More about the Great Hall: the Organ

The Great Hall was opened in 1906, but it wasn’t until the summer vacation of 1911 that the organ was installed.

An organ fund had been established, however, and by the end of the summer term of 1911 sufficient money had been raised, or at least promised, for the installation to go ahead. A total of about £500 had been raised by 267 past and present students. Some of the donors (overwhelmingly female) were listed in Tamesis, the college magazine.

Donations to the Organ Fund (edited from Tamesis, Autumn Term 1911, pp. 32-3)

The College’s Annual Report for 1911-12 praised their generosity:

‘The sustained interest of past and present students in their college was signally shown when in October, 1911, they presented the organ which fills the apse in the College Hall. The instrument is an admirable one; it bears a suitable inscription, and the Council are confident that the Governors will not fail to appreciate the generous loyalty which prompted it.’ (pp. 5-6)

In fact, the response had been so generous that there were sufficient funds to add ‘Trumpet and Duciana Mixture Stops’ before the official opening. The organ was built during the summer vacation by J. J. Binns of Leeds, and much was made of that fact that its bespoke case was made of cedar wood from a tree that had once stood on the very site that the organ now occupied. The exact specifications can be found in the College Review of December 1911 (pp. 31-2).

The opening ceremony took place on 21st October 1911. In its report of the occasion, Tamesis announced somewhat pompously that:

‘We have the greatest pleasure in being able to chronicle the metamorphosis of the Organ Fund into the College Organ.’ (p. 32)

A recital was performed by Dr H. P. Allen, Director of the Music Department, who played a programme of works  by Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Schumann, Byrd and Rheinberger.

The organ can be seen clearly in the images below. The first shows the Hall set out for examinations – it is undated but belongs to items catalogued as early 20th Century; as its caption is ‘Reading University’, it would have been taken after 1926.

Undated Postcard (University of Reading Special Collections, MS 5383/9)
Image reproduced in Childs’s ‘Note on the University of Reading’ (1929)

The centenary of the installation of the organ was celebrated in October 2011, exactly 100 years to the day after its inauguration. The recital by Tim Byram-Wigfield, Director of Music at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, included some of the pieces from the original ceremony.

Degree Ceremony, Summer 2012 (University of Reading Imagebank)

Childs, W. M. (1929). A note on the University of Reading.  Reading: University of Reading.

Tamesis, Vol. XI,  AutumnTerm, 1911, pp. 32-33.

The Reading University College Review, Vol.IV, December 1911, No. 10, pp. 30-32.

University College Reading. U.C.R. accounts and reports, 1911-12.

University of Reading, Special Collections. Postcards in MS 5383/1-12: University Buildings early 20th Century.

‘The Grebes of Whiteknights Lake’

In a previous post about the Great Hall, I included Allen Seaby’s illustration of ‘The Hall by Moonlight’, published in Tamesis in 1910.  His sketch of great crested grebes at Whiteknights appeared in the College Review in the same year.

‘The Grebes of Whiteknights Lake’ by Allen W. Seaby, published in 1910

It has been estimated that the lake was first colonised by the grebes in about 1885 and a pair was recorded by the eminent ornithologists T. Harrisson and P. Hollom in their national survey, ‘The Great Crested Grebe Enquiry‘, conducted in 1931. Other sightings in the Reading area included Maiden Erleigh Lake and Bulmershe.

Purely by chance I came across Seaby’s sketch just as the grebes’ descendants were hatching their eggs on today’s lake.

Great Crested Grebe at Whiteknights, April 2022

Allen Seaby had a lot more to say about the Whiteknights grebes in his book ‘The Birds of the Air’, first published in 1931. This volume gives a comprehensive account of bird life of all types in Britain but also includes chapters on exotic birds in zoos and abroad. His field excursions took him from the Shetlands in the north to the Scillies in the south. His chapter on ‘River and Lake‘, however, focuses on the Reading area, the rivers in question being the Thames, the Kennet and the Loddon, and the lake being the one in Whiteknights Park. This was just over 15 years before its purchase by the University of Reading.

