Thursday, 17 June 2021

Wargrave Local History Society

MEMBERS learnt about 100 years of shopping in Reading at April’s meeting.

MEMBERS learnt about 100 years of shopping in Reading at April’s meeting.

Ann Smith, a librarian at Reading Central Library, gave a presentation of pictures from around the town, which had been digitalised following the award of a grant to the library.

Mrs Smith said that the construction of the Oracle shopping centre freed up a third of the town centre for retail space and turned Reading into one of the top 10 shopping destinations in the country.

Among the old businesses were the Speedwell Motor Co, at the corner of Minster Street and Broad Street, Powells, agricultural chemists, in St Mary’s Butts, and even a blacksmith in the town centre.

Local directories showed that C & G Ayres had been listed in 1867 as coal and salt merchants and later provided a furniture removal service, while department store Jacksons dated from 1875 until its closure in 2013.

The Heelas brothers founded a drapery store in Minster Street in 1854 and expanded to become a department store by the end of the 19th century. The business was taken over by John Lewis in 1953 but continued to trade using its original name.

It was able to rebuild and expand in the Eighties and changed the name to John Lewis soon after the Oracle shopping centre opened.

Reading’s other department stores included Wellsteeds, which suffered bomb damage during the Second World War, A H Bull in Broad Street and Tutty’s in London Street.

Among the more specialist shops were Dudman’s greengrocery business, which began in Rupert Street in 1886, Hickies music shop in Friar Street, which was founded in 1864, and the leather goods firm Aldridges.

Mrs Smith said that in the past almost every street would have a corner shop selling a variety of food products but these began to disappear with the advent of supermarkets.

Sainsbury’s opened in Friar Street in 1963 and Tesco now has more than a dozen branches in the town.

The first big change came with the opening of Reading’s first shopping mall in 1972, which was originally called the Butts Centre and is now known as Broad Street Mall.

Many smaller businesses suffered and were replaced by branches of bigger chains.

Many of Mrs Smith’s photographs showed cars parked on the kerb in Broad Street, outside the shops.

She said the style of these helped her date the photographs as well as the presence of trams, which ran in Reading until 1939, and trolleybuses, which lasted until 1968.

The society’s next meeting will be on Tuesday, May 10, when Valerie Alasia will give a talk on the old Henley  workhouse.

On Tuesday, June 12, David Williams, finds liaison officer for East Berkshire and Surrey, will speak about archaeological objects found in the area.

Meetings are held at the Old Pavilion off Recreation Road and start at 8pm.

For more information, call Peter Delaney on 0118 940 3121 or visit

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