musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Berkshire

Heading to Reading

This fine morning I grabbed my gear and headed out to Reading. My recent trips to that city en-route to elsewhere made me curious about what I could see, and to be honest I was pleasantly surprised.  On my list of possible targets was Reading Abbey, the old cemetery, St Giles and St Marys Churches, any war memorials, and of course anything else that caught my eye (or lens).
 
The cemetery has 205 Commonwealth burials of the 1914-1918 war and 41 of the 1939-1945 war. in it, so I could have quite a lot of ground to cover. Weatherwise it was sunny when I left Basingstoke, but it got cloudy once I was in Reading, so much so that at one point I thought I was going to be caught in a rain shower.  
My first goal was St Laurence Churchyard, the church is situated next to the Town Hall, and is not too far from the station. I had a rough plan of my route so knew more or less what I was going, and of course I had my phone with in case I got lost. 
The Town Hall

The Town Hall

I have to admit St Laurence was a great exploration. It has a fantastic churchyard with a lot of very interesting graves. Unfortunately though, they were building a road in the middle of the street so some of my access was cut off from the park next door.
 
The park interested me because it bounded on the ruins of Reading Abbey,  and I was hoping that I could pass through the ruins and go around the prison to get to the route I needed to follow to find the cemetery. 
After a slight detour, and an attempt to buy some food at a local supermarket I found myself faced with the Cenotaph (which stands at the entrance to Forbury Park), which was great news because I had not really done much research as to where the main war memorial was in the city.
  
 
The park, Forbury Gardens,  is a pretty one, with a bandstand and lots of trimmed grass and pathways. It is also home to a very special memorial:
 
“This monument records the names and commemorates the valour and devotion of XI (11) officers and CCCXVIII (318) non-commissioned officers and men of the LXVI (66th) Berkshire Regiment who gave their lives for their country at Girishk Maiwand and Kandahar and during the Afghan Campaign MDCCCLXXIX (1879) – MDCCCLXXX (1880).”

“History does not afford any grander or finer instance of gallantry and devotion to Queen and country than that displayed by the LXVI Regiment at the   Battle of Maiwand on the XXVII (27th) July MDCCCLXXX (1880).” (Despatch of General Primrose.) 

Known as the Maiwand Lion, it is a very big memorial, and definitely the largest lion I have ever seen. Unfortunately the sun was behind it so pics just did not work out the way they could have. In fact the sun was to prove problematic for most of the morning as it kept on dancing between the clouds. I returned to Reading on 3 March and was able to obtain a better image of the lion as seen below.

Seeing the Abbey seemed to be problematic as the site was closed on safety grounds, and given that the building dates from around AD1121, I can see that there may be a problem, however, it is very frustrating to be so close to history like that and not being able to access it.

The one part of the Abbey complex that still survives is the Abbey Gate, and it is a very nice structure, but again it faced in an awkward direction.
It was looking to be somewhat of a frustrating morning. I decided to head for the cemetery, passing the very pretty St James Church which is between the park and the prison.

 

The church opened in 1840 and it now serves as a Catholic Church for the multicultural community in Reading. Surprisingly a small corner of the graveyard still exists, although it has been “rationalised” and there is no real way for knowing how big it was before. Unfortunately HMP Reading was not accessible, and the high walls meant the only pic I would get would be of high walls.

The route I was now walking took me along the very busy Kings Road which merged into an intersection with London Road  where the cemetery was located. 

The cemetery was first opened in 1834 and there are 18327 grave spaces covering 4,7 Hectares.  There were originally two chapels but both have been demolished, and at first glance the cemetery seemed like a bit of a hodge-podge mess. However, as I penetrated deeper into it the layout began to make a bit more sense.

Like many of these older cemeteries it does support a wide range of fauna and flora, and I believe there is even a species of deer that lives in it, and I actually saw one on my next visit, but was unable to get a pic. I also saw raptors flying overhead, so there must be food for them in the cemetery.  To maintain the status quo of conservation, the grass is cut 6 times a year. The gatehouse/office is a very pretty building, although it must have been somewhat of a squeeze when it came to navigating through here with a horse drawn hearse.