The lake I know best is Whiteknights Lake, at Reading. It is an artificial one, but the trees growing on its banks have relieved it of any formality. Under the road [Whiteknights Rd] which forms the dam the surplus water flows, to fall in a cascade on the other side.‘ (p. 35)

He mentions moorhens, coots and the pied wagtail (a ‘dishwasher’), tufted duck, pochard and mallard. But he devotes over six pages, including four illustrations, to a detailed description of the grebes, the behaviour and appearance of the male and female, their courtship and nest building:

Of all the lake birds, the most interesting is the great crested grebe, which may be watched here during the greater part of the year. Elsewhere, especially on the Broads, it is exceedingly shy and difficult to watch, skulking behind tall rushes; but on this lake, as if knowing that it is in no danger, it lives out in the open. One season it nested so close to the road that I have had to threaten an urchin who was throwing stones at the sitting bird. I remember, though, that it hatched out its eggs and brought off its young safely.‘ (p. 37)

Allen Seaby became Professor of Fine Arts in 1920, having already been Departmental Director since 1911.

The Fine Arts Department (College Calendar 1920-21, p. 36)

There is a glimpse of Seaby (bearded) in this photograph of the degree procession in October 1928. He can be spotted between H. L. Hawkins (Geology) and Prof Desseignet (French), and appears to be talking to Prof Neville (Dean of Agriculture and Horticulture).

London Road Campus, Oct 2nd 1928
whole group
University of Reading, Special Collections

An account of his life and work can be found in ‘A. W. Seaby: Art and Nature’ by Martin Andrews and Robert Gillmor, and published by Two Rivers Press. Robert Gillmor was Seaby’s grandson and also an internationally renowned artist and ornithologist.

Post Script

In May 2022 the grebes of today hatched their young, thus repeating the cycle described by Allen Seaby:

After a few days the nest is abandoned, the mother’s back becoming the chicks’ home, although they constantly take to the water.‘ (pp. 40-41)

In the image below it is just possible to make out two striped chicks sitting on the back of the female –  as in Seaby’s original sketch.

Female Great Crested Grebe with Chicks (May 2022)

Thanks once again to Emily Gillmor for permission to use her great grandfather’s sketch. I was very sorry to hear of the recent death of her father, Robert Gillmor.

Thanks also to Andrew Male for an ornithological tour of the Whiteknights Campus in April 2022, and for identifying the grebes’ nest and tracking down the report on the ‘Great Crested Grebe Enquiry‘.


Harrisson, T. H. & Hollom, P. A. D. (1932). The great crested grebe enquiry 1931 – Part 1. British Birds, 26, 62-92.

Seaby, A. W. (1910). The grebes of Whiteknights Lake [Sketch]. The Reading University College Review, Vol. II, No. 6, July 1910, between pages 200 & 201.

Seaby, A. W. (1932). The birds of the air or British birds and their haunts (2nd ed.). London: A. & C. Black.

University College Reading. Calendar, 1922-3.

University of Reading, Special Collections. Box of photographs:  Processions MS5305.

The College Yeomanry and the Officers’ Training Corps

As far as I can tell, University College Reading published only two editions of its student handbook:  1907-08 and 1908-09. They could be purchased for sixpence (£0. 0s. 6d), approximately £3.20 in today’s money.

Both covers
These are shelved in the Reading Room at MERL (for some reason the apostrophe shifted to the left in 1908)

The handbooks contain notes by the Principal and information about Halls of Residence, College Rules, the Orchestra, College Societies, Biographical Sketches of the Staff, and the words and music of the College Songs.

In addition, both volumes contain an article that amounts to a recruiting poster for The College Yeomanry – two College troops had been formed in 1906. They had 45 recruits by the end of the first term and 68 by 1908. The article points out the many advantages of joining, including free instruction in horsemanship. It stresses that:

…. the yeoman, as he [is] engaged in superior work, receives higher pay than the foot soldier …. Uniform, equipment, horse, instruction, and all ammunition necessary for classification firing are provided free of charge.‘ (1908-9, pp. 50-51)

The final paragraph appeals to the students’ sense of patriotism (see also the note below):

‘Apart from the personal benefits and the advantage to the personal life of the college …. it is the duty of every able-bodied citizen to qualify himself to take part, should occasion require it, in the defence of his country.‘ (p. 51)

According to the Handbook, all departments of the College were represented in the Yeomanry. This image from the 1907-8 Handbook shows the troops by the south-east corner of Acacias at London Road. Despite some relatively superficial architectural changes it is still easily recognisable.


Modern version
Acacias in April 2022
R. L. Pearson, Officer commanding

Second Lieutenant Pearson is seated front centre in the photograph. He had been seconded from his regiment to command the College Troops and was also a member of academic staff, appointed Assistant Lecturer in Physics in 1905 and promoted to Lecturer in 1907. He remained on the staff until 1948-9 and was the founder and warden of St Patrick’s Hall.

