Visiting St. Patrick's Hall, University of Reading, England: almost a century old and architecturally meritorious
Inducing memories — maybe too many!
I might as well admit that I am biased. But I like this place, and my visit here lasted some years. Maybe you've guessed correctly by now that I studied at St. Patrick's Hall, Reading University? Be that as it may, it was all longer ago than I sometimes care to think.
From a layman's architectural perspective, St. Patrick's Hall, residence to hundreds of students every academic year, has some measure of distinction. Opened in 1913, it replaced the previous St. Patrick's House. Pearson's Court, the older of the courts, is named for Colonel R L Pearson, Warden of the Hall for 36 years.
Reading University is actually situated partly in the town of Reading, Berkshire and partly in Wokingham. (Thus, when students would ritually complain to their Member of Parliament, it would in some cases be to an Honourable Member for Wokingham, rather than for Reading.) But the beginnings of the University's strong identification with Reading came because originally the University Extension College from which it emerged was housed from 1892 in the Hospitium of Reading Abbey. St. Patrick's Hall forms part of the University located on the Reading side, in Northcourt Avenue. A sizeable proportion of Whiteknights Park, where the main site of the University now is, comes under the boundaries of Wokingham.
The original college at Reading was founded by Christ Church, Oxford, from the arms of which the design of the University of Reading's own arms are derived. (Christ Church is also a cathedral as well as a college, and Reading people are deemed to be its diocesan members; I was always amused to see, when passing the main gate at Christ Church, a prosaic notice saying that out of normal visiting hours people could enter there if they wished to 'use' the Cathedral.) The University of Reading is a unitary body, rather than comprising a collegiate system of autonomous academic bodies. Yet some of the older Halls, such as St. Patrick's Hall, and Wantage Hall, are from both an architectural and a community perspective somewhat similar to Oxford and Cambridge colleges. With important distinctions from Oxbridge, the traditional court layout has been retained in architectural styles from the pre-World War 1 era. Wantage Hall, opened in 1908 by Lady Wantage, is five years older than St. Patrick's Hall. Wantage Hall reminds me in some ways of Selwyn College, Cambridge, while Pearson's Court at St. Patrick's suggests an oblique comparison with parts of Downing College, Cambridge.
One of the more thoughtful moments which occurred to me nearly 30 years ago, when I was in the Junior Common Room at St Patrick's Hall, was looking at its wood panelled walls and seeing recorded there the names of the fallen in past wars. Some of my predecessors who were the first to study while residing at St Patrick's Hall, would have been born in the 19th century and went on to serve in World War 1. Occasionally my memory catches glimpses of the melancholy which dogged Lord Stockton (who as Harold Macmillan, was British Prime Minister 1957-1963) as he would remember many of his fellow Oxford students who perished in World War 1, in the slaughterhouse that was northern France: a lost generation.
But the University is also a very positive, forward looking academic environment. What St Patrick's offers is a measure of privacy and quiet and a sense of historical perspective. J. C. Holt's The University of Reading: the First Fifty Years , Reading: Reading University Press, 1977, is a mine of information about the university's history.
Croquet and birds
I must confess that I never became adept at croquet, a favourite sport of many students at St. Patrick's, where its croquet lawn has long been a focal point for this most English of competitive activities. As I recall, some of the women students, to go on the croquet lawn, would wear long, floppy skirts and wide brimmed hats.
Some students are keen ornithologists and I recall it being stated nearly 30 years ago that, in the extensive, wooded grounds of St. Patrick's over 60 species of wild bird had been spotted over the years.
...and music, too
St. Patrick's had its own orchestra in my time, too. The local Anglican parish had an indulgent incumbent, who let musicians from St. Patrick's use the church for concerts. St. Patrick's had a sound-proofed music room, also, and I recall spending hours there 'unwinding' on the piano. The 'first-come, first served' approach to the music room key was not without its challenging moments, but it seemed to work.
At Reading University generally, there was a long established musical tradition. There would be regular concerts at the Great Hall on London Road, although some of the tickets would be described as undersold — no fault of the fine performances. After writing The Planets , Gustav Holst taught in the Music Department, and Sir Adrian Boult twice conducted the University orchestra. Reading University organ scholarships were sponsored at the St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. (And, oh, I can't resist this piece of trivia: when King Henry VIII decided to close — to put it delicately — Reading Abbey in the 16th century, some of the stones from the newly available, former ecclesiastical quarry were put to use by bolstering the stonework of Windsor Castle's Round Tower.)
So what now?
So what's been happening recently at St. Patrick's Hall and Reading University? Well, you had better talk to people who are there now... .
Also worth visiting
Silchester (distance: 18 kilometres) has Roman ruins, on the excavation of which archeologists from Reading University have been active for many years.
Sonning , (distance: approx. 9.5 kilometres); as well as by road, this picturesque village on the Thames River may be accessed a footpath from Reading which runs alongside the Thames .
London (distance: approx. 76 kilometres) is suitable for days out from Reading: Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament, Horse Guards' Parade: all within walking distance of one another, and easily linked with Paddington railroad station by Underground.
Windsor (distance: approx. 37 kilometres); opportunities to see Windsor's royal Castle, and St. George's Chapel, may easily be supplemented by a visit to Eton, with its College, which can be accessed from Windsor by a footbridge over the Thames River .
Oxford (distance: approx. 44 kilometres) with its many colleges, its bookstores and fine architecture, is easily accessible from Reading.
Stratford-upon-Avon (distance: approx. 128 kilometres) is also accessible, with its Royal Shakespeare Theatre, home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare's Birthplace, and nearby Anne Hathaway's Cottage.
How to get there
Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Distance from Heathrow Airport to Reading: 49 kilometres. There is a regular bus link between Heathrow Airport and Reading. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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