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Visiting the Old Library, London Road, Reading, England: former Reading University Library

Updated on July 6, 2013
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Witan College, Reading
Witan College, Reading | Source
Witan College, Reading
Witan College, Reading | Source
Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom
Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom | Source

Mature academic architecture

Having been acquired in the early years of the 20th century (1), the former London Road site of what is now Reading University, Reading, England, gradually developed a series of buildings in the years prior to World War One.

Among these buildings is the Old Library. I will refer to it as such; originally 'the Library', subequently the Old Library, afterwards an integral part of what used to be known as Gyosei College and later Witan College: the Old Library is what it was known as for several decades after the opening of the University's current Library building in Whiteknights Park in 1964. Even thereafter, it was called the Old Library, while continuing to serve as a library for the University's Education faculty.

This striking, red brick building possesses a strong sense of symmetricality, with its clean, geometric lines and parallel wings. Executed in a material which later became symbolic of universities founded in the early 20th century in Great Britain. It is debatable whether Reading University, founded as Reading University Extension College in 1892, and eventually chartered as a University in its own right in 1926, is truly a 'Redbrick' university. But certainly the red brick vernacular is seen at the London Road site to gracious effect at the Old Library (1).

Prior to the purchase of the London Road site by Gyosei College, the London Road site, with its Great Hall, elsewhere described in these articles, continued to be a focal point for graduation congregations of the University. The Old Library has thus long been a backdrop to photographs of graduands in academic dress. The south-facing entrance, for decades no longer used as an entry point, displays particularly gracious stonework, and many a graduand and his or her family have stood here for the capture of memorable moments.

Calm oasis for study

Photographer Andrew Smith, whose photos are being used (above and right), writes of the oasis-like atmosphere surrounding the Old Library. This is a very reasonable description; as a former Reading student myself, I recall the enclosed nature of the lawn with surrounding cloisters (off the pictures) and mature trees, with the busy London Road thoroughfare not far away providing a contrast with the calm and peaceful environment condusive to study and reflection.

Quite apart from remembering the quality of the scholarship, my recollections of my period spent studying at Reading University include memories of a number of mature and distinguished buildings originating from another era; various of these buildings, including the Old Library, are located at the University's former London Road site. Indeed, when the University gave over its London Road site to Gyosei (subsequently Witan) College, the arrangement included the University being able to continue to use it for its time honoured degree congregations. Thus, the Old Library would continue to be a backdrop for the capturing of memorable graduation occasions.

July 1, 2013


(1) An account of the establishment of the College at its London Road site, from its beginnings in Valpy Street, may be found in: (1) Hubert Childs, W M Childs: An Account of his Life and Work, 1976, passim.

(2) The Great Hall and the War Memorial Tower, elsewhere described, are also executed in similar red brick.

Also worth seeing

In Reading itself, at the London Road site of Reading University, the War Memorial Tower and the Old Library are of architectural interest. as are Wantage Hall and St Patrick's Hall, and Foxhill; Reading Abbey ruins include the 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. 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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