More about London Road’s Missing South Cloister

An earlier post dealing with the period from 1905 to 1926 showed that a South Cloister had been planned from earliest days of the London Road Campus. A further post covering 1926 to 1947 showed how these plans changed over time and were never carried out. The purchase of Whiteknights in 1947 put paid to further developments.

In the meantime Sharon Maxwell, Special Collections Archivist, has found three items that fill some of the gaps and provide more clarity:

    • Notes dated 1907 by the Architects, W. Ravenscroft and C. S. Smith, on the New Hall and Buildings (Ref.:  UHC Box 1466).
    • A Report on New Buildings, submitted to the Council of the University by the Vice-Chancellor in January 1928 (Ref.:  UHC CM GOV 8).
    • A full-sized original plan of the site that includes proposals for a new South Entrance, a South Cloister and the West Cloister, dated 1929 (Ref.:  UHC – PLANS Box 1).
The site plan of 1929
large plan
Plan of 1929 (University of Reading Special Collections).

The plan shows how the route of a proposed South Cloister is linked to the creation of a new South Entrance on Acacias Road. It is similar to other plans of 1926 and 1929 except that its large size allows additional detail. One interesting feature that weren’t on the other maps is the inclusion of a ‘creeping way for pipes’ running from the East Cloister to the West Cloister and eventually turning south to link with the Agricultural Chemistry and Botany Building (now L22).

Detail from the  above plan. ‘Chemistry’ is now L19; ‘Commercial and Technical Subjects’ is L16; ‘Agricultural Machinery’ is a parking area.
The Architects’ Notes dated 1907

This wasn’t the only mention of  a ‘creeping way’, however ; the Architects’ Notes of 1907 found by Sharon Maxwell mentions them in the context of both the Great Hall and the East Cloister:

‘A creeping way has been formed under the whole length of the Cloister, in which all pipes, both hot water, gas, and cold water supply are laid. Here are also all the electric cables, for supplying both these one-storey buildings and the new Hall. Thus periodical inspection is made a simple matter, and any future extensions or improvements are facilitated.’ (p. 6).

Architects’ notes from 1907 (University of Reading Special Collections).
The Vice-Chancellor’s Report on New Buildings, 1928

The relevance of the proposed new creeping way is that its course had also been considered (and rejected!) as a possible route for the South Cloister. This is made clear from the third document located by Sharon Maxwell:  the Vice-Chancellor’s 1928 report to Council.

This report makes the case for a new ‘southern entrance gateway’ complete with porters’ lodge (possibly residential) on the grounds that, with halls of residence and homes of staff mainly to the south of the site, Acacia Road had become the main means of access. The gateway would be linked to the South Cloister, as shown in the above plans.

As can be seen, however, one problem was that the cloister would have needed to cut through the spur of the Chemistry Building (now L19).

August 2022: looking towards the Dairy from L22; in the foreground is the L19 spur; on the right is L16.

Nevertheless, it was concluded that no other route was feasible, the route following the course of the proposed creeping way having been ruled out:

‘It was suggested formerly that the link from Long Cloister to long cloister might pass immediately to the north of Chemistry (East). This route, however, would mean (1) obstruction to the lighting of these chemical laboratories, (2) a serious diminution of the Library Quadrangle, and (3) the destruction of one, probably more than one, of the trees which form a beautiful group to the north-west of Chemistry (East). These trees are a yew, a walnut, a cedar, and a lime. Their preservation from age to age should be a matter of duty to all who care for the amenities of the University.’ (Vice-Chancellor’s 1928 report to Council, p. 14).

The position of the four trees can be seen clearly in the enlarged area of the 1929 plan (see above). The image below shows the same area today but I don’t know whether any of the trees are the same.

December 2022: on the left is the former Chemistry Building (now L19); in the background behind the trees is the former Agricultural Chemistry Building (now L22).

The South Cloister and the new entrance never came to pass. Fortunately, neither did a suggestion in the same report to improve the North Entrance on London Road by demolishing Green Bank and the School of Music.


Many thanks to Sharon Maxwell and the Reading Room team for all their help.

From College Garden to Bee Meadow: History Repeating itself

Walking along the West Cloister at London Road, you will notice signs stating that grass has been left to grow between Buildings L24 (The Learning Hub) and L27 (Global Recruitment), as well as between L27 and L29 (Music).

London Road, November 2022.
Pollinator lawn
Garden area between L27 & L29, November 2022.

Further along the cloister, towards the north, between L29 and L33 (ICT & Modern Languages), is the Bee Meadow. This was officially opened on World Bee Day, 20th May 2022, together with the unveiling of a Bee Hotel whose construction had been assisted by local primary school children in a design competition on the theme of ‘Save Britain’s Pollinators’.

Alice & Robin
May 2022. The official opening of the Bee Meadow:  Robin Dean (Bee Expert) with the Bee Hotel; Alice Williams (Institute of Education) provides shelter.

The Bee Meadow Project is directed by Dr Jo Anna Reed Johnson, Director of Climate and Sustainability Education at the Institute of Education. It is funded by the Friends of the University of Reading. The project engages trainee teachers who will encourage young people to consider climate change through the perspective of bees.

