East Thorpe House, Heritage Open Days 2022

This morning’s Heritage Open Day visit almost didn’t happen for me when my bus in to town was late (unusually very late. Most Reading Buses are incredibly punctual). I emailed to say that I was going to be delayed and ran from the bus stop to the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) where we were meeting. The event had already started but I only seemed to have missed a bit of the preamble.

I was at MERL (which is usualy closed on a Mondays) because it is built around the house of Alfred Palmer of Huntely and Palmer biscuits fame. Rather than take us around the museum we were shown the interesting points of the house itself, which actually only forms a very small part of the museum.

The house, built 1882, now sits on a busy road opposite the Royal Berkshire Hospital but when it sent up there was nothing but the fields of Redlands Farm which is somewhat hard to imagine.

Showing the amount of money in biscuits Palmer commisined fashionable architect Alfred Waterhouse who had also been responsible for other grand builds such as the National history museum. East Thorpe was much more modest being a home for Plamer, his wife and two childern (plus cook, scullery maid, gardener, butler, housekeeper, coachmen and nursey nurse at al).

The house had four staff bedrooms in the top floor and, unusually for the time a family bathroom when most had to make do with an outhouse and tin bath. Outside there is some lovely detailing on the brick work of the building with specially fired terracotta blocks adding detailing around the doors and windows. It also has a large garden which then included tennis courts and a separate small dwelling adjacent for the butler and housekeeper. Given that this was before cars there was also a large stable block with stabling for six horses and two carriages.

Despite this being a lovely family home it wasn’t the only place that Palmer owned and after only eight years he moved the family from East Thorpe to Wokefield Park down the road as he wanted to be more in the countryside.

It was then rented out in until 1911 after which it became a halls of residence for the university before finally becoming the permament home of MERL in 2005.

Finally, we were taken inside to the rooms that would have originally been the living and dinning rooms which now are the public reading rooms. Here was laid out a number of documents related to Huntley and Palmers. The most fascinating of which was a site plan of the factory. I was able to look down and see the sole remaining building on Kings Road and marvel and how big it all was in its day.

Once again the guide were superb and very generious with their time allowing us to get a great understanding of the house.

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