The Whitley Pump met local historian Dennis Wood and his wife Pearl to talk about his book Views from the Hill, the Story of Whitley at the Whitley Community Café on Northumberland Avenue.
This new history of Whitley covers the whole of what was once the hamlet and manor of Whitley. It did not become part of Reading until the extension of borough boundaries in 1887. This very large area extended from Christchurch Road in the north to Whitley Wood in the south, and from Whiteknights in the east to the Kennet and Smallmead in the west.
Most of Whitley was farmland and meadow in 1887. Whitley Crescent, now 1-33 Christchurch Road, was built from the 1820s onwards, and other significant domestic properties spread along the roads east and south out of Reading.
Development accelerated from the turn of the century onwards. In 1903, both Samuel Palmer, who had owned almost the entire Whitley Park estate, and Martin Hope Sutton, who had owned the Cintra Lodge estate, died and the land was sold.
Dennis Wood told the Whitley Pump that he is particularly interested in social development and how communities change over time. One of his most fascinating discoveries was the Abbey’s ownership of vast tracts of land in Whitley and the creation of Whitley Park by Reading Abbey in the reign of Henry II.
The book is based many years’ research and took about six months to write and another year to get it into publication, including bespoke maps, photos, layout and cover design. There are chapters dedicated to the history of Whitley, significant properties, housing development, industrial and commercial development as well as transport and roads, education, places of worship, recreation and entertainment.
It is lavishly illustrated throughout with historic and modern photographs as well as maps of the area.
The last section of the book is dedicated to ‘memories of Whitley life in times past’ and include those of the author himself, who writes:
What has been particularly apparent in collecting these memories from the kind people who gave them to me has been their willingness to talk about their early lives, the environment in which they grew up and how that has impacted on them.
The book is a mine of information for anyone who lives, or has lived, in Whitley, or who has an interest in the history of Reading.
Copies of the book may be obtained from the publisher Scallop Shell Press for £18 + £2.85 postage.