The present-day Acacia Road lies opposite the Royal Berkshire Hospital towards the bottom of Redlands Road. It serves the rear entrances to the London Road Campus and the Abbey School, and the side access to the Museum of English Rural Life. It is a cul-de-sac, but a footpath at the far end leads to Kendrick Road.
The Acacias Road
The 1904 map below is the earliest University College map I’ve found that names the road. Subsequent plans before the purchase of Whiteknights always refer to ‘The Acacias Road’ or ‘Acacias Road’ rather than the present form.
In the image below, St Andrew’s Hall is on the immediate left, the Dairy Department (British Dairy Institute) on the far right, and the ‘Commerce and Technical Block’ (later, in 1926, described as ‘Geography, Technical, Domestic & Technical Subjects’) is in the centre.
Just as today, it was a parking area. In 1987 when I joined the University, signs on the wall of St Andrew’s urged drivers to avoid reversing into parking spaces so that exhaust fumes wouldn’t penetrate students’ rooms.
The gate on the right was the ‘Southern Entrance’ and was referred to in the Vice-Chancellor’s 1928 report on new buildings as being ‘recently closed to all except service traffic (chiefly coal carts), on account of its inconvenience and unsuitability’ (pp. 13-15).
Plans for a new entrance complete with porters’ lodge further along the road were published but never materialised.
Photographs of students wheeling milk churns along the road are displayed in today’s Dairy and published elsewhere. The one here shows students packing French-style cheeses in 1934:
Not that English cheeses were neglected! An early College report shows that a wide range was produced:
One of the cheese presses from the Dairying Department can still be seen in the Museum of English Rural Life in its ‘Forces for Change Gallery’ on the ground floor.
Acacia Road Today
St Andrew’s Hall was closed (to protests!) in 2001 and the Museum of English Rural Life and Special Collections Services moved onto the site three years later.
The Dairy is still called ‘The Dairy’ and is now one of the University’s catering venues.
The former Domestic and Technical Building is now L19, and accommodates Institute of Education staff, Campus Reception and Support Services. Before the re-location of Education to the Bulmershe Campus in 1989, L19 housed Art Education, Modern Languages and the Reading Centre run in those days by Betty Root.
As can be seen from a comparison of the two views of Acacia Road, L19 would still be recognisable to previous generations of staff and students despite the loss of a chimney and windows.
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. (1928). Report on New Buildings, submitted to the Council of the University by the Vice-Chancellor in January 1928 (Ref.: UHC CM GOV 8).
University College, Reading. Official Gazette. No. 27. Vol. II, July 4, 1903.
University College, Reading. Official Gazette. No 34. Vol. IIi. 22nd February, 1904.
Further to the earlier post about the Bee Meadow, I can now report that on Monday 9th January 2023, Bee Hotels were placed in their permanent positions on the London Road Campus and in the garden of the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL). They were installed by Robin Dean, bee expert.
At London Road, the hotel is situated on the south wall of L33 (ICT & Modern Languages).
In the MERL gardens, Robin was assisted by Cathy Smith who coordinates volunteering on the garden projects.
The Bee Meadow Project is funded by the Friends of the University of Reading and the University’s Teaching and Learning Fund.
The original University College and Reading University have always been justifiably proud of their student accommodation. They were pioneers in this field. The author and journalist Elspeth Huxley, however, had little time for hall life. In her semi-fictional account of her time as an agricultural student at Reading in the 1920s she counts herself lucky not to get a hall place:
‘Most of the students lived in halls of residence, and I had dreaded going to live in one with its inevitable rules and regulations and herding together. I was lucky; Reading had only two halls for women, and I had applied too late to get a place…’ (Love among the Daughters, pp. 47-8)
Nevertheless, she does admit that, ‘The smart hall was St Andrew’s’ (p. 49). By the time Huxley arrived in Reading in 1925, the former St Andrew’s Hostel in London Road, that had been set up privately by Mary Bolam, had long since been replaced by St Andrew’s Hall.
