Discover gems of our heritage

Published: 10 Sep 2009 16:300 comments

TOURS, workshops and performances will be evoking scenes from Reading's past during the Heritage Open Days beginning today.

If inspecting gems including Caversham Court Gardens, Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC)'s rooftop garden, Berkshire Record Office and the Almshouses in Castle Street over the weekend is too lively, there is also an opportunity for quiet reflection at Reading Cemetery.

Behind the iconic arch at Cemetery Junction in Newtown - an inspiration for Ricky Gervais's next film - lie monuments to many of Reading's prominent families including the Simonds of brewing fame and the Suttons of Suttons' Seeds, the "beer" and "bulbs" of Reading's "Three Bs".

The Grade II listed cemetery, one of England's oldest garden cemeteries, was opened in 1843 and the Reading Chronicle's predecessor, the Berkshire Chronicle, reported the year before that it was intended "to be ornamentally laid out and planted to afford survivors a solemn and pleasing remembrance of their departed friends".

Notable graves include those of George Blackall Simonds, sculptor of the Maiwand Lion in Forbury Gardens; Joseph Edward Sydenham, the founder of Reading Football Club who died in 1913, and that of William 'Willie' Wimmera, a native Aboriginal Australian boy who died in 1852 aged 11 from tuberculosis and peritonitis after missionaries brought him to Reading.

In addition to the 18,327 graves in the 4.7 hectare triangular site between Wokingham Road, London Road and St Bartholomews Road, there are trees dating from the 1840s and a family of muntjac deer.

A number of churches and former church buildings around Reading will be open, including St Giles' in Southampton Street, which is having a celebratory service of choral evensong and a recital featuring the music of Mendelssohn, Purcell and Haydn at 5pm on Saturday.

It has been arranged by the Berkshire Organists' Association and will include refreshments and a cello recital.

The association will also be giving free talks and demonstrations on the Father Willis organ in Reading Concert Hall in the Town Hall at 11am and midday on Saturday and Sunday.

All Saints Church in Downshire Square, Coley, dating back to 1865, is not officially registered for this year's event but will be open from 10am-6pm on Saturday, when volunteers will also be welcoming people taking part in Crow - Cycle, Run or Walk in aid of the Royal County of Berkshire Churches Trust.

Find more information about each Reading borough venue at under the "Events" section.


Heritage Open Days from Thursday, September 10, to Sunday, September 13.

More information about each venue is available via the events listings at


*Reading Minster of St Mary the Virgin, St Mary's Butts, Reading

Reading's oldest church, featuring a Norman doorway.

Friday and Saturday 10am-4pm

Sunday 11.15am church service only

*Greyfriars Church, Friar Street, Reading

One of the oldest Franciscan churches in Britain still used for worship.

Friday 12-4pm

Saturday 10am-11.30am

Sunday 2-4pm

*St Mary's Episcopal Chapel, 14 Castle Street, Reading

The church was built in 1798 on the site of the old Reading Gaol where Pilgrim's Progress author John Bunyan is said to have been held.

Thursday 10am-12pm

Saturday 9am-6pm

Sunday 11am and 6.30pm open for church services only

*St Laurence's Church,ကTown Hall Square, Reading

A 12th century church now focused on working with young people.

Saturday 10am-4pm

*St Giles' Church, Southampton Street, Reading

One of the three oldest churches in Reading with a memorial to John Eynon, vicar of St Giles' from 1520-1533, who was martyred under the orders of Henry VIII.

Saturday 10.30am-4pm

Sunday 12-2pm

*St Bartholomew's Church, corner of London Road and St Bartholomew's Road, east Reading

George Palmer provided the land for St Bartholomew's Church, built in 1879.

Saturday 10am-4pm

*St Luke's Church, corner of Erleigh Road and Donnington Road, east Reading

A fine example of work by Victorian architect James Piers St Aubyn.

Saturday 10am-1pm and 2pm-4pm

*Christ Church, Christchurch Road, Reading

The church designed by Henry Woodyer was begun in 1861 and completed in 1875, with a 164ft spire.

Saturday 9.30am-5pm

*Waterstone's United Reformed Building, 89A Broad Street, Reading

Originally a United Reformed Church built in 1800, now Waterstone's bookshop, with the only listed interior in Reading, including stained glass windows, a lantern roof and memorial stones.

Store opening times:

Thursday 9am-7pm

Friday and Saturday 9am-6pm

Sunday 11am-5pm

*Reading Hindu Temple and Community Centre, 112 Whitley Street, Katesgrove, Reading

The temple was previously a Methodist church, built in 1905.

0118 975 1067 or

Thursday to Sunday 10.30am-1pm


*Almshouses, 53 Castle Street, Reading

Grade II listed properties designed by William Henry Goodman and built in 1866.

Thursday 11am-2pm

*Reading Town Hall and the Museum of Reading, Blagrave Street, Reading

Built during the 1870s and 1880s and refurbished in 2000, including the Concert Hall and Father Willis Organ.

Thursday to Saturday 10am-4pm

Sunday 11am-4pm

*Museum of English Rural Life, Redlands Road, east Reading

Founded in 1951 by Reading University to record changes in farming and the countryside. Since 2005 it has been based around St Andrew's Hall and East Thorpe, the home designed in 1880 for Andrew Palmer, associated with Huntley and Palmers' biscuits.

