From Valpy Street to London Road

Following Reading College’s recognition as a Day Training College in 1899, it became increasingly evident that, despite construction work, the premises on Valpy Street were inadequate for an institution that had aspirations to become a University College or University. As W. M. Childs put it in ‘Making a University’:

The new buildings of 1898 gave relief, but we had hardly become used to them before we began to outgrow them. The prospect was serious. The site would take no more buildings; it could not be enlarged and to put part of the College elsewhere would destroy unity, and was otherwise impracticable. We began to talk of migration and rebuilding, not too hopefully.‘ (p. 38)

Shows the original college
South front of the College in Valpy Street, showing the South-East Wing under construction (Calendar 1897-8)

It is well known that the original College was relocated to the present London Road Campus in 1905. I was surprised to discover, therefore, that a sketch plan of Reading dated 1902 showed the present location of Kendrick School as the new site.

Shows 1902
Edited Map from the Calendar of 1902 showing University College Reading on the site of today’s Kendrick School

The locations marked on the plan are:

    • A:  College Buildings and British Dairy Institute in Valpy Street;
    • B:  College School of Music;
    • C:  ‘Site of new College buildings’ (now Kendrick School);
    • D:  College Garden (rented for Horticultural Teaching and Practice –  now part of the University’s London Road Campus);
    • E:  St Andrew’s Women’s Hostel;
    • F:  St George’s Women’s Hostel.

The explanation for this anomaly is that in 1901, Reading’s Town Council came up with a proposal that would have solved the College’s problems of space:  the College’s premises in Valpy Street would be exchanged for the section of municipal estate shown on the map. The parties came to an agreement the following year and all seemed well until 1903 when lawyers uncovered insurmountable problems relating to the proposal’s legal validity, leasehold rights and possible restrictions on building.

In the College map of 1903, therefore, reference to the ‘Site of new College buildings’ had been removed.

Corrected map
Sketch Plan from 1903 published in W, M. Childs’s memoir (1933)

In 1903, W. M. Childs took over from H. J. Mackinder as Principal of what was now University College, Reading. It was Childs who sought a solution by approaching Alfred Palmer, a member of the College Council, about the possibility of taking over land and buildings on London Road that had been the Palmer family home.

Palmer had recently agreed to donate £6,000 to the College building fund, and an agreement was reached by which this donation was sacrificed in exchange for the transfer of the property to the college. The following is an extract from Palmer’s letter of agreement, written to the Principal from his home in Wokefield Park, Mortimer on January 13th 1904:

I am willing to give the College the grounds and buildings known as “The Acacias” and “Greenbank” including the stabling,  cottage, paddock, and the strip of ground adjoining the paddock …. There is a frontage on to the London Road of about 270 feet, a depth of about 700 feet along the Redlands Road, and a width of about 340 feet along the Acacias Road. In making the offer of this site I withdraw my promise of contributing Six Thousand Pounds to the building fund of the college.

Palmer also declared that he was prepared to sell the houses and gardens of Nos. 32, 34, 36, 38 and 40 London Road for £4,000, thus providing an extra 240 feet of frontage.

Shows the gift
Plan of the land and buildings donated by Alfred Palmer (the College’s Official Gazette, Feb 1904, p. 6)

On 19 January 1904, the College Council accepted the offer unanimously and the first removals from Valpy Street to what was to become today’s London Road Campus began in 1905. The annual calendar used the map below to illustrate the most convenient route between Reading’s two stations and the two sites.

Best route
The best route from the stations and Valpy Street to the new campus (edited from the University College Calendar, 1905-6)
Sources

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

University College, Reading. Calendars, 1902-3, 1903-4, 1905-6.

University College, Reading. Official Gazette. No 33. Vol. III. 21st January, 1904.

University College, Reading. Official Gazette. No 34. Vol. IIi. 22nd February, 1904.

University Extension College, Reading. Calendar, 1897-8.

‘That this House is in favour of Woman’s Suffrage’

In a previous post I mentioned how the Debating Society was one of the initiatives intended to foster a sense of community in the early days of the College.