By 1908 it was obvious that the old hostel’s capacity and quality of provision were inadequate. Once again the Palmer family came to the rescue: Alfred Palmer offered the tenancy of his old home East Thorpe on Redlands Road. This large house had been designed by Alfred Waterhouse and completed in 1880. The terms of the lease were generous and came with a promise to add a new wing to double its capacity. On Palmer’s death in 1936 the University inherited the property.
The official opening of St Andrew’s Hall was conducted by Mrs Alfred Palmer on June 10th 1911 and was followed by a garden party. After that things progressed quickly: fees were set; a management committee was appointed; and Allen Seaby, Lecturer in the Department of Fine Arts, designed a bookplate.
Between 70 and 80 women students moved into East Thorpe with Mary Bolam continuing as Warden. The Hall was now under the direct control of the College rather than a private venture as had previously been the case. Capacity was soon increased from 79 to approximately 120 students through the use of neighbouring houses.
Fees quoted in the College Calendar of 1911-12 were £32 per annum for sharing a double bedroom; £36 for sharing a double study-bedroom; and £42 for occupying a single study-bedroom. Rules and regulations, in addition to the general College rules about behaviour, punctuality and attendance, were the same for students in all halls, hostels and ‘Recognised Houses’, and focused on obtaining permission for changing accommodation, overnight absences, leaving Reading before the end of term and staying in Reading after the end of term.
The Calendar advertised that:
‘All studies and study-bedrooms have fire-places. Lighting is by electricity and gas, and hot-water radiators traverse the building. There is complete provision of bath-rooms, lavatories, pantries, cloak-rooms, drying-rooms, and bicycle sheds.’ (p. 100)
The St Andrew’s Hall Committee was chaired by Mrs Childs, wife of the Principal, and included Mr and Mrs Palmer, the Warden, and the Principal. Francis Wright, the Registrar, acted as Secretary.
In an Appendix to the College’s Annual Report of 1911-12, Mary Bolam reported that:
‘Everyone has settled down comfortably in the new Hall so that the old days seem far away. The health throughout the year has been excellent.’ (p. 59)
The architect’s plan of the Palmer household (see above) can easily be related to the layout of today’s building by those who visit the Museum of English Rural Life and the University’s Special Collections.
This enlarged section of the ground floor plan shows the three rooms (Morning Room, Drawing Room and Dining Room) that were knocked into one to become the Special Collections Reading Room. The Entrance Hall became St Andrew’s student common room, and is currently hosting MERL’s exhibition ‘Biscuit Town: 200 Years of Huntley and Palmers in Reading’. The room at bottom right is still referred to by staff as ‘The Study’.
The wall between the original dining room and drawing room had already been removed in 1911, as reported in the Calendar of 1911-12:
‘The former drawing-room and dining-room have been thrown into one, making a spacious dining-hall, fifty feet long, facing the garden and opening into it.’ (p. 100)
The result can be seen in the image below. Here, the wall between the original Drawing Room and Morning Room remains intact.
Other original features have been preserved: the two doorways (blocked by bookcases), the moulding, the fireplaces and the windows (one of them the bay window), looking out onto the gardens.
Please seeThe History of St. Andrew’s Hall for more information. This ‘Scrapbook’, based on research by Rosalinde Downing and produced by The Museum of English Rural Life, provides a lot more detail about East Thorpe, its designer and owners; its time as St Andrew’s (including extracts from the Minute Books of the Common Room Committee); the heated controversy over the Hall’s closure in 2001; and its subsequent reincarnation as The Museum of English Rural Life.
To Professor Viv Edwards for the Latin translation; and to Emily Gillmor for permission to reproduce Allen Seaby’s bookplate design.
Also to the Reading Room Assistants and Graduate Trainees for help accessing material and with the photography.
Childs, W. M. (1929). A note on the University of Reading. 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.
Huxley, E. (1968). Love among the daughters. London: Chatto & Windus.
Seaby, A. W. (1911). Bookplate for St. Andrew’s Hall. Tamesis, Vol. X, Spring Term, 1911. No. 1, p. 94.
The Reading University College Review, Vol. III, July 1911, pp. 180-81.
The Reading University College Review, Vol. V, No. 15 (Images on p. 252 ff.).
