Published on February 26th, 2015 | by Alexander Evans3
A-Z of Reading’s street names
A – Abattoirs Road
No prizes for guessing how this street got its name. At its height, Abattoirs Road had over 16 slaughterhouses which were let out to individuals and held different animals. However, by 1993 all the slaughterhouses had closed leaving this street with its very distinctive name.
B – Battle Street
There are a lot of Battles in Reading – Battle Hospital, Battle School, Battle Library, Battle Ward and Battle Street. The name originates from the 11th Century where, after being victorious in war, it was tradition to build an abbey to thank God. William the Conqueror built an abbey just outside Hastings which ended up giving the town of ‘Battle’ its distinctive name. The abbey was given property in Kent, Surrey, Oxfordshire, Devon and a patch of Reading which now bears the name of Battle.
C – Castle Street & Hill
Again, the naming of these roads is obvious – but it may come as a surprise to many to learn that Reading once had a castle. Everyone knows of Reading Abbey, but few know of the castle which has been long forgotten. A note in the late 18th Century mentions that Reading ‘had once a Beautiful Church and a fine Strong Castle, into which the Danes retired and fortify’d themselves’. Although scholars are certain Reading had a castle, there is still some dispute about whether it was Roman, Viking, Saxon or Norman in origin.
D – De Montford Road
Close to the Thames, De Montfort Road marks one of the most distinctive scenes from Reading’s past. The road is close to what is now Fry’s Island which used to be owned by Robert de Montfort. In 1163 he accused Henry de Essex of treason and challenged him to a duel on the island. King Henry II watched on as they duelled until de Essex was eventually felled. Although beaten in battle, de Essex managed to live on and became a monk at Reading Abbey.
E – Erleigh Road
Erleigh Road in East Reading is a long, straight street that stretches from Royal Berkshire Hospital to the edge of Whiteknights Campus. There are many Erleighs or Earleys in Reading and it is believed their name originates from the de Erleigh family who owned many properties across Reading and Wokingham. In fact, John de Erleigh was known as the ‘White Knight’ which gave the University campus its name.
Although it is hard to imagine now, at one point Erleigh Road was used as a training ground for Reading’s trolleybus drivers. Wires were strung down the street purely for training. Disconnected from the rest of Reading’s trolleybus system, members of the public were allowed to travel down Erleigh Road for free.
F – Faringdon Walk
Named after the last Abbot of Reading, Hugh Cook Faringdon. For most of his life, he and Henry VIII got on extremely well and were known to send each other gifts. However, their friendship did not withstand Henry’s wrath during the Dissolution with Reading Abbey torn to the ground and is Abbot hung, drawn and quartered. It is believed Faringdon suffered a worse fate than others due to the power of Reading Abbey and to be made an example of.
G – Great Knollys Street
Great Knolly Street now regularly holds Reading’s Farmer Market but the reason behind the road’s name is a little uncertain. It is known to be named after a Francis Knolly but scholars are unsure which one. There were four Francis Knollys in Reading: the first built Caversham Park and oversaw the captivity of Mary, Queen of Scots. The second was known to be a great hunter of Catholic Priests. And the final two Francis Knollys were both MP for Reading at the same time.
H – High Street
You could be forgiven for not knowing where High Street is in Reading although it is in the centre of town. It is a tiny road between Jacksons Corner and Market Place that is considered by some to be the smallest High Street in Britain. At one point it was much larger but parts of the road were given over to the Butter Market and Duke Street. It was one of Reading’s first ever one-way streets along with Cross Street and Butter Market.
I – The IDR
Probably now the most infamous road in Reading – like many other towns, Reading attempted to reduce traffic by building a ring road close to its town centre. The IDR, or Inner Distribution Road, has always been a cause of controversy with many arguing that vital parts of the town centre were destroyed for its construction. Although now known as the IDR, it was almost named the CTR or Cross Town Route.
J – Jesse Terrace
This terrace is named after a family of ambitious builders who believed that Reading was capable of becoming one of the most interesting and unique places in Britain. Arguing that Reading was close to the two ‘Metropolises’ of London and Bristol it ‘cannot fail to attract and become a retreat to the independent part of society’. This road was named after them for their faith and passion for making Reading better a place.
K – Kendrick Road
John Kendrick is probably one of the most important figures in Reading’s history, not for what he did in life but for his influence after death. In his will he set up many generous charities including the building of a workhouse which would become The Oracle (which the shopping centre is named after) as well as two schools. For more information on John Kendrick, check out our Rdg Rewind: The Oracle article.
L – Liebenrood Road
This road is named after John Englebert Ziegenstein who changed his name in the 18th Century so he could inherit the Liebenrood family’s wealth which included Prospect Park. Liebenrood Road was one of several roads in 1918 whose name some residents wanted changing because it sounded ‘too German. Fortunately, the Highways Committee refused this request – one of the other roads under consideration, Blenheim Road, was not named after a German individual but a successful English Victory.
