Published on March 17th, 2016 | by Kate Ellis1
Alfred Waterhouse – The man who built Reading
Alfred Waterhouse is considered to be one of the most important architects of the 19th Century. Waterhouse designed hundreds of buildings across the UK including the Natural History Museum and Manchester Town Hall.
While he is not known for his work in Reading, Waterhouse has had a huge impact on the town – designing some of our most recognisable and distinctive buildings. Over several decades, Waterhouse helped build dozens of buildings across Reading but here are just five of his most significant works.
Foxhill House – 1868
Alfred Waterhouse’s first major work in Reading was Foxhill House. In 1868, Waterhouse began work on what was to become his family’s main home outside of London. He had decided to build his home in Whiteknights Park in order to be closer with his family in Berkshire; however, he ended up only living in Foxhill House for less than a decade.
It was designed so all the main downstairs rooms open onto a terrace from which one is able to enjoy a magnificent view of Whiteknights Lake. Additionally, during Waterhouse’s time there was a rose garden which was considered to be one of the best in the South of England.
Foxhill House is now one of the most distinctive buildings on the University of Reading’s Whiteknights Campus. Over the years it has been the home of the Viceroy of India, the Chairman of the General Electric Company and later students at the University of Reading.
Reading School – 1870
Reading School can trace its roots back to the 12th Century when it was part of Reading Abbey but the dissolution of the the Abbey, the Great Plague and English Civil War led to the school’s eventual closure in the 19th Century
However, by 1867 it was announced that Reading School would be restarted but a new building was needed to house its students. Fortunately, a nationally eminent architect happened to be living in Reading at that point who was commissioned to design the new school. In 1870, the Prince of Wales laid the foundation stone of the building which eventually opened in 1871.
Reading Town Hall – 1875
Reading has had several town halls over its history: first there was Yield Hall by the River Kennet, then Greyfriars Church until eventually they settled on its current site.
Over the years the building had fallen into disrepair until Alfred Waterhouse was commissioned to design a new frontage and extension for Reading Town Hall. The design took inspiration from Reading’s famous terracotta brickworks with red and grey bricks, a new council chamber and clock tower. As a result, the new town hall was able to look distinctive without looking out of place in Reading.
The Rising Sun Arts Centre – 1877
What is now the Rising Sun Arts Centre was once a Temperance House in the 19th Century. Silver Street at that time was in the middle of one of Reading’s most notorious districts for crime and poverty.
In response, the building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse as a Temperance House – a bar which did not serve any alcoholic drinks. Since then, the building has been through a number of iterations until it was taken over a group of artists in 1990 who turned it into one of Reading’s most beloved venues.,
Museum of English Rural Life – 1880
By 1880, Alfred Waterhouse had moved away from Reading but he was still designing buildings in the town. Most notably, in 1880 he was commissioned to design a home for the newly married, Alfred Palmer.
Palmer worked for Huntley & Palmers biscuit company for over 50 years, was High Sheriff of Berkshire and a significant benefactor of the University of Reading. It is no surprise that his home eventually became the site of the University’s Museum of English Rural Life.