Part of the Yeomanry’s Calendar entry, 1908-9
The Officers’ Training Corps

By all accounts the College Yeomanry was a success, due in no small part to the leadership of Pearson. According to the College Review of 1908-9:

Much credit was throughout due to their officer, Lieutenant R. L. Pearson, (Lecturer in Physics) for the energy and enthusiasm which he brought to the discharge of his duties.‘ (p. 154-5)

Nevertheless, the College troops had to be disbanded when the Berkshire Yeomanry moved its training camp from the summer vacation to May, a month during which the recruits could not be released from their studies. There was a degree of regret at this, but maybe not from everyone. In the words of Childs:

…there were some who lamented the disappearance of the gay uniforms and capering steeds of the yeomen.‘ (Childs, 1933, p. 107)

The leadership of the College felt forced to consider other ways in which students could contribute to the defence of their country, and an application was submitted to the War Office for recognition as part of the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) scheme.

The application was successful and the proposal was given a significant boost when Viscount Haldane, Secretary of State for War, consented to explain the scheme to the students. He was accompanied by Brigadier-General Murray (Director of Military Training) and Captain G. S. Clive and Captain R. C. Maclachlan of the Rifle Brigade. The meeting took place in Wantage Hall on 30th April 1909 and was chaired by the College President, J. Herbert Benyon.

Haldane presented the rationale behind the OTC:  the country would rely on the public schools and universities to provide  a reserve of trained officers to supplement those in the regular army in times of war. I don’t know whether the full text of his speech still exists, but the summary in the College Review (Vol. I, 1908-9, pp. 154-7) with its depiction of ‘modern’ warfare fought with vast numbers of men, weapons and transport is, for me, a spine-chilling premonition of the horrors of the Great War, only a few years away, and the termly reports in the Review of members of the College ‘Killed in Action’ and ‘Missing and Wounded’.

The account continues:

[Haldane] concluded with an eloquent appeal for “common science, common ideas, common patriotism,” as a condition of maintaining the position of the British Empire in the world.‘ (p. 157).

The article in the Review recorded that the OTC already had between 40 and 50 recruits. Four years later numbers had risen to 3 officers and over 100 cadets. Over 200 men had been trained and 9 had became officers, 8 now holding commissions in the Special Reserve and one in the Territorial Force.

By now Pearson had been promoted to Captain and successive accounts show the Reading cadets performing well, including a report from March 1913 of field operations at Cookham Common and Greenham Common with 2nd Lieutenants Palmer and Dewar. A later article of December 1913 describes how Wantage Hall had been handed over to the military authorities at the end of the summer term so that 50 cadets under the command of R. Dewar could be instructed in drill, field training and musketry.

I think the instructor was Robert Dewar who had been appointed Professor of English Literature in 1912 (a parallel position to Edith Morley’s Professor of English Language). He certainly fought in the 1914-18 War and the Annual Report of 1918-19 noted his return to the College in February 1919. Professor Dewar later became Dean of the Faculty of Letters (1934-1948).

The campus plan

The existence of the Yeomanry and Officers’ Training Corps explains two features on a campus map of 1911. It shows existing and planned building developments and includes an armoury and ammunition store.

Edited map

    • A:  the original location of the Armoury;
    • B:  the planned new Armoury;
    • C:  the planned location of the Ammunition Store.

Not all aspects of the plan were realised:  the south cloister, for example, leading from the present L16 to the L22 Building was never built, and a later map shows the armoury still in Location A. So I don’t know whether a separate ammunition store ever existed. If it did, I wonder whether anyone was concerned about its situation at the closest point to the Abbey School.


Similar patriotic sentiments to those addressed to male students were expressed about women in the College Review in 1913. It was reported that women students had attended lectures on First Aid and Nursing with a view to setting up a voluntary aid detachment of the British Red Cross Society:

‘It is very satisfactory to find that there are many women students in the College who desire, quite as keenly as the men students who join the Officers’ Training Corps, to take part in the work of national defence and to bear their share of patriotic responsibility.‘ (p. 106)


Childs, W. M. (1933). Making a university: an account of the university movement at Reading. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.

Holt, J. C. (1977). The University of Reading: the first fifty years. Reading: University of Reading Press.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. I, 1908-9.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. II, 1909-10.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. V, December 1912.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. V, March 1913.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. VI, December 1913.

University College Reading, Annual Report and Accounts, 1918-19.

University College Reading. Calendar, 1908-9.

University College Reading (1907). Students’ handbook. First issue: 1907-8.

University College Reading (1908). Student’s handbook. Second issue: 1908-9.