When Reading Grabbed Caversham
We all know the saying, if you want to understand the present, first know the past.
The recent decision by Reading Borough Council (RBC) to allow building on Reading Golf Course has made a lot of people wonder about RBC’s overall attitude towards the people who live Caversham and Emmer Green, whether they are Conservative, Green, Labour or LibDem voters. After all, the building development will be bad for everyone.
(There’s more on the building development here:)
That in turn reminded us of this piece, below. It was researched, written and published by us, in 2009, on an earlier version of this website. It is instructive that it could have been written yesterday.
There’s good reason to say the council’s attitude towards all the people of Caversham today has deeper roots that might be imagined.
Caversham Becomes Part Of Reading
Caversham legally became part of Reading and Berkshire on the 9th November, 1911, having previously been part of Oxfordshire. We at the Caversham website firmly believe that this was a black day for Caversham – and that our local area has far more affinity with the villages and culture of South Oxfordshire than with the urban sprawl and planning policies of Reading. Our summary of the background to the annexation of Caversham appears below.
1850 – 1909
Reading was rapidly growing in size and importance during the latter half of the 19th century, with its population more than doubling from 21,500 in 1851 to 59,000 in 1901 – boosted by the industrial expansion of the town. The growth in population meant that new homes were needed for Reading’s workers, and the proximity of the largely undeveloped parish of Caversham to the north of the town presented an enticing prospect for Reading’s industrialists and local politicians.
Improvements to Caversham’s infrastructure had not kept pace with the growth of Reading to the south. A new iron bridge over the Thames at Caversham had opened in 1869 – but it quickly became apparent that it was not large enough to cater for the increasing traffic volumes over the River Thames. There were also problems with Caversham’s utilities – local gas and water services were more expensive than those provided south of the river.
As early as 1887, the Reading Corporation (the precursor of the RBC) had begun lobbying that the Caversham Urban District and civil parish should become a part of Reading. These approaches were rebuffed over the next two decades.
1909 – 1911
Pressure from Reading for an annexation of Caversham gradually grew, culminating in a public inquiry in January 1909, ‘The Proposed Extension of the Boundaries of the County Borough of Reading’. The inquiry was initiated and driven by the Reading Corporation, and included representatives from the Local Government Board, the Corporation and from the Caversham UDC.
The Reading Corporation provided a set of ‘carrots’ to Caversham residents to accompany its demand that the village should become part of the town:
- The prospect of a new, improved Caversham Bridge (which Reading would pay for)
- Better (and cheaper) water and gas utility services for Caversham residents
- Simplified local government – Caversham had been previously controlled by the Caversham UDC, the Oxfordshire County Council and by Henley Board of Guardians – it would now be controlled simply by the Reading Corporation
- The prospect of a tram service in Caversham
The Caversham UDC organised a poll of Caversham residents to accompany the inquiry – which prompted the following interesting response from the Reading Corporation’s legal representation:
“A large majority of owners and occupiers of property in Caversham are opposed to the proposal of the Reading town council. We know now that they have a poll, I think some 925 voted against and 368 in favour, 557 being the majority against. Of course I cannot dissent from the statement that the majority dissent from the proposal, but I hope I shall be able to show that having regard to the great communistic interest that there is a very good reason for over-riding the decision of the majority.”
In other words, the Reading Corporation was quite prepared to ignore the large majority of Caversham voters opposed to the village becoming part of Reading – to a large extent it appears that the public inquiry was a done deal. (There are distinct echoes here with the RBC’s proposals for a one-way IDR nearly a century later.)
The Public Inquiry concluded with a recommendation that Caversham should become part of Reading, and a bill was introduced into the House of Commons in 1910: ‘A Bill to Confirm a Provisional Order of the Local Government Board relating to Reading.’
The passage of the Bill through the Commons was accompanied by a petition from 542 property-owning Caversham residents: ‘Petition from Caversham Against Proposed Boundary Extension, 1910’. They argued that:
- Half of the parish of Caversham was woodland and agricultural land – “which would derive no benefit from municipal government”
- Caversham was naturally independent of Reading – being separated by the Thames and also being in a different county.
- Rates for Caversham residents would rise, owing to the Reading borough’s costs and debts being large in comparison to those of the village.
- The Caversham UDC area was already economically and satisfactorily administered – in effect, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
- In summary, the petitioners said: “(we) submit that no public necessity can be shown to justify the proposed inclusion of the parish of Caversham in the borough”.
The petition fell on deaf ears, however. The Reading (Extension) Order 1911 came into operation 9th November 1911, and extended Berkshire county borough to include: ‘Caversham Urban District and Civil Parish, Oxon’. Two new wards of Reading were formed – Caversham East and Caversham West. By the same order, Caversham was transferred from Oxford Administrative County to Berkshire Administrative County and from Henley Union to Reading Union.
The concerns of local residents that the character of Caversham would be transformed upon becoming part of Reading were to a large extent realised in the years after 1911 – particularly with the mass programme of house building that began in the 1920s, coinciding with the opening of the new Reading Bridge (1923) and the replacement Caversham Bridge (1926). The largely rural character of Caversham was to vanish, with the village losing its independence and being viewed by its new political masters as just a northern suburb of Reading.