From Sanatorium to Health Centre

Previous posts on this blog mentioned the Sanatorium at 20 Shinfield Road and 60 Northcourt Avenue.

A third Sanatorium was located at the bottom of the hill at 16 Northcourt Avenue. The building dates back to 1906, and was known as West View from 1907 until 1928, then renamed Broadfield House under the ownership of a Captain Miller. His sister, Miss Alice Constance Miller, donated it to the University in his memory in 1936.

By 1938 it was functioning as the new Sanatorium with beds for 20 students and it remained in operation until the opening of the present University Health Centre in 1963. In 1939 Miss J. M. Kendon replaced Miss Strange as Matron.

The University’s annual accounts between 1937 and 1949 list the property’s value at £2,000. After this the value of individual buildings cease to be itemised. However, the self-financing status of the Sanatorium mentioned in the 1917 Annual Report (see the post about 20 Shinfield Rd) was not sustained. Accounts for 1950-51 mention the health of its finances for the first time: ‘Excess of Expenditure over Income … [£]482’. Even after support from the Medical Aid Fund, there was a loss of £177, and there is no mention of the Aid Fund during the following years. By 1955-56 it was running at a cost of £1,080.

Today the property still belongs to the University and provides student accommodation for families, couples and single mature students. According to the University’s website it is a large detached house of ‘traditional character’ offering 13 flats and studio rooms on three floors and a ‘small enclosed garden’.

                                    Number 16 Northcourt Avenue Today

Increases in student numbers by the 1960s led to the building of the present University Health Centre on a site where according to Penny Kemp, Northcourt Avenue historian and archivist, cows were milked, horses grazed and residents of the Avenue once played tennis.  

The Centre was completed in 1963 and was accompanied the following year by the appointment of a full-time Medical Officer replacing the previous Consultant Practitioner. Professor Holt proudly records these events in his official history of the first fifty years of the University:

‘By 1974 there were four medical officers and a dental surgeon. The change in title was deliberate. The old Sanatorium was for the recovery of the sick. The new Health Centre also provided for the education and supervision of the healthy. It was a pioneering venture in which Reading was to the fore, just as it had been, nearly sixty years earlier, in the development of halls of residence.’ (p.261)

The Health Centre has its own entry in the University’s Proceedings for the first time in 1979 (pp.270-71). It shows the staff’s contribution to teaching, research and publication. Of course, this more ambitious project entailed additional spending. Details of annual income (£253,855) versus expenditure (£259,414) are first given in the Proceedings of 1981-82. These sums fluctuate considerably in subsequent years.

The locations of the Sanatoriums and Health Centre in Northcourt Avenue are shown below:

 Northcourt Avenue, the Sanatoriums and Health Centre                                                                    (Adapted from ‘Northcourt Avenue: its history & people’)

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

Kemp, P. (1996). Northcourt Avenue: its history & people. Reading: Northcourt Avenue Residents’ Association. (accessed 20/8/2021)

University College Reading, Annual Report and Accounts, 1916-17.

University of Reading. Proceedings of the University, 1936-37 to 1981-82.

University of Reading. Calendar, 1939-40.


I’d like to thank Penny Kemp for allowing me to use and edit the map from Northcourt Avenue: its history & people.


A Second Sanatorium and an Insult to the Town of Reading

The Sanatorium in Shinfield Road may have been the first to accommodate students with infections, but it certainly wasn’t the last. A University plan of 1929 shows its successor to be located on the west side Northcourt Avenue at Number 60.

      Part of a plan of the University Area Published in W. M. Childs’s ‘Making a University’

Professor W. M. Childs, Reading’s first Vice-Chancellor, recorded in his memoir that a larger sanatorium was being planned during 1921, and 60 Northcourt Avenue was in operation with 12 beds from 1922 until 1938 when it moved down the hill to Number 16.

Once Reading had achieved university status in 1926, the Calendar contained a regular entry for the Sanatorium that included the name of its Superintendent and its rules and regulations. In 1926, the Superintendent was Mrs Hole and the regulations stated that the wardens of halls could compel students to be admitted, referring rather ominously to ‘detention’. The final rule (Number 7, p.136) asserts that:

‘The University reserves the right to refuse admission of infectious cases to the Sanatorium and to send such cases to the Borough of Reading Isolation Hospital, when all charges incidental thereto must be borne by the student.’

Extract from the Sanatorium Regulations (University of Reading Calendar 1926-27)

Number 60, The Barn, has an interesting history that has been thoroughly investigated by Penny Kemp, historian and near neighbour. The house was built in 1906, leased to the University College in 1919 and purchased by Reading University in 1933. In the annual accounts for 1932-33 it is listed among the University’s assets as having a value of £2,525. By the following year this had risen to £2,556/10/6d where it remained until 1937 when it was sold to Mrs Agneta Clark, a local artist, for £3,000.

