Whatever happened to the South Cloister? Part 2: 1926-1947

On becoming a university (1926)

With buildings in place to the north, south and east of the central quadrangle, and cloisters joining them on the east and north sides, the development of the west side of the campus had become a priority. Childs reported to Council on the inadequacy of teaching areas, and in 1928 submitted a paper that stressed the need for a permanent, wide-ranging solution that had no place for short-term ‘tinkering’ (Holt, 1977, p. 34). Council’s immediate response was to set up a New Buildings Committee and an appeal for funds –  £200,000 would be needed (including £55,000 for maintenance of the new buildings).

The Proceedings of 1927-28 refer to a ‘block plan’ prepared by the architects Messrs. Chas. Smith and Son that had been approved by Council. Proposals included:

‘… the whole of the University buildings, from entrance to entrance, to be linked together by permanent cloisters …. a cloistered quadrangle enclosing the major part of the open space to the south of the library’. (p. 47)

The block plan was published in the University Gazette in 1929:

Whole plan

The proposed route for the South Cloister shows an interesting deviation from the development plan of 1911; it now passes through the spur of today’s L19 before turning towards a proposed new south entrance with its own porters’ lodge:

close-up

Between 1929 and 1932, and with the help of donations, buildings for Geology (now L27), Geography and Agricultural Chemistry (L24) were completed along the West Cloister.

The undated plan below shows the campus at some time between 1932 and 1934. The names of some of the departments allocated to buildings are different from the earlier block plan. For example, today’s L29 is labelled ‘Geography and Letters Lecture Theatre’ instead of ‘Education’.

Smith & Bott
Undated plan published in Smith & Bott, 1992, p. 60.

In 1934 the Friends of the University provided £750 for an extension to the cloister on the west side of the Library Quadrangle.

Friends cloister
September 2022: ‘The Friends’ Cloister’, looking towards L33. A Plaque (see below) is on the second pillar on the left.

Friends plaque

In spite of progress along the West Cloister, space was still in short supply. In the Proceedings of 1936-7 the Vice-Chancellor (Franklin Sibly) notes:

‘Owing to the growth of classes in the School of Art and the Department of Zoology, the need of new buildings is extremely urgent; and there is also a pressing need of suitable accommodation, in a new building, for the Department of Psychology.’ (p. 31).

Further developments were reported in the University Proceedings.

    • 1938-9:  a two-storey building (now L33) was approved for Zoology and Psychology. Accommodation for Art would extend into the old Zoology Building on the East Cloister.
    • Work started in July, but stopped in October 1939 because of the outbreak of war. The Vice-Chancellor noted that the need for space was ‘acute’.
    • The University spent £3,250 on air-raid precautions and fire-fighting equipment.
    • 1939-40:  work on the new buildings resumed and ‘a basement air-raid shelter’ was added to the plans.
1939
1939: preparing the ground for the New Zoology Building (now L33) (University of Reading, Special Collections).
    • 1940-41:  the buildings were completed.
    • 1941-42:  the accommodation became available for use during the Lent Term of 1942.
1941
May 2019:  L33 (formerly ‘The New Zoology Building’)
But Still no South Cloister

Despite the West Cloister being in place, the proposed South Cloister appears to have been relegated to a short ‘covered way’. This is shown in a Development Plan of 1944 published in Holt’s (1977) history of the University.

1944 whole campus
1944 Development Plan (Holt, 1977, plate no. 25)
enlargement
Enlarged section showing the Covered Way near the proposed South Entrance on Acacia Road

Following the end of the Second World War in 1945, space became even more of an issue:  large numbers of ex-servicemen and women who had postponed entry wanted to take up their places. Many were refused admission because of lack of hall places, classrooms and laboratory space. At the same time, the Government was expanding university provision and Reading would be expected to double the number of students from pre-war levels.

