A stranger’s guide to Reading

If you are a newcomer to Reading, the Berkshire county town and capital, then there a few things of which you should be made aware.

  • Reading town can be referred to as the Ding,
  • the Butts is the area in front of St. Mary’s Church, which was historically used for archery practice, and the Broad Street Mall,
  • the three B’s refers to beer, biscuits and bulbs; these are the former great Reading industries Simonds (brewers), Huntley & Palmers (biscuits) and Suttons (seeds),
  • Union Street is always referred to as ‘smelly alleybecause it hosts fishmongers and other purveyors of pungent produce,
  • the John Lewis store is still known as Heelas, as this was its name before a takeover long ago,
  • the Forbury is the Forbury Gardens, a lovely large Victorian garden containing an iconic sculpture of a lion cast to remember the massacre of soldiers at Maiwand,
  • Trooper Potts was a Victoria cross decorated Katesgrovian who, during the first world war, carried a wounded man strapped to a shovel through no man’s land to safety; he is remembered with a dazzling statue, plinth and plaque in front of Reading Crown Court,
  • Reading Elvis is a genial and friendly local character who wears an Elvis T-shirt and usually holds an album or a picture of his hero, but otherwise doesn’t resemble the king in any way, shape or form,
  • the Barks means the Royal Berkshire Hospital,
  • the Norfy refers to Northumberland Avenue,
  • the Cowsey or Caysey is a piece of scrubby woodland green space between Whitley and the Shinfield Road with a great view,
  • The Tank is an area near Whitley Street in Katesgrove that was a former reservoir and is now a playground,
  • the Whitley Pump is a handsome modern replica of an historic cast iron water pump on a roundabout at Whitley Street,
  • the Madstad is the Madejski Stadium and the lucky Reading number, 106, refers to Reading FC’s record breaking season under manager Steve Coppell,
  • the Potteries are now a housing estate in Tilehurst that once had an historic kiln which fired tiles and pottery,
  • the water tower is the rather wonderful tall white Tilehurst landmark which you can see from all over Reading; it’s also one of two Reading landmarks which can be seen from space by the naked eye along with the traffic jam on the IDR (inner distribution road),
  • Oxford Road is often called the Ockey Road,
  • Cemetery Junction, used as a title for Whitley boy Ricky Gervais’s comedy film, is actually a busy historic road junction in East Reading near an amazing 11 acre cemetery full of lovely trees, abundant wildlife (including muntjac deer) and beautiful Victorian monuments,
  • Newtown is an area of red brick housing in east Reading between the Kennet and the London Road built by Huntley & Palmers to house their workers,
  • the prom or promenade is the Reading side of the Thames opposite Caversham where ducks and swans are fed green bread; it’s now mainly a car park with a rowing club in it,
  • the Warren is a posh road in Caversham with opulent Thameside properties and a lovely path that leads to Mapledurham and Pangbourne,
  • Reading-on-Sea refers to Hayling Island where sickly Reading children with breathing problems were sent by 1950s doctors; it was a popular holiday destination for Reading folk,
  • Redingensian is a term for Reading people, first used in 1810 by John Man in his book ‘The Stranger in Reading’,
  • a treacle mine is a widely used euphemism for a secret place; it is used in Reading to describe the Atomic Weapons Research establishments at nearby Aldermaston and Burghfield,
  • Peacock Farm is a zoo and visitor attraction near Pangbourne run by the Child Beale Trust,
  • the Turtle is the Purple Turtle, a unique late night bar and live music venue; the term ‘4am Purple Turtle’ can be used to describe a gently debauched and unexpected drinking session,
  • Sweeney’s is Sweeney & Todd, purveyors of fine and filling pies since 1977; all pies are made with local ingredients and have a beguiling list of fillings,
  • Mr Cod is a late night fish-n-chip shop on Whitley Street, beloved by students, which is known for its extraordinary masala fish meal,
  • lardy cake is a nutritious, sweet bread with a surprising ingredient.

Matthew Farrall, the author of this article, died on 20 April 2018.
We are grateful to his family for allowing us to continue to display his work online.


4 thoughts on “A stranger’s guide to Reading

  1. Not quite right – Mr Cod is a chain of fish & chip shops. They also have branches in Oxford Road, Cemetery Junction (and I think also some more exotic places like Slough and some parts of London…)

    • You’re quite right, but it is also literally true that Mr Cod is a late night fish and chip shop on Whitley Street much beloved by students that is known for its masala fish meal!

  2. I can remember the tram lines up to Whitley Pump. I used to be on the trolley buses route 15 and 16 going to the end of Northy or to the Engineers in Whitley Wood, seemed rather like a 100 times a day.
    Lardie Cake from Howards Bakery on the corner of Hemdean Rd & Church St was really delicious, used to also get from there 1 penny (1d) stale buns during the school lunch break. Coach trips on a Sunday by Smiths Coaches to Reading on Sea, everyone had to get out & walk across to the island. Fond memories from when Reading was a reasonably nice place to grow up and live.

    • Thanks for those lovely reminders of the Trolley Buses and Pump. There are still a few nice bits to enjoy but you can’t stop changes sometimes – they have a force of their own. We will do our best to keep some of those memories alive.

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