The Whitley Pump

The view from Katesgrove Hill

A stranger’s guide to Reading

If you are a newcomer to Reading, the Berkshire county town and capital, then there a few things of which you should be made aware.

  • Reading town can be referred to as the Ding,
  • the Butts is the area in front of St. Mary’s Church, which was historically used for archery practice, and the Broad Street Mall,
  • the three B’s refers to beer, biscuits and bulbs; these are the former great Reading industries Simonds (brewers), Huntley & Palmers (biscuits) and Suttons (seeds),
  • Union Street is always referred to as ‘smelly alleybecause it hosts fishmongers and other purveyors of pungent produce,
  • the John Lewis store is still known as Heelas, as this was its name before a takeover long ago,
  • the Forbury is the Forbury Gardens, a lovely large Victorian garden containing an iconic sculpture of a lion cast to remember the massacre of soldiers at Maiwand,
  • Trooper Potts was a Victoria cross decorated Katesgrovian who, during the first world war, carried a wounded man strapped to a shovel through no man’s land to safety; he is remembered with a dazzling statue, plinth and plaque in front of Reading Crown Court,
  • Reading Elvis is a genial and friendly local character who wears an Elvis T-shirt and usually holds an album or a picture of his hero, but otherwise doesn’t resemble the king in any way, shape or form,
  • the Barks means the Royal Berkshire Hospital,
  • the Norfy refers to Northumberland Avenue,
  • the Cowsey or Caysey is a piece of scrubby woodland green space between Whitley and the Shinfield Road with a great view,
  • The Tank is an area near Whitley Street in Katesgrove that was a former reservoir and is now a playground,
  • the Whitley Pump is a handsome modern replica of an historic cast iron water pump on a roundabout at Whitley Street,
  • the Madstad is the Madejski Stadium and the lucky Reading number, 106, refers to Reading FC’s record breaking season under manager Steve Coppell,
  • the Potteries are now a housing estate in Tilehurst that once had an historic kiln which fired tiles and pottery,
  • the water tower is the rather wonderful tall white Tilehurst landmark which you can see from all over Reading; it’s also one of two Reading landmarks which can be seen from space by the naked eye along with the traffic jam on the IDR (inner distribution road),
  • Oxford Road is often called the Ockey Road,
  • Cemetery Junction, used as a title for Whitley boy Ricky Gervais’s comedy film, is actually a busy historic road junction in East Reading near an amazing 11 acre cemetery full of lovely trees, abundant wildlife (including muntjac deer) and beautiful Victorian monuments,
  • Newtown is an area of red brick housing in east Reading between the Kennet and the London Road built by Huntley & Palmers to house their workers,
  • the prom or promenade is the Reading side of the Thames opposite Caversham where ducks and swans are fed green bread; it’s now mainly a car park with a rowing club in it,
  • the Warren is a posh road in Caversham with opulent Thameside properties and a lovely path that leads to Mapledurham and Pangbourne,
  • Reading-on-Sea refers to Hayling Island where sickly Reading children with breathing problems were sent by 1950s doctors; it was a popular holiday destination for Reading folk,
  • Redingensian is a term for Reading people, first used in 1810 by John Man in his book ‘The Stranger in Reading’,
  • a treacle mine is a widely used euphemism for a secret place; it is used in Reading to describe the Atomic Weapons Research establishments at nearby Aldermaston and Burghfield,
  • Peacock Farm is a zoo and visitor attraction near Pangbourne run by the Child Beale Trust,
  • the Turtle is the Purple Turtle, a unique late night bar and live music venue; the term ‘4am Purple Turtle’ can be used to describe a gently debauched and unexpected drinking session,
  • Sweeney’s is Sweeney & Todd, purveyors of fine and filling pies since 1977; all pies are made with local ingredients and have a beguiling list of fillings,
  • Mr Cod is a late night fish-n-chip shop on Whitley Street, beloved by students, which is known for its extraordinary masala fish meal,
  • lardy cake is a nutritious, sweet bread with a surprising ingredient.

Matthew Farrall, the author of this article, died on 20 April 2018.
We are grateful to his family for allowing us to continue to display his work online.


  1. Not quite right – Mr Cod is a chain of fish & chip shops. They also have branches in Oxford Road, Cemetery Junction (and I think also some more exotic places like Slough and some parts of London…)

  2. You’re quite right, but it is also literally true that Mr Cod is a late night fish and chip shop on Whitley Street much beloved by students that is known for its masala fish meal!

  3. I can remember the tram lines up to Whitley Pump. I used to be on the trolley buses route 15 and 16 going to the end of Northy or to the Engineers in Whitley Wood, seemed rather like a 100 times a day.
    Lardie Cake from Howards Bakery on the corner of Hemdean Rd & Church St was really delicious, used to also get from there 1 penny (1d) stale buns during the school lunch break. Coach trips on a Sunday by Smiths Coaches to Reading on Sea, everyone had to get out & walk across to the island. Fond memories from when Reading was a reasonably nice place to grow up and live.

  4. Matthew Farrall

    11 September 2017 at 8.19 pm

    Thanks for those lovely reminders of the Trolley Buses and Pump. There are still a few nice bits to enjoy but you can’t stop changes sometimes – they have a force of their own. We will do our best to keep some of those memories alive.

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