From the Reading College Calendar 1900-01

Accounts of the debates can be found in the Reading College Magazine. The earliest motions recorded are:

  • ‘That this House views with pleasure the return of a Conservative Government to power.’ (Oct. 13th 1900. Votes for: 46; against: 48).
  • ‘That in the opinion of this House, education in rural schools should have a more direct agricultural bearing.’ (Oct. 27th 1900. The Chairman claimed that, ‘the Ayes have it’ but this was disputed and the House adjourned amid confusion).
  • The previous controversial result was revisited on November 10th 1900 with the Principal (H. J. Mackinder) in the chair. (Votes for: 22; against: 23).
  • ‘That this House is of the opinion that life in large towns is deleterious to National Character.’ (Nov. 24th 1900. Votes for: 38; against: 56).
  • ‘That this House is of opinion that the British Race and Empire at the commencement of the 20th Century exhibits greater promise of national achievement than it did before the commencement of the 19th.’  (Feb. 23rd 1901. Votes for: 28; against: 19).

A letter to the Magazine from a former member of the Debating Society objected to the grammar of the last motion and suggested that members:

‘….are in need of a little instruction, and would suggest that a competent nursery governess be engaged to supply the want.’ (Vol. II, p34).

The motion ‘That this House is in favour of Woman’s Suffrage’ was debated on February 19th 1901. The debate took place in the hall of Reading College, formerly the University Extension College and shortly to become University College Reading. The location was its original site in Valpy Street (see map), some four years before the move to London Road and about nine months before the appointment of Edith Morley. 

Part of a  map in the Calendar of 1905 showing the College in Valpy Street

According to the College Magazine (Vol. II, pp.19-20), the proceedings ran as follows.  The ‘hon. mover’, Miss E. Lawrence, took the view that the case for Woman’s Suffrage was already so well known that there was no point in repeating it. Instead, she addressed four common arguments against. There were:

  1. ‘That a woman becomes unwomanly by taking a part in politics’;
  2. ‘that she is ignorant in political matters’;
  3. ‘that she is intellectually inferior to man’;
  4. ‘that matters of state do not affect her life’.

Miss Lawrence responded by:

  1. asserting that, ‘…the life of Queen Victoria was a sufficient reputation’;
  2. insisting that, ‘The vote would educate and lead women to see that it was their duty to understand the affairs of the nation’;
  3. appealing to ‘a consideration of the work done by women in the scholastic, medical, and other professions’;
  4. pointing out that, ‘the state controlled education, and taxed women’s property’.

The quality of debate was probably not enhanced by the fact that the opposer, Mr J. Pryce, arrived late and missed the beginning of the mover’s speech.

Three assertions by Mr Pryce are recorded:

  1. ‘since woman (sic) could not fight as soldiers they should not vote’;
  2. ‘he pointed out the terrible fuss which would arise if man and wife held different political opinions’;
  3. ‘woman’s interests were so closely bound up with man’s that the man could vote for himself and his wife at the same time’.

A Miss Stansfield supporting the motion countered that, if the interests of the man and woman were so closely connected, the woman could vote for them both. According to the record, Miss Stansfield analytically dismissed Mr Pryce’s three arguments and a Miss Williams pointed out that ‘even a woman might be a formidable foe if armed with a rifle.’

A motion to close the debate was lost and the quality of discussion then declined until the House divided:

Reading College Magazine, Winter Term, Vol. II, 1901, p.20

It appears that the motion’s supporters won the argument but lost the vote. It would be interesting to know the gender of those present and how they voted, but unfortunately this information is not available. 

In consolation, the report confirms that:

‘There was no doubt that the ladies completely vindicated their right to express an opinion on political matters.’ (p.19).

To modern eyes that just adds insult to injury!

The old College buildings in Valpy Street (University of Reading Special Collections)
SOURCES

Reading College,  Calendar, 1900-1

Reading College Magazine, Autumn Term, Vol. 1, 1900 & Winter Term, Vol. II, 1901).

University College Reading. Calendar, 1905-6.

THANKS TO:

Joanna Hulin (Reading Room Assistant) for her help and for accessing material for this and previous posts.