Georgian Reading, Berkshire’s Bath Spa

A talk given by John Missenden on 17th September 2022

John’s interest in Georgian Reading began after he made a visit to Bath to look at the Georgian architecture there and he noticed the similarity between what he saw in Bath and what he could see in Reading.

There are over 800 listed buildings in Reading and when towns are rated by the number of listed buildings Reading is comfortably in the top 10%, having more listed buildings than several cathedral towns. Most of these listed properties date from the Georgian era.

The style of design that is so immediately recognisable as Georgian arose from the renewal of learning and flowering of arts starting in Italy, which we call the Renaissance.   Italian renaissance architects looked back to Roman architects like Vitruvius, who in the 1stcentury AD published a treatise on architecture. The earliest architecture to arise from this study of the ancients was the more ornate baroque style, but in the hands of the 16th century Italian architect Palladio a simpler more refined style became popular. The Palladian, Georgian style, became the dominant architectural style of  the British Isles, particularly after the Glorious Revolution when William of Orange became King. 

As an interesting aside, the Glorious Revolution was achieved with only two battles on English soil. The Battle of Reading and the Wincanton skirmish.  The Battle of Reading took place on the 9th of December 1688. James II had posted 600 Irish Catholics in Reading to stop the march of the Dutch towards London.  Wild rumours said  the Irish were planning to massacre the townsfolk, so the inhabitants asked William for help.  A relief force of 280 of William’s dragoons was sent. Warned of the Jacobite positions, they attacked from an unexpected direction, and got into the centre of Reading. They were supported by Reading men shooting from windows. James’ forces retreated in confusion, leaving an unknown number of dead, with reports varying widely from twelve to fifty, depending on the account.

William IV preferred a simpler architecture and was a patron of  Christopher Wren. It was during William’s reign that brick began to be used extensively in British buildings. 

Looking around the Reading area there are several large houses which epitomise the Palladian style of architecture. The first is Basildon Park, just outside Pangbourne. With its rusticated stone basement and raised piano nobile (main floor containing the main entrance and principal rooms, its division into three blocks, the main house and two pavilions, one each side, harkens back to Palladio’s original designs. The interior reflected changes in house decoration. The ceilings are flat and with delicate plaster decoration.

Calcot House  is another Georgian house, although the top storey was added in the late 19th century. It has a magnificent Venetian window.

A later Georgian house is Prospect Park, built in 1810, and finished in a white stucco.

John then discussed some of the many Georgian houses in Reading, too many to include in this report. But many from all periods of the Georgian era can be found in Castle Street and Castle Hill. The Royal Berkshire Hospital was built in 1836. 

In several places estates of Georgian houses were built, like small suburbs. Places like Albion Place, Southampton Street, Russell Street, Queens Road, and Eldon Square and Street.

report by Catherine Petts

Exploring the archaeology, history and heritage of Berkshire