Our interview with Tony Page continues with reflections on Reading, its waterways and the Abbey.
Whitley Pump: Do you think Reading should be a city and why?
Tony Page: Yes, it is self evident that Reading should have been made a city many years ago, there have been smaller towns who have been successful. We should have secured it in the past, if we had had members of parliament in the last few years who had actively supported the bid. Mr Wilson [Conservative MP for East Reading] never lifted a finger in support. If we mount another city application, I am sure we would have the support of our local MPs.
We have been identified as a city by all the economic analysts; the Centre for Cities identifies Reading regularly in the top three areas of the country. We have no current aspirations to extend our boundaries because we work closely with our neighbouring authorities on infrastructure projects. A number of visitors are flabbergasted that we are not a city. We are thinking like a city.
WP: As an aside to that, the Whitley Pump has attended meetings where people have been talking about ‘Reading-on-Thames’ yet put up pictures of the ‘Reading-on-Kennet’. What is your view on ‘Reading-on-Thames’?
TP: I think to describe it as ‘Reading-on-Thames’ is to put down the significance of the Kennet and Holy Brook. The value of waterways has risen up the agenda. I dug out the 1978 waterways plan, one of the first things I was involved in as a young member, it was my suggestion not to turn our back on the Kennet but to open it up. Our planning documents since have focussed more on the waterways. ‘Reading-on-Thames’ would not be acceptable.
I mustn’t lose the opportunity to remind the campaigners against the MRT of Newtown Globe’s mural by the Horseshoe Bridge, covered over for twenty years. A lovely mosaic of three rivers, the Thames, Kennet and Holy Brook; completely forgotten and ignored. As part of the MRT application we are committed to cleaning it and moving it to a more prominent location.
WP: You are Reading’s Heritage Champion and have supported heritage in the town. If you could time travel, which century would you return to and why?
TP: It would be the twelfth or thirteenth century when Reading Abbey was at its peak, particularly to meet the people who designed and built it. I am an atheist so what went on inside is not of such significance to me but the sheer design of it and the aspiration that it represented is.
Henry said he wanted it as his mausoleum but he was not an architect. To meet them and to have the opportunity to see how they managed to deliver something of such longevity, except for Henry VIII’s decision to put the place to the sword. If Hugh Faringdon had not been so argumentative and unhelpful more might have survived, but that is history.