The industrial history of Katesgrove

The following is mainly extracted from the book “Waterloo Sunrise”, edited by Julie Wickham and Mike Cox. Illustrations by Jan Tait. This article was kindly contributed by Adam Harrington of The Whitley Pump.

The Sailcloth Factory

The civic and industrial revolution increased in intensity after the external shock of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Musgrave Lamb’s sailcloth factory in Reading’s industrial estate manufactured so much sailcloth for the Royal Navy that it was said that the Battle of Trafalgar was won in Katesgrove. The cloth was noted for its strength and whiteness. (Petyt 1993)

The Tannery

The Tannery was probably located towards the town end of Katesgrove Lane between the River Kennet and the Hook and Tackle, perhaps centred on the present pedestrian underpass under what is now the Inner Distribution Road. It was notorious for the strong smell of the hides and processing chemicals.

An Isolation Hospital for infectious diseases was on the island where the Anchorage now stands, just below County Lock.

The Ironworks

The Reading Ironworks was founded in 1818 by Barrett, Exall and Andrewes and dominated the area for 70 years. It went into liquidation in 1888 during the agricultural slump. It occupied a total of 12 acres of land, some to the east and some to the west of the Kennet. It was one of the largest suppliers of agricultural machinery in Britain, with 360 employees. “But for the fact of its closure, Katesgrove might have added to its Trafalgar fame by housing one of the most important engineering works in the south of England” (Petyt 1993).

In 1838 Isambard Kingdom Brunel loaned the company £1500 as capital for them to provide ironwork for his new railway which would link Bristol and London via Reading. The loan was repaid 2 years later when the line opened.

They displayed many items at the Great Exhibition of 1851, including a steam-driven biscuit machine. William Exall designed and supplied the original biscuit-making plant for George Palmer. Together they created the first continuously-running machinery for the biscuit-making industry. (Reading Local Studies Library).

The Brick Kilns

There were 3 brick kilns in the area, two on the eastern side of Elgar Road. Going south, Mr Waugh’s (or Katesgrove) Kiln was just to the south of Alpine Street. The other was Waterloo Kiln, owned my Messrs Poulton and Son, which was on what is now the Robert Cort site (Industrial Estate) on Elgar Road South. The third, Rose Kiln, which was owned by Mr Rose was further out near Rose Kiln Lane.

Waterloo Kiln made Adamantine Brick, sand-faced facing bricks, silver-grey facing bricks and red-brick enhancements. Mr Poulton lived in Milman Road, in a house called “Kingsclere” and his father-in-law lived in a house called “Highclere”. Both houses are still there.

The Jam Factory

The Co-op Jam Factory was on the west bank of the Kennet, across the river from where Waterloo Meadows Children’s Centre is now. A large number of its employees were Katesgrove residents. It was in operation until 1968, and had its own railway sidings.