The University’s Calendar for 1935-36 shows that the post of ‘Superintendent’ had been upgraded to ‘Matron’ and was occupied by Miss R. E. Strange.

In her history of Northcourt Avenue (pp. 16-17), Penny Kemp describes how, three years after its construction, The Barn was featured in Country Life in an extraordinary feature that speaks almost contemptuously of both the house and the town of Reading. Of the house, it declares:

‘… The Barn, a modest house illustrated in these pages, is generally held in the locality to be a highly inartistic production. We confess with pain that it lacks many elements of distinction common to the neighbourhood.’

And of Reading it is claimed that:

‘Over the suburbs there has spread a red rash of buildings mostly compounded of vulgar vagaries….It is not too much to say that Reading serves as a compendium of what to avoid.’

Number 60 is no longer The Barn; its new name is Three Oaks. In the mean time it has undergone substantial alterations.

                                               60 Northcourt Avenue today

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

Kemp, P. (1996). Northcourt Avenue: its history & people. Reading: Northcourt Avenue Residents’ Association.

University of Reading. Calendar, 1926-27 & 1935-36.

University of Reading. Proceedings of the University, 1932-33 to 1936-37.

Measles, Epidemics and a College Sanatorium

The COVID-19 crisis isn’t the first time that academic work at Reading has been disrupted by an epidemic. In 1917, University College Reading and its campus at London Road were closed due to an epidemic of measles.

The Annual Report and Accounts for 1916/17 reads as follows:

‘An outbreak of measles, which occurred during the Session, necessitated the closing of the College a fortnight before the end of the Lent Term. The inconvenience thus caused led to the consideration of a scheme for establishing a College Sanatorium. The Council have accordingly rented a house, No. 20, Shinfield Road, which has been opened for the reception of students. A small additional fee charged to each student in residence will, it is hoped, make this Sanatorium self-supporting.’  (p.3).

The Report of the Council the following year confirms that the scheme had gone ahead:

‘A sanatorium for the use of students in halls of residence and recognized houses has been provided, and has proved of great service in times of epidemics.’  (p.4).

One wonders just how many epidemics had occurred between 1917 and 1918. Spanish flu springs to mind but I have found no mention of this in the Calendars or Annual reports. Nevertheless, epidemics including Measles and Spanish flu were common in Reading as documented by Margaret Ounsley in her chapter on ‘health, medicine, illness and death’ in the Coley area: child fatalities from measles were frequent, and Coley School had to close twice in 1918 because of Spanish flu. There are papers in the University’s Special Collections that deal with a proposal for students to do social work in Coley, and there were fears about students bringing infections to their hostels despite the fact that Education students were already doing teaching practice in Coley.

Interestingly, the ‘small additional fee’ mentioned above must have been very effective because the accounts for the following year include this item:

‘The College Sanatorium—Suspense Account .. £193 3s 5d.’  (p.17).

According to the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator that could be as much as £12,000 nowadays.

                                                                     20 Shinfield Road Today

University College Reading continued to rent the house until 1922 when premises for a new sanatorium became available at 60 Northcourt Avenue.

So what happened to the original sanatorium? The house is still there, opposite Queen’s Drive. But for how much longer? At the time of writing, 20 Shinfield Road is the target of a planning application that could mean its disappearance:

‘Demolition of existing house and erection of a new, detached building to provide 4 x 3 bedroom apartments, together with associated car parking, bin and cycle storage, access and servicing arrangements, and landscaping improvement.’ (Planning Application No. 201879).

Local residents are fighting the proposal. One of the many reasons given in comments from the Northcourt Avenue Residents’ Association is its historical significance:

‘This house is a direct link to the early history of Reading University — and in a curious twist of fate at a time of an epidemic similar to current events. Demolishing the house would break yet one more link to Reading’s heritage in a direct assault on Reading’s Local Plan which emphasises the importance placed on the protection of the historic environment.’ (Letter to the Planning Dept).

20 Shinfield Road was the first of three sanatoriums at Reading that were the forerunners of the current Health Centre.  These will be the subject of future posts.                                                     


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

Northcourt Avenue Residents’ Association. Letter to the Planning Department, Reading Borough Council, 19th June, 1921.

Ounsley, M. (2021). Coley talking: realities of life in old Reading. Reading: Two Rivers Press.

Reading Borough Council. Planning Application No. 201879.

University College Reading, Annual Report and Accounts, 1916-17 & 1917-18.

University of Reading Special Collections. Uncatalogued papers relating to women students. Reference UHC AA-SA 8.

The header image of the University College in London Road is from the University of Reading Special Collections Photographic Archive (History of the University: London Road architecture).


I am grateful to Simone Illger, Chair of the Northcourt Avenue Residents’ Association, for allowing me to quote the extract from correspondence with the Planning Department of Reading Borough Council.

Thanks also to Sharon Maxwell, University Archivist, for tracking down the material about women students and social work, and to Margaret Ounsley for information about epidemics in Coley.