By John Dearing.
Early in 1980 I wanted to move from Maidenhead to Reading, where houses were cheaper. I contacted an estate agent and one Saturday in May I collected details of four properties, three of which were in Katesgrove. After the usual laborious process of house purchase, I moved to Sherman Road in October 1980. By 2015 more than half my life had been spent at this address.
Much has changed since that time. One of the attractions for me was that, as in Maidenhead, I would have a Morland’s pub as my local. The Cambridge Arms was less than two minutes’ walk away down West Hill and across Southampton Street.
If Katesgrove was, and to some extent still is, an urban village, then the Cambridge was the village pub. Everyone, young and old, from all classes of society, including the clergy of St Giles’ church, used to congregate there. The landlord and his wife, Cecil (‘Bart’) and Lorna Bartlett, were legendary. After they retired in 1989 the pub had five more years of stable existence under Peter and Carol Shove. The pub went downhill when they left; it closed and was turned into flatlets in 1998. The brewery didn’t long survive it.
The closure of the Cambridge set off a procession of pub departures. In the following 19 years, Katesgrove lost the Greyhound, the Crown, the Kennet Arms, the Woodley, the Wellington, the Red Cow and the Red Lion. Happily, we still have the Hop Leaf!
There were numerous local businesses which made lower Katesgrove a highly convenient place to live. The grocer’s once known as Jack’s next to the Cambridge is still there, as is the paper shop down the road, the former Berkeley News.
The porn shop on the opposite side of the street survives but not the pawn shop at the top of London Street; Frank Eyles doubled as an ironmongers, where I went to buy some replacement blades for my Stanley Knife while fitting my new carpets back in 1980.
Also gone is the superb butchers, Exells, on Southampton Street next to St Giles’ Hall. I doubt if I ever tasted better meat than theirs!
Up on Whitley Street, there were a variety of shops, including greengrocers, supermarket, more butchers and a fishmonger.
The demographics of the area have also changed. In the 1980s there were still many older Reading people living in Sherman Road, but as they died or moved into sheltered accommodation, their properties were often acquired for letting. The area had once been popular for first time buyers like me, but most of them (unlike me) moved on and today’s first timers find the area beyond their means. The Oracle allegedly is a big draw and this tends to push prices up beyond the usual range for terraced property. There is probably now a greater variety of ethnic backgrounds, including some recent migrants from eastern Europe, but one positive is that for the most part community relations remain cordial.
Katesgrove has changed but it is still a good place to live with a frequent bus service into town for those too infirm or lazy to walk. I may well end my days here!