Reading Museum (run by the Reading Museum Service) is a museum of the history of the town of Reading, in the English county of Berkshire, and the surrounding area. It is accommodated within Reading Town Hall, and contains galleries describing the history of Reading and its related industries, a gallery of artefacts discovered during the excavations of Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester Roman Town), a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry and an art collection. Reading Town Hall was built in several phases between 1786 and 1897, although the principal facade was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1875. In 1879, the foundation stone was laid for a new wing containing a library and museum, and the museum duly opened in 1883. Three art galleries were added in further extension in 1897. In 1975, the civic offices moved out of the Town Hall, to Reading Civic Centre followed in 1985 by the Reading Central Library, leaving only the museum and concert hall in use. After some debate, plans to demolish the Town Hall and replace it with a new cultural centre were dropped, and in 1986 refurbishment of the building started.
he first gallery you come to in the Museum, Reading: People and Place, explores Reading's long history, from the present day back to its origins as a Saxon settlement in the 6th century. Here you can find out how Reading people lived in the past and how both famous and ordinary men and women made the town we know today. The gallery features clips from oral history interviews with local people, interactive displays and a rich mix of real objects. It includes finds from Reading Abbey, a stunning 1575 portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, seats from the Elm Park stadium and the huge 17th century gates of the original Oracle workhouse. A whole new area explores Reading's recent history since the Second World War. This gallery also has three cases used for small-scale temporary displays of objects from the Museum collections or on loan from community groups. Our Community Cases have recently housed displays on the Jackson's Department Store, the Girl Guides and Reading Gaol.
The exciting, interactive Box Room gallery provides the opportunity to handle real objects from the Museum's diverse collections. Visitors are encouraged to explore first hand such questions as: What stories can objects tell us? What clues can we find from the telltale marks on objects? Who are the people behind the objects? Museum Surgery takes place in the Box Room every Thursday from 12.00pm to 4.00pm. Visitors can discover more about the collections, or ask for help in identifying interesting objects (NB no valuations can be given). There is also a display of items that have been found in local gardens to help you identify things you have discovered for yourself, and a video macroscope you can use to get a closer view. The Museum's School Loans Service is based in this gallery and visitors can see the loans boxes that give the gallery its name on their shelves in open storage. There is often a box or two out on the table in the gallery for you to explore.
In the Atrium huge mosaics from the abandoned Roman town near Silchester are displayed in this naturally lit space, an ideal spot to pause and relax on your visit. Here you can contemplate the most complete mosaics from the Roman town and enjoy the modern ceramics of Alan Caiger-Smith, produced at the Aldermaston Pottery. Caiger-Smith was inspired by the Silchester collection when he visited Reading Museum as a child in the 1950s. A glass lift runs through the space, giving excellent views of the mosaics and the ceramics mounted high on the walls.
The full-size copy of the Bayeux Tapestry came to Reading in 1895. It was bought for the town by Arthur Hill, a former Mayor of Reading and was one of the first exhibits in the new Art Gallery of the Museum, which opened in 1897. The replica was the idea of Elizabeth Wardle, an accomplished embroideress and the wife of Staffordshire silk-dyer Thomas Wardle. After viewing a set of hand-coloured photographs of the eleventh century original, Elizabeth decided to make a full size replica ‘so that England should have a copy of its own’. Thomas produced woollen yarns dyed to match the originals and in 1885 thirty-five ladies of the Leek Embroidery Society began work on the ‘tapestry’ (in fact an embroidery). Work was completed in about a year. The replica was exhibited across Britain, and travelled abroad to the USA and Germany, before finding its final home in Reading. The Wardles made great efforts to ensure that their copy was as authentic as possible by using the right dyes, wools and stitches. However, there are some uniquely Victorian additions to the copy. In the borders of the original there are several naked men but in the copy their modesty has been protected! The ladies of Leek were not responsible for these prudish alterations; they had simply copied the details from hand-coloured photographs that had been ‘cleaned up’ by the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert). The Reading copy is well-travelled, between 1928 and 1986 the tapestry was lent for exhibitions at museums and galleries across the UK and worldwide, including South Africa. In 1966 it was displayed at Battle Abbey to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. In 1993 the current purpose-built gallery was created so it could be permanently displayed as a whole at Reading Museum for the first time since it was acquired.
The Green Space gallery traces the development of Reading's environment, landscape and wildlife, using hundreds of geology and natural history specimens. The focal point is a royal red deer stag, donated to the Museum by King George V from the herd at Windsor Great Park. Follow the story of our local environment from 400 million years ago to the present day. Find out: What was here before people existed. How Reading's landscape and environment developed. How the landscape has been influenced by humans since the Stone Age. What animals and plants live around Reading today. Before television nature programmes and cheap travel, museum collections had a vital role in bringing wildlife and the natural world to people and in the early days, with no other museums nearby, they collected widely within Berkshire and adjacent counties, Britain and overseas. Today, collecting focuses on recording Reading’s natural environment. Collections still provide a unique opportunity to examine animals at close quarters, and many specimens are used in the school loans boxes and provide models for artists. Museum collections are also an irreplaceable resource for scientists studying historical changes in species distribution or genetic diversity. This can help people understand why species might have declined, contributing to future conservation efforts.
