Pell Street looking west

Nikolaus Pevsner‘s edition of the Berkshire volume of ‘Buildings of England’ was published in 1966, the thirtieth county guide of forty-six. The Reading section starts with the Abbey, followed by churches and finally public buildings.

Pevsner described a perambulation of the town that took in the central sights, and his paragraphs on ‘outer Reading’ picked out notable structures such as the conduit house on Highgrove Street which was still standing at that time.

His biographer Susie Harris described his working methods. He packed a tour of a county into a period of about four weeks. The itinerary for each day was carefully planned to visit certain locations and, as his wife or assistant drove, he wrote notes which were turned into a draft at the end of the day, and then:

… in towns or cities of any size, Pevsner would be up early the next morning to carry out a ‘perambulation’ – a tour on foot through an area past every building he considered worthy of mention, noting not just the architectural details and state of preservation of individual buildings but also their relations to each other and, where the relationship was particularly strong, the character of their setting.

The book was completed in a week of seclusion at the end of the trip.

Berkshire was one of the later counties he covered because a Murray’s guide written by John Betjeman and John Piper had already been published [ref 1].

Pevsner died in 1983. A new edition of Berkshire was published in 2010; this was much expanded on the original, but still covered the old county of Berkshire. It included a new perambulation of London Street and Southampton Street ‘south of the ring road’ in Katesgrove.

Selected highlights from the 2010 perambulation

Start at Great Expectations

The tour commences at the foot of London Street at the Great Expectations, a very good choice for a place to start a walk. Throughout the walk, take care crossing the road and where possible use the pedestrian crossings specified.

The landmark buildings of London Street are rattled off in quick succession in the latest edition of Berkshire with comments on their architectural features, in much the same opinionated style as Pevsner’s original volume [ref 2].

Reading Savings Bank

The Great Expectations has “giant Ionic columns of Erechtheion pattern” after the temple in Athens. The London Street Surgery, once the Reading Savings Bank, shows “early Victorian striving for novel motifs”. After a brief diversion to talk about Dr Anthony Addington and look at 73 London Street, the tour turns back to South Street.

Plaque for Sir Anthony Addington

Southern Court (1988) opposite the South Street Arts Centre is described as a “happy design”.

Return to London Street and continue south to cross London Street at the lights by Tescos. Walking north on London Street pause at 110-114, with the After Dark Club (112) down the alleyway, and notice the remains of the original shop front on the left.

Church Street

Turn left into Church Street towards the Friends Meeting House and St Giles Church. The guide is surprisingly complimentary about the new houses on the north side of the street, describing them as “good gentle infill housing”.

The Friends Meeting House and St Giles are described in the churches section as is the parish hall, now County School of Dancing, ‘arts and crafts’ vernacular by F G Sainsbury, 1924.

S Giles Hall

On the opposite side of Southampton Street are listed terraces attributed to Richard Billing I and II.

At the Red Cow where “the patterned brickwork of late Victorian Reading shows in force especially in Pell Street”, cross Crown Street and then Southampton Street and walk up Pell Street to the junction with Hill Street to appreciate the bricks and “staggered plan” of the street (pictured at top).

Return to Southampton Street and walk south. Cross the road by the Hop Leaf pub and walk to the top of the hill before taking the “hairpin bend” at the Pheasant down Mount Pleasant and Silver Street to the Rising Sun Arts Centre.

Mount Pleasant and Silver Street

No 52 Mount Pleasant is described as a “Late Georgian freak: two bays wide but just one Cyclops-like first floor window.”

Admire Waterhouse’s Rising Sun temperance tavern which is the end of the perambulation.

Rising Sun

To return to the start at the foot of London Street, cross to the other side of Silver Street, continue north and end the walk at RISC.

The book has illustrations in colour of some Reading buildings, including Pell Street which is mentioned as a feature on the perambulation.

‘The Buildings of England: Berkshire’ gives us an insight into what others may find interesting and of note in our little corner of the town.

  1. Susie Harries, Nikolaus Pevsner (2013). Pimlico. pp403-4
  2. Geoffrey Tyzack, Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England – Berkshire (2010). Yale University Press. pp473-4
  1. The fate of the Whitley Conduit
  2. Katesgrove on the tourist trail