The Great Hall: Laying the Foundation Stone

On the 7th June 1905 Viscount Goschen, Chancellor of Oxford University, laid the foundation stone of the Great Hall. The event was attended by the dignitaries of the town as well as the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire and the High Sheriff. It is no exaggeration to describe the ceremony as an extravaganza.

It is also possibly the first event of the College or University that involved the use of electric vehicles!

Why start the new campus with the hall?

Resources had been limited when the move from Valpy Street to London Road began. There were ambitious plans for the site (see Architects’ sketch below), but the Principal gave priority to building a ‘hearth and home‘ in the form of the Great Hall. His reasoning was as follows:

Should it [the hall] be built now or later? The answer depended upon our conception of our undertaking. If the College was to be no more than a mechanism to produce teaching and research, it could do without a hall. If it meant to be a real society, an association of comrades, a hall was a necessity.‘ (Childs, 1933, p. 56)

The decision was not universally popular, as shown by Edith Morley’s account:

Money was, as always, very short, and it was necessary to balance conflicting claims. To many it was an unexpected decision to begin with a Great Hall which could become a central meeting place for the whole college. There were many criticisms from disgruntled teachers in cramped and unsuitable quarters, but there can be little doubt that the plan of campaign adopted showed strategic wisdom.‘ (Morley, 2016, p. 109)

Shows ambitious plan for campus
The architects’ ambitious concept of the future campus including a driveway for carriages opening onto London Rd
The Order of Proceedings

The booklet containing the programme for the ceremony was in keeping with the extravagance of the occasion itself.

Front cover

Among its contents were:

    • The architects’ drawing shown above.
    • A map of the best route from Valpy Street to the new site.
    • A detailed plan of the seating arrangements.
    • The programme of events.
    • A note on the buildings, the Palmer family and the design of the Hall.
    • Train timetables to and from Reading.
The Sequence of Events

In total, activities lasted for over four hours. They were planned with military precision, beginning with the arrival of Viscount Goschen:

    • 1.08:  Official reception at the railway station.
    • 1.00-1.30:  Reception in the town hall.
    • 1.30:  Luncheon at the invitation of the Mayor and Mayoress accompanied by a programme of musical items performed by the Scarlet Viennese Band (Conductor R. S. Coates). Toasts and speeches follow.
    • Following luncheon, guests progress to Broad Street where ‘special Electric Cars‘ are waiting to take them to London Road.
    • 3.30-3.55:  THE ASSEMBLY – Guests take their places according to the colour of their tickets.
        • 3.55:  Procession of the dignitaries from the Main Entrance to the Academic Platform.
        • Trumpets.
    • 4.00:  THE CEREMONY
        • Speeches.
        • The architects (Messrs.Ravenscroft & Smith) hand the Chancellor the Trowel and Mallet.
        • The Registrar reads out the inscription on the stone.
        • The College Treasurer deposits a vessel containing Records.
        • As the stone is lowered, the Students’ Choir sings ‘O God, our help in ages past‘ (conducted by J. C. B. Tirbutt).
        • The cement is borne by the builders (Messrs. T. H. Kingerlee & Sons).
        • The Chancellor sets the stone, ‘testing it with the Level and Plumb Rule‘.
        • The Chancellor declares ‘the Stone to be well and truly laid.’
        • Prayers, speeches, signing of the Record of Proceedings.
        • The Chancellor and his Procession leave.
        • Trumpets.
    • 4.45-5.15:  THE GARDEN PARTY
        • Reception on the lawn of the College Garden.
        • The Reading Temperance Prize Band performs a selection of music.
        • GOD SAVE THE KING
        • Guests are invited to view the Horticultural Gardens, the College Library in the Acacias Building, and the Old Red Building.
Show the Assembly
The Ceremony (University of Reading, Special Collections)

Did all this go according to plan? I was only able to find one eye-witness account of the ceremony – an anonymous article in the College Magazine.  In spite of bad weather, the ceremony was clearly a success and a milestone for the College:

When Viscount Goschen laid the foundation stone of our new buildings he did not merely inaugurate a new home for the College, but also wrote the opening words of a new chapter in its history.’ (p. 4)

And:

The heavy stone was raised to allow of the mortar being spread beneath it, then re-lowered to the place it is to occupy for so long, covering and guarding the vessel containing the records of the ceremony. Lord Goschen tested it and declared it to be “well and truly laid.”‘ (p. 6)

Shows stone today
The foundation stone on the north wall in 2022

While preparing this post I couldn’t help reflecting on the contrast between the magnificence of this event – the obvious importance of the College to the town of Reading – and Edith Morley’s comment about the College on arriving for her interview at Valpy Street:

When I arrived at the station no-one was able to direct me to the College, so insignificant and unknown it still was to the man in the street.‘ (p. 97)

So either the College had come a long way in the four years since Morley’s arrival, or her account was tainted by the embarrassment of arriving late for her interview. Maybe a little of both. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that when the extension to the buildings in Valpy Street were completed in 1898, they had been opened by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) to the accompaniment of much street decoration and flag waving.

Post Script

The booklet of the Order of Proceedings is held by the University Library. It is available on request from the off-site store (R.U. RESERVE–378.4229-UNI).

Sources
Childs, W. M. (1933). Making a university: an account of the university movement at Reading. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
Morley, E. J. (2016). Before and after: reminiscences of a working life (original text of 1944 edited by Barbara Morris). Reading: Two Rivers Press.

Smith, S. & Bott, M. (1992). One hundred years of university education in Reading: a pictorial history. Reading: University of Reading.

University College, Reading. The Magazine. 1905, Vol IV, Spring Term. no. 3.

University College, Reading (1905). Order of the proceedings at the laying of the foundation stone of the new buildings of University College, Reading, by the Right Hon. Viscount Goschen, D.C.L., F.R.S., Chancellor of the University of Oxford, 7 June, 1905. Reading: Holybrook Press.

3 Replies to “The Great Hall: Laying the Foundation Stone”

  1. Fascinating! I’m maybe getting ahead of myself in this multi-part account, but I find myself thinking of the contrast with the ceremonial described here and the official inauguration of the Institute of Education at London Road by Michael Gove. When Mr Gove was very unfashionably late, the careful plans of the Events team were thrown into total disarray!

  2. Have you seen the much larger verson of the ceremony where the one included is the centre 3rd, labeled “S. Victor White and Co, Photographics, Reading”, “General View of the Ceremony, June 7th 1905, Mayor of Reading upstanding” I think is what it says. Also there is a trowel embossed with the coat of arms and a round stone mallet. I have a picture of both.

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