With the help of the University’s Teaching and Learning Fund, the project is beginning to co-create teaching and learning activities and resources through a collaborative process, which reflects the pedagogical approach for education for sustainable development.

The History of this Part of the Campus

That the area along the West Cloister should become the focus of bees and pollination seems particularly appropriate given its history.

As I showed in my post about the missing South Cloister, it wasn’t until 1927-8 that plans for the West Cloister and its buildings were finally approved by Council.  Before that, early maps in College publications label the land as:

    • ‘The College Garden (for horticultural teaching and practice)’ (1902);
    • ‘Horticultural Ground’ (1903);
    • ‘Horticultural Department University College’ (1904);
    • ‘Horticultural Gardens’ (1906);
    • ‘Part of Horticultural Garden and Glasshouses’ (1907);
    • ‘Reserved for building’ (1926).
Detail from a ‘Sketch Plan of Reading Shewing University College’, published in the College Calendar, 1906-7.

By the time the College moved from Valpy Street to London Road in 1905, the land on the west side of the campus was already being leased from the Palmer family as a practical area for students in the Department of Horticulture.

potting shed
Undated image of horticultural students at London Road (University of Reading Special Collections).

The glasshouses mentioned above must have been heated through the winter as the Garden’s expenditure accounts (see below) include fairly large sums for coal and coke.

The glasshouses with the Great Hall in the background, can be seen in these two images:

Undated photograph:  notes on the back suggest it was taken at some time between 1909 and 1913 (University of Reading Special Collections).
Undated photograph (University of Reading Special Collections). The glasshouses were demolished in 1917.

These plots were much more than a location for staff to demonstrate and for students to practise; it was a commercial enterprise. Some of the College’s earliest financial reports contain separate details of income and expenditure for the College Garden.

In this statement for the academic year 1903-4, the income from selling produce amounted to more than two-thirds of the net value of fees from Horticulture students.

College Garden Income, 1903-4.

The next photograph has the following inscription on the back:

‘Crop of Tomatoes in newly-planted Vinery – variety : Winter Beauty Horticultural Gardens at the College, London Road (c.1907)’.

tomatoes indoors
Winter Beauties c.1907 (University of Reading Special Collections).

I believe the greenhouse below to be the Vinery – you can just make out the tomatoes, but I am not sure where it was located. The foreground looks like the original rose garden, in which case this might be near where the Peace Garden is now. There is no date or description on the back.

vinery exterior
The Vinery (University of Reading Special Collections).

In 1917 Horticulture left the Campus and moved to Shinfield. As the next photographs show, the gardens were grassed over before construction started on the West Cloister. These images were taken after the New Library was completed in 1923. It can be seen on the right and now houses Architecture:


2nd view
Undated images, taken at some time between 1923 and 1929 (University of Reading Special Collections). The Great Hall is in the background on the left.
But What about the Bees?

Before I discovered the financial accounts referred to above, I had wondered whether beekeeping had been part of the Horticulture Department’s activities.

I’d noticed from lists of examination results that insects were on the syllabus:  annual reports from Reading College between 1899 and 1901 include Entomology in the Certificate in Horticulture; there were also Certificate Examinations in Entomology and Associate Examinations in Agricultural Entomology.

The first mention of bees was for the academic year 1903-4:   the University College Gardens Accounts record that £4 16s 1d was spent on bees (nearly as much was spent on insecticides!):

College Garden Expenditure, 1903-4.

There are further references in the accounts for 1905-6 and 1906-7, now under the general heading of ‘apiculture’ rather than just ‘bees’. By 1907 the amount spent on apiculture had increased to £7 5s 5d.

There are no further mentions of bees or apiculture in these records. That doesn’t necessarily mean that apiculture had ceased, simply that the accounts were presented differently and in less detail in the Annual Reports. In addition, the accounts for 1906-7 are joint accounts for London Rd and the Fruit Station at Shinfield. So it is possible that some of this activity had moved there.

Nevertheless, there is clear evidence that apiculture did take place on the London Road Campus at the beginning of the 20th Century; in 2023 when the flowers bloom, the bees will have turned full circle!


To Dr Jo Anna Reed Johnson for help with details of the Bee Meadow Project.


Giles, A. K. (2000). From ‘Cow College’ to Life Sciences: a chronicle in celebration of seventy-five years and a new name for The University of Reading’s Agricultural Faculty. The Faculty of Agriculture and Food (Life Sciences), University of Reading.

Reading College. Annual Reports and Accounts from 1899-1900 to 1901-2.

Reading College. Calendar from 1899-1900 to 1901-2.

University College, Reading. Annual Reports and Accounts  from 1903-04 to 1907-08.

University College, Reading. Calendars from 1902-3 to 1925-26.

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

University of Reading Special Collections. Report on New Buildings submitted to Council of the University by the Vice-Chancellor, February 1928 (UHC CM GOV 8).

University of Reading Special Collections. University History MS 5305 Photographs – Groups, Whiteknights Aerial, Halls, Agri – land – aerial – horticulture/farming.

University of Reading Special Collections. University History MS 5305 Photographs – London Road.