The stunning centrepiece at the entrance to the new Story of Reading gallery at Reading Museum contains an object from each of Reading’s 16 wards. For Katesgrove, it is a small brass lamp used during prayers at Reading Hindu Temple at the top of Whitley Street.
“On the roundabout opposite the temple you can see a replica of the Victorian Whitley pump”, says the description to the Katesgrove ward exhibit. Here at the Whitley Pump at the top of Katesgrove Hill we are very pleased that our pump has reached star status!
Starting from the centrepiece and moving clockwise through the exhibition, there are many more artefacts with Katesgrove Konnections through the ages.
The two golden torcs in the archaeological finds case may catch your eye, but it is the diminutive Milman Road hoard that we are here to see. The fourth century AD silver Roman coins were found on 11 December 1895 during excavations to build the terraced houses at the western end of the road. Mr Swain, the builder, kept some of the coins and the rest were purchased by the museum [ref 1].
Medieval and early modern times
The Reading Abbey floor tiles on display are an example of those which could have been produced in the medieval tile kilns on Silver Street.
The English Civil War section includes a reproduction of the plan of defences in the 1643 Siege of Reading. This shows the strongly fortified Harrison’s Barn at the top of Whitley Street, surrounded by a ditch filled with water, and other smaller defensive positions in the area.
There is a silver globe from a church chandelier in an illuminated window in the massive Oracle gates. This was an expensive gift from Alice Clark to S Giles Church on Southampton Street in 1640.
Nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the present day
A painting of Reading from Fobney Meadows in 1802 focuses on the view along the Kennet to St Mary’s Minster, with a boat laden with goods travelling along the river. On the right, the terraced houses of Katesgrove are yet to be built. A black and white engraving of the scene appeared in Charles Coates’ History and Antiquities of Reading with the title View of Reading from the River Kennet.
By the early nineteenth century, Reading was a transport hub served by the Kennet & Avon canal as well as coaches travelling along north-south and east-west routes. The railway reached town in 1840.
Two portraits draw your attention to the display for these times: those of George Lovejoy and Mary Mitford. George Lovejoy is not only famous for his attention to the accounts of the Borough of Reading but his bookshop and library on London Street occupied a pivotal position in the cultural life of the town.
The library moved from smaller premises on London Street to number 39 (where the World Shop now is) in 1838. George Lovejoy bought number 37 in 1853, and the ground floor became part of the bookshop.
A portrait of the author Mary Mitford in the adjacent case beckons you to look more closely. A description of the social scene in Reading in the eighteenth century is accompanied by an illustration of the new public rooms occupied by the Literary, Scientific and Mechanic’s Institution (now the Great Expectations pub) which opened in October 1843 [ref 2].
The inauguration of the building occupied almost six columns of the Reading Mercury and went into minute detail about the architecture and the opening festivities. They reminded readers:
… the cornerstone of the building was laid by the hand of Miss Mitford about twelve months ago, in the presence of a brilliant assemblage of ladies, an appropriate oration having been delivered on the occasion by Dr Cowan. By that highly accomplished lady its subsequent progress was naturally regarded with much interest…
Mary Mitford was one of the ladies who joined the celebrations after the dinner attended by local (male) dignitaries had been cleared away. Charles Dickens had been invited to the opening but was unable to attend. He apologised for his absence saying:
I am not the less obliged to the committee and yourself; and with my cordial wish for the success of your New Building, and with much pleasure in knowing that my friend Mr Serjeant Talfourd will be present at its christening, as the representative of literature and the champion of its rights.
A list of the products from the original shop of ‘Wholesale Baker and Confectioner’ Thomas Huntley, at 72 London Street, is also in the case.
Above the display cases
The heavy metal plaque which was placed on the Whitley Conduit at the top of Highgrove Street after its refurbishment in 1908 is on display. The wording says:
Corporation of Reading
This conduit which formerly supplied Reading Abbey was cleaned and repaired. AD 1908 Willm M Colebrook Mayor.
The conduit house still existed in the 1960s but was filled in in the 1990s.
The enamel Board of Trade sign for the Labour Exchange at 29-31 London Street is eye-catching next to Simonds’ Hop Leaf. The offices opened in January 1913 in a converted building that had previously been Messrs Long, Son & Everard’s draper’s shop. The office was responsible for paying unemployment benefit and finding work [ref 3]. In July 1933, these functions moved to nearby South Street and the building returned to being trade premises until demolition in the 1970s [ref 4].
Coincidentally, the new building on the site was an unemployment benefit office in the 1980s before the job centre in Friar Street opened in the 1990s.
The twentieth century displays include a Huntley, Boorne & Stevens recruitment brochure from the late 1940s attracting women to work at the factory with the title Your Job in Reading and Happiness in Industry.
We have now completed the circuit, but the last item on the Katesgrove Tour is the object for Abbey ward which is a Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin made at Huntley, Boorne & Stevens factory. It has an artist’s impression of the shop on London Street before Huntley & Palmers moved most of its production to a new factory by the Kennet in the town centre. There are lots more biscuit tins as well as Huntley & Palmers artefacts on show in the Huntley & Palmers Gallery on the first floor of the museum.
If we have missed any Katesgrove Konnections in the Story of Reading Gallery please use the comments box below.
- George C Boon, Hoards of Roman Coins in Reading Museum and Art Gallery. Oxoniensia Vol XIX 1954. The article includes two ‘Milman Road Hoards’, one found in February and one in December 1895. Confusingly the article conflates Bob’s Mount and the land between Milman Road and Swainstone Road. Bob’s Mount is usually considered to be further north at top of what is now Hill Street as marked on Tompkins map of 1802. The first hoard was found in a disused gravel pit and the second while digging the foundations of a house. The Christ Church Primary School playing field was once a gravel pit (1879 OS map), before becoming a brick works (1899 OS map) and later allotments.
- Reading Mercury 28 October 1843 pp 3 & 4 via findmypast.
- Reading Observer 18 January 1913 p6 via findmypast.
- The South Street Labour Exchange – Reading’s working people and their stories.
- Reading Museum
- Reading Museum online collection
- Huntley & Palmers
- Story of Reading Gallery is officially open
- Reading Museum at the Whitley Pump
- Mediaeval tile kilns found on Silver Street
- How many Harrison’s barns were there?
- The end of the financial year – would Mr Lovejoy approve?
- The fate of the Whitley Conduit