Postscript to the civic celebrations of Reading’s links with Düsseldorf

1946 Mayor Making in Reading Town Hall, courtesy Reading Museum online catalogue

A series of display panels is on show in the foyer of Reading Museum and Town Hall. They depict the public life of Phoebe Cusden from the time of her election as mayor in 1946 and end with the opening of Phoebe Cusden House in Katesgrove this year.

On the first panel is an image of the painting of Phoebe Cusden in mayoral robes by Gerald W Tooby, who was living on London Street at the time. The story of how he came to paint it goes back to the First World War.

Phoebe Cusden’s husband Albert first met Gerald Tooby during the First World War. As foreign nationals in Germany when war broke out, they were interned at Ruhleben camp in Berlin. Gerald Tooby had been born in Germany and lived with his parents and brothers in Munich where his father Charles was an artist. Albert Cusden and his brothers were in Germany to open language schools.

Gerald Tooby was released from Ruhleben in 1918 and in 1939 he was living in Portsmouth but decided to move to Reading as it would be safer during the war. “He discovered a 500-year-old house behind an antique shop near to the ‘Barley Mow,’ and found that he could not have the house without the shop, so he decided to take both [ref 1]”.

One day in 1947, Albert Cusden walked past the shop at 49 London Street and recognised the subject of a drawing in the window as one of his fellow internees at Ruhleben, and also the style and technique of the artist. When he enquired about the work, he met Gerald Tooby for the first time in thirty years [ref 2].

Following that meeting the portrait of Phoebe Cusden came to be painted.

The displays by Chris Forsey will be on show for a limited period in the foyer of the Town Hall and Museum  and will then move to the Central Library.

The Berkshire Record Office has published transcriptions of correspondence between the Cusdens and their family while they were at Ruhleben on the Berkshire at War blog.


I am grateful to Sidney Gold for sharing his research on Gerald W Tooby.

Links and references

  1. Reading Standard 2 May 1947 p5
  2. Berkshire Cronicle 18 April 1947 p6
  3. Berkshire at War
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