The Historic Katesgrove Industries Tour

Reading, from the South Hill 1882. reproduced from Illustrated London News.

The Historic Katesgrove Industries tour was available for the first time on 8 September 2017 during the Heritage Open Days weekend. The two hour walk started at the foot of London Street outside Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC) and, after a loop around Katesgrove, ended outside Great Expectations, next door to RISC.

Very few physical traces of Katesgrove’s historic industries remain but the walk included locations from which they operated. In some cases, industries have been commemorated in a street name or street pattern. The most significant remnant is the Victorian terraced housing that housed workers and their families and which were built from locally made bricks.

For the purposes of the walk, Katesgrove can be split into three areas:

  • Katesgrove Lane together with the area immediately along the Kennet,
  • further away from the river,
  • around London Street.

Katesgrove Lane along the Kennet is a historic industrial area of Reading. Some of Reading’s earliest industries were packed into this small area, operating before and after the industrial revolution.

Katesgrove is mentioned in a twelfth century charter of Reading as Kadeles Grava[1]. On Amyce’s 1552 map, Katesgrove Lane is marked as Cattellgrove and on John Speed’s map of Redding of 1611, the lane is not named but it is clearly shown leading off St Giles Strete to a large property.

John Speed’s map of Redding 1611

In the middle ages, the main trades in Reading were associated with the cloth and leather industries which were both water hungry processes [2].

It has been said that the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) was won on Katesgrove Lane. This is because Musgrave Lamb’s sailcloth factory, which supplied the Royal Navy was situated there [3].

Tanneries were clustered at several places along the Kennet including Katesgrove Lane and Seven Bridges. Philbrick’s tannery on Katesgrove Lane operated from the 1830s to the 1930s. It was the successor to Higgs tanyard and there are records of a tannery in the area in the early 1700s.

John Philbrick founded the firm in partnership with his brothers and was succeeded by two of his sons Charles and George. Thereafter, it was known as C & G Philbrick.

The other notable industry on Katesgrove Lane was Barratt, Exall & Andrewes ironworks immediately next door to the tannery. Brown and May who had been apprentices at the ironworks and went on to set up their own engineering firm married John Philbrick’s daughters Ellen and Charlotte.

The firm was founded about 1818 by Thomas and Joseph Perry. Over time partners came and went but by the 1850s it was known as Barrett, Exall & Andrewes. In 1864 the partnership became the Reading Ironworks Ltd. In 1888 financial problems forced its closure and the large site along with its own bridge over the Kennet was auctioned. Several drain covers manufactured by the company can be seen around Katesgrove.

Further away from the river, there were several brickworks along what is now Elgar Road. The kilns and brickfields changed owners and occupiers over time. Katesgrove Kiln was at the bottom of Francis Street, there was a brick field at the top of Hill Street, Rose Kiln on Rose Kiln lane and, most notably, Waterloo Kiln.

Staff and employees of Poulton & Sons outside 185 Waterloo Road. William Poulton is standing by the front door on the right.

The factory buildings of Waterloo Kiln are a short detour off the route of this walk. The Adamantine Brick & Terra Cotta Works of Poulton & Son was acquired by S and E Collier in 1905. Poulton’s boiler seating block business was not included in the sale; this continued at the corner of Waterloo and Elgar Road until the 1950s. Part of the site acquired by Colliers was used to build housing and part continued as a brickworks. In 1951 Robert Cort, the engineers and ironfounders, moved to Elgar Road and ultimately occupied the whole site between Waterloo Road and Hagley Road.

The Katesgrove industries walk then moved inland to London Street, to where Huntley & Palmers biscuit enterprise was founded in 1822. The equally famous factory where Huntley Boorne & Stevens made biscuit tins began life in Joseph Huntley’s ironmongers shop just over the road.

Huntley Boorne & Stevens factory from the Mill Lane water tower 1900-03. Image from a lantern slide © Reading Borough Council (Reading Museum)

Huntley & Palmers was not Reading’s only biscuit factory. In 1899 Serpell’s purchased a factory on South Street and moved from Plymouth to Reading. They went into liquidation in 1959 [4]

Last but not least, although Katesgrove cannot claim Simonds brewery within its current boundaries, was Allnutt’s brewery and Dymore Brown & Sons on East Street, and there is still the Dickens brewery at the Great Expectations where the walking tour  ended.


References

[1] Kemp, B. Reading Abbey Cartularies Vol II. p312.
[2] Phillips, Daphne. The Story of Reading. This is a good general introduction to the history of Reading.
[3] Petyt, Malcolm ed. The Growth of Reading. p93.
[4] Serpell’s Fire


Links
  1. Whitley Pump tours for Heritage Open Days 2017
  2. Smells of Katesgrove – Philbrick’s Tannery
  3. Huntley & Palmers
  4. Huntley Boorne & Stevens
  5. Dymore Brown brewery
  6. Berkshire Industrial Archaeology Group
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