842 map above) which was used for street watering and for the railway. By the 1870s ‘The Tank’ only provided emergency storage. In 1893 it was briefly used as a swimming bath when ‘The Imperial’ swimming baths on South Street were temporarily closed. By 1911 it was referred to as a recreation ground on maps.
Today ‘The Tank’ is the Spring Gardens Play Area on Spring Terrace at the top of the west side of Whitley Street.
At the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s most of the old housing of the area was compulsorily purchased and demolished to make way for the modern estate that is there now. Phase 1 of the work included Whitley Street and Southampton Street. There had been plans to include a shopping area within Phase 1, but lack of interest led to this proposal being abandoned, although the ‘Woodley Arms’ pub was completed.
Delays between council purchase and work starting led to concern from Katesgrove residents about the condition of the vacant properties, which resulted in a petition in September 1970 [ref 10]. Phase 2 of the Whitley Street redevelopment included parts of Mount Street, Waterloo Road, Norfolk Street, Lynn Street, Ffoulkes Street, Spring Gardens, Essex Street, Milman Road and Waldeck Street. Numbers 61 to 69 on Waterloo Road were reprieved from compulsory purchase and demolition ‘…to be treated so as to become an architectural feature of the new development…’ [ref 11]. Numbers 46-64 Milman Road and 87-95 Spring Gardens were not so lucky and were included within the area under consideration [ref 12].
Spring Gardens is now only a short road leading to garages that are surrounded by the modern Spring Gardens estate. For some of the late nineteenth century this street had been called Tank Road. It kinked to the east at Boults Walk and joined the diagonal of Spring Gardens at Essex Street.
Spring Gardens also lives on in the Spring Gardens Brass Band, which claims a history from the nineteenth century when the Spring Gardens Wesleyan Mission Concertina Band received funding for instruments from the Spring Gardens Mission.
- 1798 Map of Reading by John Man. Reading Borough Library, Local Studies Department.
- 1834 Map of Reading by the Commissioners appointed by Parliament. Reading Borough Library, Local Studies Department.
- 1842 Post Office Directory of Reading, including map. Available online from Reading Borough Library.
- 1722/3 Plan of Land Belonging to Reading Borough in the parish of St Giles, Reading. Berkshire Record Office.
- Daphne Barnes-Phillips, The Top of Whitley Revisited. (A revision of ‘The Top of Whitley’, the book includes lots of detail and sources for the history Spring Gardens, Spring Gardens Mission and Whitley Hall Methodist Church.)
- W. Margrett, The Old Conduit at Whitley (available as online PDF) Berkshire Archaeological Journal, Volume 14 1908-9. (Includes a sketch of the conduit as it was in 1908, this sketch is also reproduced in ‘The Top of Whitley Revisited.’)
- O.Kean M.I.C.E. Brief History and Development of Reading Waterworks, County Borough of Reading Water Department. April 1950.
- Spring Gardens Brass Band
- Lost Lidos: Reading Spring Gardens and South Street Baths
- Reading Borough Council, Housing Committee Minutes, 7 September 1970.
- Reading Borough Council, Housing Committee Minutes, 6 December 1971.
- Reading Borough Council, Housing Committee Minutes, 9 November 1970.