University College Reading, Annual Report and Accounts, 1911-12.
University College, Reading. Calendar, 1911-12 & 1912-13.
University of Reading Special Collections. Photographs in the box: University History, MS5305 Halls, Great Hall.
During the early days of the London Road Campus, a wide range of picture postcards was produced showing scenes of the College grounds and buildings. Many of these have been preserved in the University’s Special Collections and they include views of the cloisters, the front entrance, porters’ lodge and Green Bank. There are also interior shots of student hostels and halls.
Very occasionally a card turns up that has been written on, sent home and, at some stage in its long history, has been returned to the University and retained in its archives.
One such example is this card posted in 1907 that shows the sender’s room in St Andrew’s Hostel.
The reverse of the card reveals that it was sent by someone called Alice to a Mrs Knapp in Penarth near Cardiff.
The written message reads as follows:
‘Many thanks for letter & “Enclosure”. You will like to have this card of our room. I wish you could see a little more of it, it is rather like the photo on the wall! Did you like the hockey group? You did not mention it in the letter. Thank you for sending the Recorder. The concert went off well last night. I got an encore!!! Your photo is very prominent in the picture is’nt [sic] it! The Principal has got “influ” – also Miss Morley & M. Salmon. My cold is much better. Much love Alice.’
The three members of academic staff with ‘influ’ were:
The Principal: W. M. Childs who became Reading’s first Vice-Chancellor in 1926;
Miss Morley: Edith Morley who became Professor of English Language in 1908, the first woman to hold an equivalent position in the UK;
M. Salmon: Professor Amédée V. Salmon, Professor of French.
So who was Alice? It seemed logical to assume that she was writing to her mother or close family member and I was convinced that I had seen the name Alice Knapp somewhere in the College records.
Lists of graduates were published in the college calendars so it was a simple matter to discover that Alice graduated in 1907 with a second class honours BA in English and French (hence the references to Edith Morley and Amédée Salmon).
The following year she was made an Associate of University College Reading (with Distinction) by virtue of her honours degree.
Lists of committee members of College societies in the Calendars show that Alice was a student who enjoyed extra-curricular life to the full.
In 1906-7 she was:
Deputy-Captain of Women’s Sculling,
Lady Lay Member of the Hockey Club,
Lady Captain of Tennis,
Member of the Debating Society Executive Committe Calendar.
Vice-President of The Women Students’ Union (founded in 1906),
President of the Women’s Branch of the Students’ Christian Union.
And in 1908-9:
Secretary of the Debating Society.
I wondered why she was still on committees after the award in her degree. The answer is in the lists of Education students – she was training to be a teacher, and in 1908 she passed the one-year postgraduate ‘Certificate (Theoretical and Practical) of the Teachers Training Syndicate, Cambridge‘.
ST ANDREWS HOSTEL
With regard to Alice’s accommodation, note that the words ‘My room in Old St Andrews London Rd. 1907‘ above the addressee indicate that Alice was lodging in the original hostel in London Rd rather than St Andrew’s Hall on Redlands Rd (see map below). The site for the latter was offered to the College by Alfred Palmer in 1909 and formally opened in 1911 (see Childs’s memoir, p. 176). Originally called ‘East Thorpe‘, it is now occupied by the Museum of English Rural Life and the University’s Special Collections.
I don’t know what happened to Alice Knapp when she left Reading. All I can find is an announcement of her BA in The Englishwoman’s Review (see front cover below) in an inside section headed University and Educational Intelligence. The Review apparently recorded the academic qualification of every woman graduate.
To Professor Viv Edwards for locating the census records of the Knapp family in Penarth.
Childs, W. M. (1933). Making a university: an account of the university movement at Reading. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
The Englishwoman’s Review of Social and Industrial Questions, Vol. XXXIX, No. 1, January 1908.
University College Reading. Students’ handbook. Second issue: 1908-9.
University of Reading. Calendar, Issues from 1906-7 to 1910-11.
University of Reading Special Collections, MS5305: University History, Photographs – Halls, Great Hall.
University of Reading Special Collections, MS 5305: University History, Photographs – Groups Box 1.