Building the Great Hall

In November 1905, just over five months after the foundation stone had been ‘well and truly laid‘, the College Gazette reported:

The work of erecting the Hall is proceeding satisfactorily.‘ (p. 129).

The previous May, the New Buildings Committee had reported that the cost of the Hall would be £8,143 with an additional £550 for heat and light. This did not include the cost of the ‘heating chamber’. By November, however, the estimated total total had risen to £10,000.

What I find extraordinary is the speed with which the project progressed from the laying of the foundation stone on June 7th 1905 to the grand opening on October 27th 1906. – and all, apparently, without JCBs, sophisticated cranes or much in the way of mechanical assistance.

In a photograph that probably dates from early 1906, the construction team can be seen below.

Builders
University of Reading, Special Collections

I suspect that the figure at the front on the right, wearing what looks like a bowler hat, is the foreman. He also appears in a lesser known image from the same period:

Full frame
University of Reading, Special Collections

He is easy to miss, but in close-up you can make him out perched precariously on a narrow plank.

Close-up
University of Reading, Special Collections (edited extract)

The perilous nature of the construction of the roof becomes clear from the next image of tiny figures silhouetted against the sky.

Shows skeleton of roof
University of Reading, Special Collections

Ropes and pulleys, rickety scaffolding and stepladders, and a head for heights were the order of the day. As far as safety is concerned, there is no evidence of hard hats or safety railings, let alone hi-vis vests or jackets. One hopes that there was no human cost to the Hall’s completion.

Sources

University College, Reading. Official Gazette. No. 42. Vol. IV. 27th May, 1905.

University College, Reading. Official Gazette. No. 44. Vol. IV. 14th November, 1905.

University of Reading, Special Collections. Photographs relating to the History of the University, Box MS5305 (Halls, Great Hall).

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