A Book Fair, a Children’s Author and a Map of the Campus

On the 7th July 1977, the University of Reading hosted the William Smith’s Children’s Book Fair. The venue was the Great Hall on the London Road Campus.

Details of this can be found in the archive of Christine Pullein-Thompson in the University’s Special Collections. Christine, together with her twin sister Diane and older sister Josephine was a children’s author, renowned for her popular pony stories. The Pullein-Thompson sisters were local to the area, having grown up in the village of Peppard in Oxfordshire where they lived in a house with its own stables. They were riding horses and writing stories about them from an early age.

Christine lived from 1925 to 2005 and was the most prolific of the three sisters, producing over 100 books with translations into 12 languages.

The Book Fair

On 12th May 1977 Granada Publishing Ltd., Christine’s publisher, wrote to her address in Middle Assendon, Henley. They had arranged for her to attend the Children’s Book Fair in Reading in July, and enclosed maps of the location of the University and the position of the Great Hall at London Road.

She was to conduct a ‘guess the weight of the pony articles’ competition, with Granada supplying 50 of her books as prizes. There would also be ‘further stock available for direct sale.’

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University of Reading Special Collections

The Map of the Campus

The plan of the London Road Campus in 1977 was new to me. I find it interesting because it is a previously missing link between the pre-Whiteknights maps of the 1930s and ’40s and my own memories of the site from when I joined the School of Education in 1987.

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Plan of the London Road Campus adapted for the Children’s Book Fair of July 1977 (University of Reading Special Collections)

This is also the first map I have seen that includes numbered buildings. And most of them bear the same numbers as today (L16, L19, L22, L33, etc.). This original numerical system counted in a roughly clockwise direction beginning with the Works Department in the top right hand corner and ending with Acacias (L43, the Senior/Staff Common Room), and L44, commonly known as ‘The Dolls’ House’.

If this numbering system seems less obvious now it is because many buildings no longer exist or are no longer occupied by the University – the Buttery (Building 34 between the Great Hall and L33) burnt down in 1982 and along London Road, the Old Red Building and Portland place have become private accommodation.

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The ‘New’ Buttery that burnt down in 1982 (University of Reading Special Collections)

Some other adjustments had to be made too. For example, Fine Art Buildings 4.1, 6 and 7 are now, in 2024, occupied by Art Education and bear the single designation, L4.

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Detail of the eastern side of the site. Today, Art Education is housed in Buildings 4, 4.1 & 7 (now L4)

In earlier maps of the 1930s and 40s, Buildings 4 and 7 had been separated by a garden and labelled Fine Art and Zoology respectively; building 4.1 that linked them had yet to be constructed. Buildings 3, 5 and 8 on the map have all disappeared.

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Art Education (L4), situated at the northern end of the East Cloister, January 2024

Other notable absences from today’s campus that must be especially salient for members of the Institute of Education are the two Food Science buildings between L16 and L19, and the Fine Art block between L16 and L22. The full extent of demolitions can be seen below.

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The buildings marked in blue have since been demolished

Consequences of the move to Whiteknights

The purchase of Whiteknights Park by the University had been completed in 1947. Building on the site began in 1954 and in 1957 Queen Elizabeth II performed the official opening of the Faculty of Letters, now the Edith Morley Building.

The effect of the gradual migration of departments from London Road to the new campus can be visualised in the version below of the 1977 map. The site was now dominated by five departments:  The School of Education, Fine Art, Food Science, Microbiology and Soil Science.

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A version of the 1977 plan showing occupation by a small number of departments following completion of buildings at Whiteknights

The School of Education had been founded in 1969 through the amalgamation of the regional Institute of Education, established in 1948, and the University’s Department of Education. It is possible that at least one of the buildings labelled Fine Art was, in fact, devoted to Art Education. This was certainly the case in 1987 when part of the ground floor of L16 was occupied by Fraser Smith and his fellow Art Education colleagues James Hall and Richard Hickman.

Sources

Gillet, C. R. E. (1949). Reading Institute of Education. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 45-47). University of Reading.

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

University of Reading Special Collections. Christine Pullein-Thompson Collection, Correspondence with Publishers, Granada: MS 5078/107.

The Tamesis Scandal Supplement

In January 2023 I mentioned that in the early 1900s, University College, Reading had a good reputation in some quarters for its treatment of women students. At the same time I pointed out some of the unpleasantness women students faced, and cited examples of misogyny in Tamesis, the official College magazine. The worst of these, though, was not in the magazine itself but in an unofficial ‘Tamesis Scandal Supplement’ published, presumably by male students, in June 1927.

Brief details of its content are in the earlier post but, for the moment, I want to use it as an example of the meticulous preservation work that is undertaken by the University’s Museums and Special Collections team.

When I came across it nestling among the official copies of Tamesis, the four-page supplement was seriously damaged, flaking (see image below), and very fragile. In my post I explained that it has been removed from the Reading Room at the MERL to be repaired.

This work has now been painstakingly completed by Victoria Stevens ACR, Paper Conservator at the University Museums and Special Collections Services.

Before & after
The Tamesis Scandal Supplement before and after repair

Victoria explained to me the process of repairing and preserving this and similar documents. She describes this as a ‘light repair’ with a minimum amount of ‘filling in’ the missing parts:

    • Cleaning with a latex sponge;
    • resizing with methyl cellulose dissolved in alcohol;
    • repairing with Japanese paper made from kozo fibre (a thin, but very strong, long fibre);
    • storing in a folder of acid-free card within a transparent Melinex archival polyester wallet.

The document is still very fragile but available for reference in the Reading Room at the MERL where it can be found in its original location among the 1927 issues of Tamesis (Call No.: University History Collection–TAM).

Unfortunately, the rejuvenation of the supplement does not make the sentiments it contains any more palatable. But more of that and the context in which it appeared in a future post.

Thanks

To Victoria Stevens ACR, Paper Conservator at the University Museums and Special Collections Services, for carrying out the repair and sharing all the details.