Wednesday, 22 May 2019



THE subject of the society’s April talk was “Industrial Reading: pictures of 60 old Reading firms in 60 minutes”. The speaker was David Cliffe, the society’s chairman.

Within living memory, Reading was home to a diverse range of manufacturing industries. By sourcing images from Reading Central Library’s local illustrations catalogue, David showed a choice selection.

One of the town’s oldest industries was the production of food. Many businesses in this sector once thrived in Reading.

The biscuit manufacturer Huntley & Palmers is well remembered but it had a local rival in H O Serpell at South Street, which produced ships’ biscuits.

The company was originally based in Plymouth but following a fire at its factory there, it relocated to larger premises in Reading in the early 1900s.

Fate would revisit the company in 1904 when a devastating fire struck. The company soldiered on until 1959 when it went into liquidation.

Reading’s waterways were, until recently, a vital resource to the town’s economy as an important inland port. They were once lined with wharves, mills and factories.

Among these was the Talbot family of barge builders and timber merchants who were based near Caversham Bridge.

Richard Talbot, who was born at Pangbourne, founded the business in 1777 and by the 1850s the firm employed 30 men and nine boys. Later, it diversified into trading coal.

The industrial revolution left a considerable demand for building materials but with no local stone available to builders it had to be brick so a thriving brick-making industry emerged at Reading.

The young, local clays available in the Thames Valley produced the attractive red bricks familiar today.

Among the brick-makers the most notable was S & E Collier. Established at Coley in the mid-19th century, the firm later relocated to a site at Grovelands Road until it closed in 1966.

Today, the only reminder of the business is the firm’s brick-built war memorial to employees at nearby Water Road.

Finally, a company that was a pillar of the town’s economy for 170 years was Sutton’s Seeds.

The company’s story began at King Street, Reading in 1806.

John Sutton, the founder, started as a corn merchant, then, in 1832, he was joined by his sons, Alfred and Martin Hope.

It was they who diversified the business into selling flower and vegetable seeds by mail order, utilising the new rail and postal services.

At the turn of the 20th century the company occupied a sprawling site behind Market Place as well as its seed trial grounds at a site off London Road, Earley.

Today its entire operation is at Torquay in Devon.

The subject of the society’s next talk will be “Catholicism in Reading”. The speakers will be John and Lindsay Mullaney. This will take place at Abbey Baptist Church, Abbey Square, Reading, on Wednesday, May 15 at 7.30pm. All are welcome, £2 entry fee for non-members.

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