 

And while my pics show sunlight, that only happened after I had completed photographing most of the graves I was after! The cemetery is actually quite a nice one, with lots of pre 1900 headstones in it. Parts are as wild as some of the wilder ones that I have seen, but generally it was a pleasant place to gravehunt in. I managed to get most of the graves I was after except for 43. I also found some private memorials that I have submitted, and these are equally important as they often contain the only physical grave that there is if a body was not recovered from the battlefield. (I have since been able to add an additional 24 graves from the list to my tally, as well as 8 more private memorials.)

Then it was time to head off to my next destination which was back in the direction I had come from but via London Road.

The "Swimming Bath"

The “Swimming Bath”

 
I had arbitrarily selected suitable places as I saw them mentioned as being worthy of seeing, and naturally everything along the way was a bonus. My first target was St Giles-in-Reading Church, and the second was St Mary-the-Virgin.
St Giles-in-Reading

St Giles-in-Reading

St Mary-the-Virgin

St Mary-the-Virgin

Both were really beautiful buildings with wonderful graveyards that I explored. However, on my way to these buildings I also spotted this beaut which is used by the Polish community.

 
Overall though the area I was walking through had really reverted from a residential area to more of a business area, the grand old houses now occupied by dentists and accountants. The shortage of student accommodation also meant that many properties had been subdivided and now had a new lease on life. 

The Hospital building was magnificent, more reminiscent of a town hall than a hospital.  Like many other buildings from that age it was now probably overwhelmed by the role it had, and it must have been very interesting to see on the inside (although preferably not as a patient).

My meanderings would eventually lead me to the Kennet and Avon Canal which I had first encountered when I visited Bath in 2014, I will admit that the inner workings of the canal did interest me, but I was really lacking the expertise to comment on where I was in the system at the point where I now stood.

Theoretically though, had I followed this portion of the Kennet River I would have come out at the River Thames, and had I followed the Thames would have ended up in London.

The area I was now moving into was where St Mary-the-Virgin was situated, and it was really the last area I wanted to explore before heading home. The church itself was very nice, with a graveyard that seems to be ignored by the public at large who use the path as a thoroughfare, and it is nice to see how these small green spaces have become a part of the community.

The area though is quite busy, with lots of buses and taxis hithering and thithering their collective ways. I paused for lunch and a potty break before taking some last pics and heading for the station (assuming I could find it).

The monument was erected to celebrate Queen Victoria’s 50th year on the throne, and there is a nice statue of her close to the Town Hall.

 

This area of Reading was really nice, the buildings are oldies with a new face, and generally it has much more of a personal feel than the mall close by. Unfortunately for them most malls lack character, and I like character in an area instead of glitz and glamour. Unfortunately though it also means that many older areas become seedy as the inevitable cellphone cover, overpriced fake trainers and junk jewelry businesses move in. But, sometimes I am wrong.

Realistically though, you need to view a lot of these areas as they may have been 100 years ago to fully appreciate a city like Reading, although it would have been tainted by the smog and smoke of industrial progress and transportation. Times have changed, and we are now in a different world and in a different era, but it is nice to see these old survivors of progress still standing next to the chrome and glass of “progress”.

The station awaited, and by 14H40 I was on my way home. 

It had been an interesting morning, I have a better feel for Reading now, and while it is unlikely that I will pass this way again it was nice to be able to look around here. Many years ago when I wanted to move to the UK this town had been the centre where many in IT headed when they arrived here, I don’t know if that is still true, but given its location it is a handy midway point between East and West, and of course access to London. Personally I don’t think I could live here, but I would not mind exploring more of the river system, but somehow that is unlikely to happen.

© DRW 2015-2018. Created  24/02/2015, images migrated 26/04/2016 

Updated: 31/12/2017 — 09:29

Stratfield Mortimer: churchyard of St Mary the Virgin

In my quest to photograph war graves I tend to watch out for churches, and I spotted this church as I went through Mortimer Station on my way to Swindon in January. It was quite a large spire, easily seen and really worth a day trip because it was reasonably easy to get there by train, and with a spot of decent  weather this morning I grabbed my goodies and headed out, catching the local between Basingstoke and Reading.
  
The trip didn’t even take 15 minutes, and by my reckoning if I could grab my pics I could dash back to the station in time for the 11H48 train. After all, there were only 5 CWGC grave to find, how difficult is that?
 
The church is a quick walk away and I was feeling very confident by the the time I got there. 
 
