Visiting Wantage Hall, Reading University, England: traditional academic architecture with gatehouse

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Flag of England | Source
Wantage Hall, Reading University
Wantage Hall, Reading University | Source
Wantage Hall quad
Wantage Hall quad | Source
Lady Wantage portrait by Philip de Laszlo, 1911
Lady Wantage portrait by Philip de Laszlo, 1911 | Source

Firmly built on the foundations of the past

This distinguished example of traditional university architecture in Reading, Berkshire, England, was opened in 1908.

History of Reading University

The original Reading University Extension College was founded in 1892 by Christ Church, Oxford. (Indeed, the Reading University arms are derived from Christ Church's own arms.) This college first occupied the Hospitium of Reading Abbey, a monastic foundation dissolved at the Reformation by King Henry VIII; some of its ruins may still be seen near the Reading Downtown area. University College, Reading, soon emerged from this original college, which in turn eventually received its charter as a university in 1926.

There is thus a real sense in which Reading University was built both metaphorically and physically on the foundations of the past.

History and features of Wantage Hall

Together with St. Patrick's Hall, Wantage Hall is one of two more traditional Halls of residence at Reading University, which offer far more than accommodation to students of the university. From both an architectural and a community perspective they are 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 causes me in some ways to remember Selwyn College, Cambridge, while Pearson's Court at St. Patrick's Hall suggests a broad comparison with parts of Downing College, Cambridge.

On the lawn of the quadrangle, croquet is regularly played. Formal dinners at which gowns are worn have traditionally been very popular with the students.

Reading University's first Vice-Chancellor from 1926 to 1929, Professor W M Childs, resided at Wantage Hall.

In World War Two, Wantage Hall was used as the headquarters of the Royal Air Force Reserve Command.

Lady Wantage, founder

The founder of the Hall, Harriet, Lady Wantage endowed it in memory of her husband, Brigadier-General Lord Wantage of Lockinge, VC, who had died in 1901. Lady Wantage, an heiress and daughter of banker Baron Overstone, was the subject of a noted portrait by the distinguished society artist Philip de Laszlo in 1911.

Also worth visiting

Sonning , (distance: approx. 9.5 kilometres); this picturesque village on the Thames River may be accessed both by road and a footpath from Reading which runs alongside the Thames .

Silchester (distance: 18 kilometres) has Roman ruins, at which archeologists from Reading University have been excavating many years.

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, bookstores and fine architecture, may be accessed without difficulty from Reading.

London (distance: approx. 76 kilometres) is accessible for days out from Reading: Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards' Parade: all within easy walking distance of each another, and various local Underground station provide links with Paddington railroad station, from where a rail service to Reading operates.

Stratford-upon-Avon (distance: approx. 128 kilometres) may also be the subject of a day trip from Reading; its Royal Shakespeare Theatre is the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Its also has Shakespeare's Birthplace, and the nearby Anne Hathaway's Cottage.

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How to get there

Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Distance from Heathrow Airport to Reading is 49 kilometres. A regular bus link exists 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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Comments 6 comments

Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

I attended school at the Abbey School Reading next door. Thank you for a pleasant walk down memory lane.


MJFenn profile image

MJFenn 5 years ago Author

Thank-you; really? I was at St Patrick's Hall — about which I've also written a hubpage — on nearby Northcourt Avenue for a few years (many years ago now).


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

Brings back memories of the Cafe Ole and the wonderful "Smith's" book shop on London road crammed with a cornucopia of musty old volumes reached by creaking stairways, and the clang of the Huntley and Palmer's biscuit box plant, and the smell of the brewery wafting over our hockey field.


MJFenn profile image

MJFenn 5 years ago Author

Smith's? I don't know if Smith's is still going, but there was a branch of Smith's at the Whiteknights campus of the university. (I also used to visit Blackwells.) Re. Palmer's, there was a Palmer building at Reading university, following a benefaction, I believe.


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

This was not the W H Smiths chain shop it was a totally different concept. Old Books old building. Nostalgia!


MJFenn profile image

MJFenn 5 years ago Author

Yes, it was William Smith's which acted as Reading University's official (or semi-official) book supplier; I believe their main ordering department was at the main branch near Reading town centre. But as well as the bookstores and the University library, some of the Halls also had quite large libraries; I was student librarian at St Patrick's Hall nearly 30 years ago.

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