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24 September 2014

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Beer, bulbs and biscuits
Suttons building
The Sutton empire dominated Reading's town centre in the 19th Century.
Picture courtesy of

You've probably heard your parents or grand-parents going on about Reading's famous beer, bulbs and biscuits heritage...


Berkshire Features


Sutton Seeds

Huntley & Palmers

Reading Museum

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In the Victorian Age Reading was famous for 'Reading Sauce'. It was a bit like Worcester sauce and very popular at the time, but when demand declined the company went bust.

Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in Reading Gaol for two years in 1895.

The Huntley & Palmer factory did have one final role to play before it closed down. In 1975 it provided the location for the bar scenes in the Hollywood movie ‘Bugsy Malone’ with Jodie Foster and Scott Baio.

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...well, you don't need to trawl through hundreds of reference books to learn a bit about the history of your town.

We've surfed the pick of the history websites to bring you that need-to-know pub trivia about Reading that'll impress your mates.

OK, first things first, beer is probably the one you're most interested in...

BEER from

William Blackall Simonds (WB Simonds)founded the Simonds Brewery in Broad Street in 1785.

A brew house, designed by locally-born architect John Soane, was built at Severn Bridges, now Bridge Street, and the firm was famous for its hop leaf symbol.

By 1805, Simonds owned 10 pubs and he even supplied beer to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst.

WB Simonds' son, Blackall Simonds, eventually took over the brewery and he opened up more pubs, and went into partnership with his two younger brothers Henry and George.

When their father retired in 1834, the brewery became known as H & G Simonds.

The brewery was taken over by Courage in 1960, and in 1973 it anounced it would move away from the centre of town, to Worton Grange next to Junction 11 of the M4.

The Bridge Street site shut its doors in 1980 when Worton Grange was finally finished.

BULBS from

Sutton Seeds was founded in Reading in 1806, by John Sutton.

It was initially named the 'House of Sutton' and supplied corn.

John was joined in 1832 by his sons Martin Hope and Alfred.

It was then that the business moved to its famous premises in Market Place and they launched the flower and vegetable seed business.

In 1836 Martin Hope became a partner and the 'House of Sutton' became Sutton & Son.

The company continued to expand and in 1873 new offices and warehouses replaced the premises in Market Place.

These new premises were huge and even had their own fire station along with cottages for the firemen, and stables.

In 1962, Suttons moved to state-of-the-art premises on the A4 London Road.

But in 1976 the company relocated to Torquay, because Reading couldn't provide enough staff and in 1998 the firm moved to Paignton.

Now the firm is part of an international seed distribution business called Vilmorin.


From 1870 until the 1970s, Reading was known as ‘Biscuit Town’ because of the fame of Huntley & Palmers biscuits.

Joseph Huntley opened his bakery in London Street, Reading, on the busy London to Bath road.

He would send a boy to sell biscuits to the hungry coach travellers.

As the railways developed, Reading's position on the main line from London to the West Country meant that Huntley & Palmers biscuits could be easily transported around the country.

The opening of the Kings Road factory in 1846 led to a dramatic increase in the number of people employed by the firm.

From 16 workers in 1844, this figure reached 5,000 within 50 years.

This demand for labour contributed to the town’s population growth from 19,000 to over 88,000 in 1911.

By the 1970s the King’s Road factory was felt to be too cramped for necessary modernisation and in 1972 the closure of the factory was announced.

After many years of being run down, biscuit production at Reading was finally discontinued in 1976.





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