There was no more room for expansion at London Road and attention became focused on acquiring the freehold of Whiteknights Park. Thanks to a Treasury loan this was completed in February 1947. Presumably there was little appetite now for completing the cloisters on the original campus!

The Institute of Education moved back to the London Road Campus from Bulmershe in January 2012 following a multi-million pound refurbishment and was soon accompanied by Architecture.

Students and staff moving from L14, L16 or the Dairy to L22 and L24 are still at the mercy of the elements.

W
September 2022:  the West Cloister from outside the Learning Hub (L24)
Sources

Brown, C. C. (2006). Four score and more: a chronological celebration of the University of Reading on the occasion of its eightieth birthday. Reading: University of Reading.

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.

Reading University Gazette. Vol. II.  No. 2. March 21, 1929.

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

University of Reading. Proceedings of the University, 1925-26 to 1946-7.

Whatever happened to the South Cloister? Part 1: 1905-1926

Anyone based at London Road who has had to walk from the Dairy to L22 in the pouring rain must have wondered why no-one had ever thought of building cloisters on all four sides of the Campus.

Not HDR
A dry day in August, 2022:  the path from the Dairy, passing between L16 and L19, and leading to L22

In fact, a complete set of cloisters surrounding the central quadrangle had been planned ever since the occupation of the London Road Campus in 1905. According to W. M. Childs’s memoir it had been part of his vision right from the start. Referring back to ‘Our New Home’ he writes :

‘The time might come when cloister and pavilions would form one side of a quadrangle extending over ground not yet ours, and cloistered the whole way round’ (Childs, 1933, p. 55)

The first cloister to be built was the East Cloister, shown in the image below and on a campus map published in the Students’ Handbook in 1907:

Early image E. Cloister
Early image of the East Cloister showing the sign for the Physics Building, (now L11). The camera must have been situated just beyond L14 and L19 (University of Reading Special Collections)
map
Campus Plan of 1907

As far as I can see, the first indication of a South Cloister in a development plan was in 1911. In it the East Cloister extends as far as the present L16, turns right and forms a straight corridor to the spur of L19. It then continues to the centre of what today would be L22 where it was to join the projected West Cloister.

development plan
Development Plan, 1911 (University of Reading Special Collections)

By about 1917, a cloister leading from the Porters’ Lodge was in place between the Great Hall and what, at that time, was the Rose Garden:

Rose Garden
The Rose Garden, circa 1917 (University of Reading Special Collections)

Note the original curved, corrugated roof compared with the pointed roof in this recent image taken from the same spot:

pointed roof
January 2019: the Cloister and Great Hall looking across the site of the former Rose Garden

The change to the structure of the roof can also be seen in these two images that show the underside of the same section.

sepia
Looking southwards from the Porters’ Lodge (Early Campus postcard: University of Reading Special Collections)
modern
January 2019: looking towards L46 (now the Architecture Building)

The original roof looks suspiciously like corrugated iron, and this is confirmed, somewhat disparagingly, by Elspeth Huxley’s fictionalised autobiography of her time at Reading in the 1920s. She refers to:

‘… lecture rooms and laboratories linked by what were known as cloisters but were merely brick-floored pathways roofed by corrugated iron.’ (p. 47)

Today’s West Cloister leads northwards from L22 to L33. In the  1907 map shown above, the area is described as ‘Horticultural Garden and Glass Houses’.  This is how it looked until 1917 when the Horticulture Department moved to Shinfield and the Glass Houses were demolished (Giles, 2000):

greenhouses
The site of today’s West Cloister. In the background is the Great Hall (University of Reading Special Collections)

Development of this part of the Campus had to wait until University status had been achieved, after which the need for more and improved accommodation became acute.

This will be detailed in the next post.

Sources

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

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.

Huxley, E. (1968). Love among the daughters. London: Chatto & Windus.

Tranter, H. (2010). The architectural development of University College, Reading, 1902-1926. Unpublished Dissertation for the Postgraduate Certificate in Architectural History, University of Oxford.

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