Joan Dils, Chairman of the Berkshire Local
History Association, gave an enlightening talk about life in Victorian Earley to
the February meeting of the Wargrave Local History Society.
by explaining that Earley as such was not recorded separately in old documents
until the 19th century, but with the aid of the tithe and enclosure maps, trade
directories and census data it is possible to piece together the history of the
area. Earley was only created as a separate parish in 1854, having been part of
Sonning until then. It was a large area of over 2000 acres, but sparsely
populated, with just 471 people in 1837.
When Queen Victoria came to the
throne, there was not even a church in Earley, as that was built in 1844. Until
then, the nearest church for the Earley residents was that at Sonning. The
Church of England was concerned that it might lose out to the growing
non-conformist movement at the time, and so a number of churches were built to
make it easier for parishioners to attend services. The church was enlarged to
its present size in 1882.
The newly created parish of Earley was a very
rural area, with farms, large houses and labourer's cottages - and stretched
from the Thames in the north to the Loddon in the south, and from Cemetery
Junction in the west to east of the River Loddon. London Road Farm occupied the
site that later became Suttons seed grounds, whilst Marsh, Upper Wood, Lower
Wood and Elm Farms covered the area now known as Lower Earley.. Most of the 16th
century cottages have long since disappeared. One of the largest estates in the
area was that at Whiteknights Park, where the large house belonging to the
Marquis of Blandford had been pulled down in 1840. Maiden Erleigh House lasted
until the 1960s, when it too was demolished. Like a number of larger houses in
East Berkshire, its owner, Edward Golding, had made money in the East Indies.
Erleigh Court - the 'manor house' of Erlegh St Bartholomew - had stood near the
present day roundabout at the top of Shepherds Hill. It had been the home of
Henry Addington (later Lord Sidmouth), Prime Minister in the early 19th century.
He gave the land on which the Royal Berkshire Hospital was built, and also
owned Bulmershe Court (which lies just outside of Earley parish).
of the history of Earley has been the result of conditions 'over the border' in
Reading. In Victoria's reign, Reading was growing at an alarming rate, pushing
its boundaries in all directions - including eastwards to what is now Cemetery
Junction. Industry in the town included two railways, Huntley and Palmers
biscuits, Huntley Boorne & Stevens ironworks, printing, etc. Housing
conditions in the town were appalling. Like many similar towns, it needed a
cemetery, as the 3 churchyards were full. A private company was therefore formed
in 1843 to provide a cemetery - just outside the borough, in Earley. It became
not only a burial ground but a popular place for a pleasant afternoon stroll,
being well planted with interesting trees. Although Reading was spending a lot
on improving health conditions and sanitation, conditions were not good, and so
the 'Lower Earley of the 1870s' was built - the houses known as Newtown, in
Earley between the railway bridge and cemetery Junction. It was a diverse
community, with all sorts of tradespeople, and soon had its own school (still in
use). In the area towards the 'Three Tuns', in roads off the Wokingham Road,
more middle class homes were built for shopkeepers, professional men etc, all
making good use of Reading brick and terracotta. A church was added - St
Bartholomew's - on land given by the Palmer family, to serve these new housing
In 1887, Reading extended its boundaries to include a large part
of the parish of Earley. It provided much for the local people - employment,
water supplies, sanitation etc, and wanted to expand so that it could earn the
rates from the area. The population had risen to 4463 by 1881, almost all in the
newly developed area, and by 1901 to 10196, although the area around the Three
Tuns had hardly changed. Major changes were to occur on Whiteknights Park, where
several large houses were built on the estate, including Foxhill, designed by
Alfred Waterhouse (famous as architect for Manchester and Reading Town Halls) to
live in himself. Some of these houses, in Reading brick with terracotta
decoration, survive as part of Reading University.
has been further urbanised, with a consequential impact on the roads, water
supply etc. As in Victorian times, the reasons for this development has come
from outside of Earley itself, rather than a need from within the parish.