M – Millennium Court
Close to the close of the 20th Century there was a trend across the UK of naming things after the upcoming Millennium. Millennium Court near Basingstoke Road jumped the gun a little, getting its name seven years too early in 1993.
N – Newbery Close
Newbery Close is named after the owner of one of Reading’s earliest newspapers, John Newbery. He owned the Reading Mercury which was first published in 1723. However, Newbery was extremely ambitious and soon moved to London and built himself a reputation as one of the world’s first publishers of children’s books. We can thank Newbery for the publication of Mother Goose and the first ever book of limericks. In America he is celebrated with the Newbery Medal for junior fiction.
O – Orts Road
Orts Road is one of the most unusual street names in Reading, but its origin is less than certain. ‘Orts’ is a word used in parts of Europe to mean leftover food. Before Orts Road there was an Ort Field, Ort Farm and Ort Bridge in Reading – Ort Field was used to feed the poor of the town and so it could get its name from there. However, it could also come from the Latin ‘ortus’ which means garden – or the even less exciting German ‘ort’ which simply means ‘place’.
P – Parthia Close
This road has been the victim of frequent misprints in the past, frequently recorded as ‘Pariah Close’ which local historian jokingly suggests comes from the road being cut off from the town centre by the IDR. The road name was actually inspired by the Parthians – an Ancient Empire based in Iran.
Q – Quelch House
Is the name given to a block of council houses in Severn Way. They are named after Lorenzo Quelch, Reading’s first and most-famous Socialist. He first rose to significance by organising agricultural labourers in West Berkshire together. He then went on to become the first ever socialist in Reading Council before releasing his most-famous publication, An Old-Fashioned Socialist.
R – Redlands Road
Initially, Redlands Road was ‘a little lane called Rudden Lane’ which was later changed to Red Lane – however, the choice of colour change is unexplained. The suggestion that it is a derivation from Reading itself has been ruled out. The current leading theory is that it comes from Rood-land, leading to Whitley Cross. Excavations to the road have found it had the earliest sign of human life in Reading.
S – St Mary’s Butts
The place in Reading that always get a titter from people – St. Mary’s Butts name does not originate from a crude town planner but from archery. In the Middle Ages, it was compulsory for all yeomen to learn archery. In Reading, an archery butts was set up here for men in Reading to practice on Sundays. Although the town’s focus has moved Eastwards, prior to the establishment of Reading Abbey this part of town was considered Reading’s focal point.
T – Talfourd Avenue
This street is named for Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd, a multi-talented individual who represented Reading as its MP in the 19th Century as well as being a writer of plays. His literary talent led to his close friendship with Charles Dickens – after stepping down as MP, Talfourd asked if Dickens would like to stand as MP for Reading although the author turned down the offer. Talfourd also brought in important legislation including the Custody of Infants Act and the UK’s first ever Copyright Act.
U – Union Street (Smelly Alley)
Technically called Union Street, but it is better known to people in Reading as Smelly Alley. The nickname comes from the fishmongers and butchers that once populated the street, although most have since closed you are still able to find one of Reading’s best fishmongers here. The road’s actual name comes from its function: uniting Broad Street and Friar Street.
V – Valpy Street
Valpy Street is named for Dr Richard Valpy – a notorious Headmaster of Reading School. He was considered a strong disciplinarian: outside his office was a cold stone where pupils would try to numb their bums before a flogging. He enjoyed throwing coins into the Kennet, encouraging local children to dive in and fetch the money out. He also decided to write and ‘correct’ Shakespeare. It’s no wonder why local author, Mary Mitford, described him as ‘the abstract idea of a schoolmaster embodied.’
W – Wilderness Road
In the early 19th Century, the Duke of Marlborough decided to give Whiteknights Park (now University of Reading’s main campus) a makeover. His additions include the campus lake, ornamental and botanic gardens carried on in spirit with the Harris Gardens and the Wilderness. The Wilderness will already be familiar to students at the university as the wild thicket of trees to the South of campus, the closest Reading has to its own set of woods.
X – Cross Street
Okay, so we’re cheating a little here but hold off your judging unless you can find a road in Reading beginning with X. Cross Street’s name has a very simple origin, getting its name as a crossing point between Friar Street and Broad Street.
Y – Yield Hall Lane & Place
This was initially Reading’s own Chamber of Commerce where influential figures in Reading would hold power breakfasts with ‘befe, lambe, hennys, chekyns, suger, wyne, grese, floure, orrengis and powther’ on the menu. Eventually, the functions of Yield Hall were moved into the town hall. Yield Hall was finally demolished in 1936 while the council began the long search for a new Civic Centre.
Z – Zinzan Strret
Finally, one of Reading’s most unusual street names. It is named after the Italian Zinzan family who can trace their roots back to Hannibal Zenzano, Farrier to Henry VIII. Plenty of Zinzans were influential in Reading with Henry Zinzan purchasing Tilehurst Manor and Peter Zinzan becoming a notable doctor and tutor in the town.
For more information on Reading’s street names – check out Abattoirs Road to Zinzan Street by Adam Sowan.