The collection contains an enormous diversity of material, from Siberian minerals to Kennet Valley midges. Although they no longer have the exotic large mammals given by early collectors, one existing highlight is a representative group of British deer. Most of these are on display in the Green Space gallery, including an impressive red deer stag from the royal herd at Windsor. King George V presented this in 1911, together with a hind and a calf. The deer were mounted by the famous taxidermy firm Rowland Ward of London, who were specialists in big game trophies. ‘Bertie’, the badger in the Box Room, is another firm favourite with many of the visitors. The significant entomology collection consists of 150,000 insect specimens that reflect the biodiversity and environment of Reading, Berkshire and neighbouring counties. The collection also reflects the interests of local collectors who donated specimens from elsewhere in Britain, Europe, India and Africa. Butterflies and moths make up about half of the insect collection, but beetles, bugs, flies, wasps, bees, ants, cockroaches, grasshoppers, earwigs, dragonflies and other groups are also represented. The geological collections are divided into Mineralogy, Palaeontology (fossils), and Petrology/Stratigraphy (rocks). There is good local material but much is from elsewhere in Britain and overseas, including many high quality specimens collected in the 19th century. The fossil collection is the largest: over half the geological specimens catalogued are fossils
Huntley & Palmers biscuits are one of the 'three Bs’ for which Reading was famous, the others being beer from Simond's brewery and bulbs from Sutton's Seeds. The Museum's collection has nearly 7000 items including biscuit tins, photographs, oral histories, films and advertising ephemera dating from 1822 to the 1980s, and continues to collect material. Huntley & Palmers started life in 1822 as a small bakery founded by Thomas Huntley in London Street. George Palmer, who was a distant Quaker cousin, entered into partnership with Thomas Huntley in 1841. They renamed the company Huntley & Palmer. George was ambitious and in 1846 he opened a large factory on Kings Road. With the Palmer family in control, Huntley & Palmers became the world's largest biscuit manufacturer by 1900. The company employed over 5,000 people. As a result Reading became known as the 'biscuit town' - even the town's football club was nicknamed the 'biscuit men'. The factory remained a major employer in Reading until 1976 when production moved to Liverpool. The company was also famous for its innovative and decorative biscuit tins, made in Reading by its sister company Huntley, Boorne & Stevens. In 1911 they even supplied tinned biscuits to Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic.
Telling the story of Reading's two rivers - the Kennet and the Thames - the Riverside Museum occupies two former industrial buildings, the Screen House and the Turbine House. The Screen House displays the beautifulk gypsy caravan built by Reading firm Dunton and Sons to the 'Ledge' design, and a video about gypsy life. You can also see a variety of objects illustrating life by the river, from stuffed fish to regatta tickets, and including a medieval mill wheel found during excavations at the site of The Oracle shopping centre. A hands-on interactive shows how the mill wheel worked. The Turbine House is a unique building that spans the Kennet, with waterside views towards the town centre. It houses preserved turbine machinery and hosts occasional summertime art exhibitions and events. A walking map between Reading Museum and the Riverside Museum is available for download. The museum is wheelchair accessible.
Access for all visitors is via the main entrance on Blagrave Street (with automatic opening doors). Please be aware there is a gentle slope down to the reception. The Museum entrance is then accessed via a short flight of stairs or by a ramp (with handrails). You will find a fully accessible toilet directly behind the reception. Please ask the member of staff on duty at reception for a radar key to access this. There are also a number of larger toilets located throughout the building, including on the second floor of the Museum (no radar key required). The galleries are accessible for wheelchair users and those with mobility issues. You will find the lift located on your right as you enter the ground floor of the Museum. The lift takes visitors up to the first and second floors. There is also the main staircase which has handrails on both sides. You will find seating throughout the Museum. They also have portable wooden stools available; please ask museum staff to use these. Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs and Assistance Dogs are welcome in the Museum & Town Hall. The staff are very helpful and informal and will be happy to assist. Magnifying glasses and torches are available for loan, please ask a member of staff. Large print information sheets are available in the temporary exhibitions. They can also run off further gallery information in large print where possible, please just ask.
Thermoform Bats of the Bayeux Tapestry: these are available from the Box Room on the ground floor. Key scenes of the Tapestry have been recreated as a raised image on each bat. The inner handrail around each section of the Tapestry has a raised circle to let visitors know when they reached one of the key scenes. Staff can help you carry these up to the first floor for use with the Tapestry. Audio Guides of the Bayeux Tapestry: these are available from the Box Room and can be used alone or alongside the bats. Key scenes of the Tapestry are explained. The galleries on the first and second floor are signposted with raised signage and Braille. In the Box Room the majority of the objects can be handled. Please ask a member of staff if you would like to explore one of the Loans boxes. These contain items of the collection that go out to schools to be handled in the classroom. In the Green space gallery you will also find a series of small carved wooden 'pictures' - designed to be touched. You will also find a tactile geographical map on display in this gallery.
Location : Reading Museum & Town Hall, Blagrave Street, Reading, Berkshire RG1 1QH
Transport : Reading (National Rail) then 10 minutes. Bus Routes : 17, 1 Jet Black, Lime 2 and 2A, Community Link 18, 28 and 28A stop outside.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 18:00; Closed October to March
Tickets : Free
Tel. : 0118 937 3400