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The easiest way of finding your way to the Town Hall is to enter Marks and Spencer at the Broad Street end, come out at the rear of the store and its there right in front of you – just behind the pedestrianised area. It looks like many Victorian Town Halls – big, and imposing. The building is built of grey and red brick and has just finished being refurbished. The Town Hall started life back in 1786 when the Victoria Hall designed by Charles Poulton was opened as a purpose built Town Hall. In 1864, the Father Willis organ was installed in what is now the Concert Hall. This was followed in 1876 by the new Council Chambers and a clock tower designed by Alfred Waterhouse. The clock tower bears a passing resemblance to the clock tower out of Trumpton! The Town Hall was further expanded in 1882 when the Museum, library and Concert Hall were added. The final piece was added in 1897 with the Art Gallery and Library reading room. With the growth in Council functions, a new building was sought and in 1975 the new Civic offices were built next to the Reading Hexagon. In 1986, the library finally moved out of the Town Hall to a new building in Kings Road just down from Jackson’s. With the building being relatively empty, there was much talk of demolishing the Town Hall in the 1970’s – but it was saved from demolition and jointly refurbished between 1986 and 2000 by the Borough Council and the Lottery fund. Nowadays, the Town Hall is a Grade 2 listed building and houses: · The Museum of Reading · The Conference Centre · Concert Hall · Tourist Information Centre · 3B’s Café bar The largest room in the building is the concert hall, which can seat up to 780 people. It has a very high ceiling and the Father Willis organ at one end. It is used by small orchestras and for lectures and large gatherings. The Museum of Reading has 12 galleries on 3 levels together
with a museum shop. You enter the museum from the refurbished reception area where they have retained the original plum coloured tiled floor. The best thing about visiting the museum is that it is free. Its usually open from 10am to 4pm though fuller details can be obtained from the museum website which is www.readingmuseum.org.uk. The ground floor of the museum contains a selection of artefacts, which demonstrate how Reading has developed over the years. These include plans of the Inner Distribution Road, which for many years went nowhere (there was a missing piece on the flyover!), information about the now demolished Reading Abbey and the Civil War castle in Forbury Gardens. There are even a couple of seats from the now demolished Elm Park football ground! On the second floor can be found a copy of the Bayeux tapestry. This copy was made in 1885 by the Leek embroiders and exhibited around the country. It was later sold to Reading in the early 1890’s who restored it. I think it’s a full size copy. Why go to Bayeux when you can come to Reading to see it for free! ** STOP PRESS ** After 100+ years - Leek's Council want their tapestry back. Reading have responded by saying they have spent a fortune on cabinets etc to hang the tapestry and they are hardly going to give it back after putting in that amount of investment ! On the next floor is the John Madejski Art Gallery named after the same chap whose stadium is now used by Reading FC and London Irish. John made his millions with Auto Trader and is a modern day equivalent of the Victorian benefactors who funded new parks and schools from their pockets. There is also an area describing the Roman town of Silchester (south west of Reading). This contains models and artefacts from the site. To the rear of this floor is the Huntley and Palmers Gallery. From their creation in the 1820’s until their departure in the late 1980’s, Huntley and Palmer employed a
huge number of people churning out biscuits. In the museum can be found a huge range of products, biscuit tins and drawings of the buildings they owned. The Head Office in Reading was on the Kings Road backing onto the canal. It has since been knocked down and replaced with a Prudential building. There is also a visitor’s book signed by Oscar Wilde who 3 years later in 1895 was arrested and put into Reading prison. The Museum is not bad but could be better. The number and range of artefacts is limited as is the space. The Town Hall is an impressive building and has been carefully restored. If you have a bit of time free following a visit to Marks and Sparks or have an hour to kill – give the museum a visit. It’s free – one of the few things in life, which is nowadays. Once you have wandered around the museum, grab a coffee in the Café Bar.