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Visiting the Town Hall, Reading, Berkshire, England: Victorian Gothic by Alfred Waterhouse

Updated on October 1, 2012
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
The Town Hall, Reading
The Town Hall, Reading | Source
Reading Town Hall, c. 1900
Reading Town Hall, c. 1900 | Source
Alfred Waterhouse, R.A.,(1830-1905)
Alfred Waterhouse, R.A.,(1830-1905) | Source
Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom
Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom | Source

Pinnacled, red and grey intensity

The substantial, visible part of the Town Hall at Reading, Berkshire, England, dates from 1875.

Some history and features

The Town Hall's architect was the celebrated Alfred Waterhouse (1), himself no stranger to Reading (2).

The building is executed in a combination of Waterhouse's familiar red brick, but also grey brick, together with terracotta ornamentation. Here we see typical Gothic pointed towers and pinnacles. I have supplied a black and white photo of the Town Hall, dating from circa 1900; but clearly only colour photography can do justice to the intensity of the brickwork, particularly when the sun shines upon it. The main photo depicts the Town Hall from Blagrave Street.

Some older parts of the building date from the 18th century. An extension was finished in 1897. This extension was to have been undertaken by Alfred Waterhouse; interestingly, he was deemed to have quoted the Borough too high a fee! Thus, the extension work was accomplished by another architect, by the name of Thomas Lainson, who had the unenviable task of making the extension distinct enough for it to be considered his own work, but similar enough to Alfred Waterhouse's work on the building's main frontage for the extension to be considered in keeping with it! (Take it, or leave it, said Mr Waterhouse. We'll take it, AND leave it, said Reading Borough!) From the Borough's point of view, at least Architect Lainson charged less than his more famous — and, apparently, younger — colleague! (I am, however, not aware of the state of professional relations between the two men at this juncture.)

In previous centuries, the town of Reading's administration also may be said to have benefited from bargain accommodation: Reading Abbey, dissolved at the Reformation, provided the burghers with readily available buildings vacated rather hastily by the Abbot (executed) and his monks (whose ministerial colleagues had in turn executed Reading man John Stilman in 1518: among the last of England's Lollard martyrs).

This fine, civic building is today used as a concert venue (which includes a 19th century organ by Henry Willis), museum and art gallery.

October 1, 2012


(1) Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905) was also responsible for Manchester Town Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Gonville and Keyes College, Cambridge, and many other fine structures.

(2) Foxhill House, Reading University, is also by Alfred Waterhouse.

Also worth seeing

In Reading itself, nearby Reading Abbey ruins include the Hospitium, formerly housing the 19th century College from which Reading University later developed. The Church of St Lawrence in Reading is a Medieval landmark. At the London Road site of Reading University, the War Memorial Tower and the Old Library are of note, as are Wantage Hall and St Patrick's Hall, and Foxhill (see also above).


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.

For your visit, these items may be of interest


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    • MJFenn profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      suzettenaples: Reading is actually easily accessible from both London and Oxford, which are definitely on the main tourist routes. There is a lot to see in Reading, Berkshire, certainly. Thank-you for your comment.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Thanks for the lovely tour! I have been to London, but not the cities off the beaten track. This is one I am bookmarking - I'd love to see these out of the way places. Thanks for an interesting and informative article. Voted up and shared!


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