It almost feels as if the church is too big for the rural setting that I was in, although the village of Mortimer is quite a large one if you see it from the aspect of Google Earth. 
The church of St Mary the Virgin was built in 1869 on an old site. It is a large building designed in the early 14th-century style, and consists of a chancel, north chapel, and south organ chamber, over which is a tower. The walls are of squared rubble with external dressings and an internal facing of ashlar and the roofs are tiled. The tower is of three stages and has an octagonal stone spire.The church has a large churchyard with an additional area to the west where modern burials take place. 
  
 
I did a quick look around before starting my search, there was one standard CWGC headstone, but to my dismay the other 4 were all private memorials which made things a bit more complicated. The problem with PM’s are that often their inscriptions are no longer legible or they are obscured by vegetation. To make my life more complicated I was suffering from battery problems with my phone and was not able to connect to CWGC to see what other information there was apart from the names. 
The North side of the church

The North side of the church

Generally the information contained at the CWGC will include a grave number or rough location of the grave (West of church etc.), and if you can access the headstone reports there are often descriptions of the headstone (Large cross with kerb). It is also possible to narrow down a possible area using dates, but that can be hit or miss unless the cemetery is laid out in an orderly fashion. Sometimes you find a poppy cross or a poppy wreath to make your life easier, and sometimes there are badges, regiments or corps mentioned on the tombstones. 
  
I was able to find 3 more graves using names only, although the one was more of a fluke than anything else. I was however missing one grave, and it was listed as being “north of the church” (the area to the left of the church in the image above). This area did not have too many graves, but they were not too legible, and some were totally engulfed by vegetation.  This was not looking good at all.   
 
By now my train had come and gone, and the next one was due at 11H48, which left me time to find what I was after. I was carrying a spare battery for my phone so was able to do a quick change and access the headstone report which narrowed my field down to a “large cross with kerb”. There were not too many of them in this area so it was a case of checking each one.  
 
The second one I found was a possibility but the inscription was totally overgrown, I would have to come back to it after I had checked the remaining crosses with kerbs.  And then I hit paydirt, a large cross which had been toppled was a likely candidate and I was able to read the name after brushing away the leaves. I had found my missing soldier! 
 
The rent was paid, I could take a few more pics then head off to the station. 
 
The church is a pretty one, as oft these country churches are, and it really has an imposing spire. It is probably much bigger than some of the churches in Basingstoke, and I would have loved to see inside of it. Along the south wall there is an area that has been paved with headstones, and I really preferred that to them being used as paths or propped up along the walls.
 
 
And a last mystery was the group of headstones all on their own in one corner of the churchyard, were these non-conformists? or a family plot? I will probably never know.
  
Then I was out the door and heading to the station.  It had been quite a hunt, but I had achieved what I wanted. 
 
On my way back I grabbed a long distance shot, it was a really pretty area and I had 6 other parish churches more or less in this area that I had to get pics from. I was not sure if/when that would happen though, but I just hope that they are not as elusive as these graves were. 
 
I got to the station in time, and shortly afterwards they announced that the train had been cancelled due to a “train fault”. I could not believe it. The next train (which was actually the same train) was only due at 12H48. The same train runs on this short line that goes from Basingstoke, Bramley, Mortimer, Reading West and Reading. And if it is broken nobody goes anywhere. 
 
The station is a pretty building, but sadly the toilets were locked. And, there was nothing to see apart from the lines and the station building. I had 70 minutes to use up and I was cold and hungry. 
  
The big conundrum was that if they did not fix the train, I could be stranded here for even longer than an hour, at which point I would probably have really done my nut.  I was contemplating heading to a nearby restaurant which was advertising Sunday lunch, but I was too scared to use the money I had with me in case I needed to get a taxi home. Finally, after what seemed like hours the train came around the bend before I went around the bend and I was on my way home. 
 
The moral of the story is that it is not always possible to find all the graves you are after, and occasionally you need additional information to back up your search. Not all wartime casualties are buried with a CWGC headstone on their graves, some were buried by their families, and often that family is no longer able to care for the grave which makes it all the more important that we photograph them before it is too late.
 
Oh, and don’t think that your train will always be on time.
 
© DRW 2015-2018. Images migrated 26/04/2016
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 09:35
DR Walker © 2014 -2019. Images are copyright to DR Walker unless otherwise stated. Frontier Theme