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Visiting Old Whiteknights House, Reading University, Reading, England: sedate 19th century Waterhouse family residence

Updated on June 24, 2013
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
 Old Whiteknights House, Reading University
Old Whiteknights House, Reading University | Source
Alfred Waterhouse, R.A.,(1830-1905)
Alfred Waterhouse, R.A.,(1830-1905) | Source

Family associations

This sedate building at Whiteknights Park, Reading, Berkshire, now belongs to Reading University, as does much of the Park. It is one of the Whiteknights Park (1) structures dating from the 1860s and designed by architect Alfred Waterhouse, R.A., (1830-1905)(2) and, like Foxhill, is linked also with the Waterhouse family.

Interestingly, while Foxhill itself was designed as a residence for the distinguished architect himself, the building, situated in the same, Whiteknights Park, and now known as Old Whitenights House, was a residence of Alfred Waterhouse Senior (3) and his wife Mary Brown Waterhouse.

Features of Old Whiteknights House, executed mainly in red brick, include prominent, pointed gables, and a conspicuous tower above the main entrance.

George Spencer-Churchill, 5th Duke of Marlborough (1766-1840)
George Spencer-Churchill, 5th Duke of Marlborough (1766-1840) | Source
Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom
Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom | Source

An evolving architectural reputation; and a profligate Marquess

At various levels, the reputation of Alfred Waterhouse has surged and waned over the years. His situation as a prolific 19th century, British architect is unassailable. A number of decades ago his work was regarded by some critics as unfashionable, although in more recent years his work has been more widely recognized once more. For example, I used to have in my possession (and maybe still have) an old guide book in which one of Alfred Waterhouse's many creations is described as an undistinguished, modern building. While this may have arisen from the fact that he was particularly known for Gothic Revival syle and for his use ofred brick — both popular in the Victorian period and therefore, to some critics, possibly less interesting than other styles and vernaculars — it would be hard today to dismiss his work so lightly.

In any case, Old Whiteknights House counts as among the most distinguished of Reading University's buildings.

Today, Old Whiteknights House hosts the Humanities and Social Sciences Graduate School.

June 24, 2013


(1) The former Whiteknights Estate used to belong to successive Marquesses of Blandford, the title carried by the heir to the Dukedom of Marborough. One of these personages, George Spencer-Churchill (1766-1840; see photo, above, right), who became the 5th Duke of Marlborough, was so accustomed to a hearty life of sumptuous partying on Whiteknights Estate that he became bankrupt and the Estate had to be sold off. Tales linger of furious creditors venting their displeasure at His Grace's profligacy.

(2) Other buildings for which Architect Waterhouse was responsible include the Natural History Museum, London, the Main Quadrangle of Manchester University (formerly Owen's College); Liverpool University, and many others.

(3) Alfred Waterhouse Senior was a prominent personality in his own right, a Lancashire cotton broker, whose family was closely identified with the Quaker movement. (See also: )

Reading University's archives have acquired significant material relevant to various members of the Waterhouse family.

Also worth seeing

In Reading itself, in addition to Foxhill (see above) other noted buildings of University of Reading's Wantage Hall and St Patrick's Hall. Reading Abbey ruins include the Hospitium, formerly housing a College, founded in the 19th century, from which Reading University later emerged. Forbury Gardens are of note, as is Reading Town Hall.

Silchester (distance: 18 kilometres) has historic, Roman remains.


How to get there

United 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. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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