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Visiting Portland Place, Reading University, Reading, England: early 19th century building in sedate, Georgian style

Updated on July 6, 2013
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Portland Place, London Road, Reading
Portland Place, London Road, Reading | Source
Georgian housing, Gordon Square, London (University of London precincts)
Georgian housing, Gordon Square, London (University of London precincts) | Source
Kenny Buildling, Downing College, Cambridge
Kenny Buildling, Downing College, Cambridge | Source

Reminiscent of buildings at London University or Downing College, Cambridge

This striking, Georgian, academic architecture is reminiscent of a London, England square perhaps in the vicinity of London University's Bloomsbury buildings. It might also be assumed to be part of Downing College, Cambridge.

Actually these buildings are at Portland Place, Reading University, Reading, England.

Among the notable features of Portland Place are the Bath stone facing at its elevation which overlooks London Road, and the Doric columns on the ground floor. Its pediments of different sizes contribute to the Classical appearance of the frontage.

Long and varied history

The architect is recorded as Richard Billing, and the building dates from approximately 1830. Thus, it predates the nearby Georgian Royal Berkshire Hospital, a few hundred metres eastward along London Road, which dates from 1837.

The building formerly belonged to prominent local business entrepreneur Alfred Palmer (1), Hon. DSc (Reading), 1927, who was also a considerable benefactor to the University. Mr Palmer first rented Portland Place to Reading University and subsequently bequeathed it to the University on his death in 1936.

While the building itself is just over 60 years older than Reading University Extension College, founded in 1892, from which the University developed, yet for nearly a century now — a majority of its existence — the lines of Portland Place have been associated with the University's activities.

For many years the building housed the Faculty of Letters, before the Faculty's removal to the Whiteknights site in the 1950s.

Also based at Portland Place was St David's Hall (2), an association of non-resident students.

Listed Building status for Portland Place was achieved in 1957; and English Heritage has noted the high standard attained by a program of external repair which the structure recently underwent (3).

Portland Place, Reading University, is at 24-30 London Road, Reading, in England's Berkshire county.

July 6, 2013

Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom
Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom | Source


(1) Noted artist Sir Arthur Cope painted a portrait of Alfred Palmer in Reading University Doctor's robes.

(2) Interestingly, the names of the customary patron saints of the main, country components of the British Isles have been present among the halls of residence of Reading University: St George's Hall, St. Andrew's Hall, St. Patrick's Hall and St. David's Hall. (The latter, despite its name, was not actually a residential Hall.)

(3) For English Heritage's listing for Portland Place, see:

Also worth seeing

In Reading itself, at the London Road site of Reading University, the War Memorial Tower and the Old Library are of particular, architectural interest. as are Wantage Hall and St Patrick's Hall, and Foxhill; ruins at Reading Abbey include the rebuilt Hospitium, formerly housing the 19th century College from which Reading University later developed.

Oxford (distance: 43 kilometres) with its wealth of sites of historical and architectural interest, is easily accessible from Reading.


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. You are advised to 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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