Blacksmith Edward Eynott shoeing a horse at his forge in Church Road, Caversham, Reading, c. 1895. Photo courtesy of Reading Borough Library Local Studies Collection.

John Illenden, a resident of Katesgrove, has uncovered the tragic fate of one of his family who lived and died on Basingstoke Road in Whitley during the 1860s.

My great great uncle Albert Illenden was a blacksmith in Reading in the nineteenth century. His smithy was just north of the World Turned Upside Down pub on Basingstoke Road and part of the smithy may still exist as a garage in the grounds of Kingfisher Coaches.

Basingstoke Road, 1872-1877. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Albert was born in 1826 in Dover in Kent. He married Elizabeth Lawrence in 1852 at St Mary’s, Dover, and they lived at Elsam’s Cottages. Their son George James was born in 1853 at Whitfield. They moved to Dummer, south of Basingstoke, and Albert trained to become a blacksmith in the forge there, part of which still exists. Subsequently they moved to Reading where they lived in a cottage opposite the smithy on Basingstoke Road.

On 14 October 1865, the Reading Mercury reported that Albert had died.

Determined Suicide at Whitley

Considerable excitement was occasioned in the neighbourhood of Whitley, on Thursday, by the suicide of Albert Illenden, a blacksmith, about 40 years of age, living near a public house known as “The world turned upside down”.

During Thursday morning Illenden was engaged in his shop, a short distance from his house; and, as he did not return home to his dinner at the customary hour, his wife went to the shop, and, on looking through the window, was horrified to find her husband suspended by a cord from a beam in the roof. Assistance was obtained, but it proved of no avail, as it was evident he had been dead some time.

In the deceased’s pocket was found a letter written by himself. The document was dated October 12, and directed to his wife. Its contents showed that pecuniary troubles had driven him to commit the rash act, and he expressed his wish that his wife would dispose of the business, and that they would both meet in heaven.

Deceased had made out a number of accounts which various parties owed him. Last (Friday) evening William Weedon, Esq, the deputy coroner, held an inquest on this body, and the jury, after hearing the evidence, returned a verdict that the deceased hung himself while in a fit of temporary insanity. The evidence showed that Illenden had lately been in a depressed state of mind.

Albert was interred at Reading Old Cemetery (aka Cemetery Junction) in an unmarked grave, which was usual at that time for people who had taken their own lives. Elizabeth returned to Dover with their son George James and later remarried.

The site of the Basingstoke Road smithy as it appears now. Image : Google maps.

  1. World Turned Upside Down
  2. Kingfisher Coaches