Thursday and Friday 9am-5pm

Saturday and Sunday 2-4.30pm

*Rowberry Morris, 17 Castle Street, Reading

A timber-framed 16th century house that was formerly The Castle Inn and since 1971 has been a solicitors' office.

Saturday 9.15am-4.30pm

*Royal Berkshire Hospital Medical Museum, London Road, east Reading

A variety of historic medical equipment is on display in the hospital's old laundry.

Saturday and Sunday 2-4.30pm

*Harris Arcade, off Station Road and Friar Street, Reading

The 1930s arcade boasts a range of unusual shops.


*Guided tour of Forbury Gardens, Abbots Walk, Reading

Gardeners will lead free 45 minutes tours from the kiosk. Booking is essential via 0118 939 0373.

Thursday and Sunday at midday

*The Museum Of English Rural Life, Erleigh Road, east Reading

Tours of the museum and its archives as well as the Palmer family's house.

Booking essential via 0118 378 8660 or

Thursday and Friday 3pm

*Caversham Court Gardens, Church Road, Caversham

The newly-restored garden contains a centuries-old number of Grade II listed features, detailed in leaflets available at the site.

Thursday to Sunday 8am to dusk

*Caversham's Heritage Day at New Directions' North Reading Centre in School Lane, Caversham

Information on Caversham's history plus drop-in pottery sessions. or 0845 842 0012

Saturday 10.30am-4.30pm

*Father Willis Organ, Town Hall, Blagrave Street, Reading

Free talks and demonstrations by the Berkshire Organists' Association and possible an opportunity to play.

Saturday and Sunday 11am and midday

*Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC)'s edible rooftop garden, 35 London Street, Reading

More than 120 species of edible and medicinal plants in an energy-conscious setting.

Saturday and Sunday 12-4pm

*Behind the Bookshelves tour, Local Studies Library, Reading Central Library, Abbey Square, Reading

Meet on the top floor for a librarian-led guide to Reading's printed history.

Book via 0118 901 5965.

Saturday 11am-midday

*Reading School, Erleigh Road, east Reading

The mid-19th century home of one of Reading's oldest institutions.

Book a place on tours of the architectural features and the school chapel via 0118 901 5600.

Sunday 11.30am-1pm and 2-3pm

*Berkshire Record Office, Coley Avenue, Coley

Book a place on 30-45 minute behind-the-scenes tour of the strongrooms, document conservation facility and highlights of the collection of records from across Berkshire.

Call 0118 901 5132, email or visit

Saturday 11am-1pm

*Forbury Band Concert, Forbury Gardens, Abbots Walk, Reading

Reading Spring Gardens Band will play to picnickers from the Victorian bandstand.

Sunday 3-4.30pm

*Real Time Video's 25th anniversary celebrations, Screen Turbine House, Blake's Lock, Kennetside, Reading

Films from 198 to the present to celebrate the charity's work engaging different groups.

The exhibition is open daily until September 26 from 10am-6pm

*Living Memories of Reading

The Reading branch of the U3A (the University of the Third Age) wants to hear the memories of people who lives or worked in the area bounded by Oxford Road, the IDR, Castle Street and St Mary's Butts before the Civic Centre, Hexagon and Butts Centre before the Civic Centre, Hexagon, Butts Centre and IDR were built in the 60s and 70s.

Contact 0118 926 5860 or email

*Store Tours, Museum of Reading, South Reading Store (exact location given when booking)

See grisly objects not usually on display on 45 minutes tours led by museum staff. No pushchairs.

Call 0118 939 9800.

Sunday 11.30am-12.30pm and 1.30pm and 2.30pm.


*King George V Memorial Gardens, Eldon Square, east Reading

The statue of Rufus Isaacs, Lord of Reading, looks out over the recently-restored gardens with Georgian circular walk.

*Artists in the City, Chatham Place, off Oxford Road, Reading

Public artwork by Marion Coutts including Mirror Mirror uses posters and documents relating to Reading's history as part of a partnership between Muse Developments and Artists in the City, Reading Borough Council's public art programme.

*H & G Simonds Brewery Commemorative Information Board, opposite the Strada restaurant by the river at The Oracle shopping centre

The board commissioned by Reading Civic Society commemorates the Simonds family's contribution to Reading.

*Memorial to Laurentius Braag, on the southern external wall of The Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin, facing Gun Street, St Mary's Butts, Reading

A memorial to a Danish merchant on parole in Reading during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 18th century, newly restored by Reading Civic Society.

*Soane Monument, Market Place, Reading

The obelisk-shaped monument was commissioned in 1804 by Edward Simeon of the Bank of England to improve the area's lighting and was designed by Sir John Soane.

*Reading Old Cemetery, Cemetery Junction

One of the country's oldest garden cemeteries with various notable graves, wildlife and plants. Information sheets available.


*Heritage Open Days: Pied Piper Trail

Meet outside Chili's restaurant in The Oracle for a free walking tour for all ages to discover some of Reading's shady past.

Saturday 2-2.45pm

*Shadow Puppet Workshop, Museum of Reading, Blagrave Street, Reading

Join the Armchair Puppet Theatre to create a shadow puppet show for performance. Ages eight to 16, £6-7, discounts available.

Book via 0118 960 6060.

Sunday 10.30am-12.30 pm

*Heritage Open Days: Victorian Classroom Experience, Museum of Reading, Blagrave Street, Reading

Find out about Victorian child thieves and how to 'pick a pocket' or two at £1 drop-in sessions for up to 35 people.

Sunday 1.45pm and 2.45pm

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