If you’re looking for an alternative things to do in Reading go for a walk along Oxford Road, where cultures and faiths meet.
Reading’s Oxford Road may look a bit messy and neglected in some places but don’t judge the book by its cover. If the only thing that stands out at first is bright signs of small shops selling all sorts of things, look beneath the surface. You’ll discover interesting history of this road, places that speak of it and businesses worth visiting. Here are the highlights that make Oxford Road worth visiting.
The first great thing about this walk is that you don’t need to turn anywhere. It’s long (1045 house numbers!) straight forward route. There’s plenty to see in the streets off the Oxford Road but I’ll leave them for another walk.
The best bits: Bridge Hall
It’s been hard to decide which building or place on Oxford Road is my favourite. As you walk you’ll stumble upon something interesting almost all the time. I had to have my camera all the time in hand not to miss a thing – an old inscription, a house or a curiosity.
Nevertheless, two buildings or what remained of them stood out to me. First one is Bridge Hall near West Reading railway station and the other one is Battle Hospital.
Bridge Hall is an inconspicuous (I think it’s becoming my favourite word) old building. It attracted my attention, because of bright red door and a board that says it’s dangerous to enter the building. It gave me a hint that it must’ve been used for something, before it permanently closed.
Indeed it was. The hall was originally designed in 1890 as an assembly room for Reading’s Open Brethren. In 1949 Reading Judo Club chose it as its gym. That’s why local residents is still call the hall ‘Judo Hall’. More recently local organisations and churches used it for different events. In February the hall has been put out on the market. According to the article published on GetReading.com, some organisations are interested in buying it. However, so far nothing has happened and the hall is unused. I’m really looking forward to seeing it in use again. I hope it’ll serve the people of Reading in a creative ways.
The best bits: Battle Hospital
The other of my favourites is Battle Hospital with adjacent Battle Terrace and Battle Library. Battle Hospital had been built in 1867 as a Reading Union workhouse, a place where those unable to support themselves were given accommodation and employment. It became a hospital some 20 years later. I’m pretty sure that the Battle Terrace was built for the hospital workers and the library was supposed to be their entertainment. Hospital closed down in 2005 and only the gate remains. It doesn’t give an idea how big the building was. It used to cover the area which is currently occupied by Tesco and a new housing estate. Oxford Road Community Centre has its home in one of the buildings.
As you walk along Oxford Road you’ll pass different churches and an Islamic Centre. In fact, golden dome of Abu Bakr Islamic Centre is like a symbol of Oxford Road. It’s visible from a distance and can point a visitor to a right direction at any time. Abu Bakr Islamic centre serves about 10,000 Muslims living in Reading as a place of worship, social interaction and Madrasa – Islamic school for young boys.
There’re some other places of worship that attracted my attention – Holy Trinity Church, because of its secret garden and architecture, Christadelphian Church, because of its name and LifeSpring Church at the Pavillion, which was a cinema before.
Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity Church is at the beginning of the walk, if you come from town centre. I always look at its garden. It reminds of a secret garden. I wish I could enter it and see what’s behind old rusty gate. I also like to look at the church’s architecture, especially big wooden door. The building looks to me like an oasis of peace in the middle of very busy road. I wish though it was more inviting to passers-by. In fact, I’ve never seen it open despite it being a working church. It’s a shame, because it could draw visitors to this part of Reading. It’s interesting to know that it was the first parish church in England to be photographed. William Henry Fox Talbot, pioneer of modern photography who lived in the area in mid 19th century, took those historic pictures.
I’ve never before heard of Christadelphian Church until I came to Oxford Road. It has one of its fellowships there. I noticed their building on one occasion and I got interested, because of the name. It comes from Greek ‘Brethren in Christ’. They have some differences from mainstream Christianity but their main difference is to solely rely on Bible and follow the style of 1st century Christianity. You can read more about them on Wikipedia or on their official website.
Home to… Royal Meteorological Society
Oxford Road is home to different interesting institutions, like Royal Meteorological Society. It’s the only of royal societies with offices in Reading and one of a few with office outside of London. RMetS serves their members as well as organises events open to the public. Some of them, like Amateur Meteorologists’ Conference, take place at the University of Reading while others are organised around the country – in Manchester, Birmingham and London. If you’re interested in climate change and weather RMetS’s website is worth visiting.
Home to… the Oddfellows
Another organisation that I came across on Oxford Road is the Order of the Oddfellows. When I read the word order I imagine knights on the horses, rules of honour and so on. Or I think about 18th century free masonry lodges. However the today’s Oddfellows is rather different from that. It’s basically a fraternity or a society – group of people who want to support each other and others to. Their main focus is philanthropy and charity.
Have a break
Tired? Let’s take a break here and we’ll finish the walk next week. There’re more interesting places and buildings waiting ahead, so there’s no point to rush. Sit down at Workhouse Coffee and enjoy a cuppa and one of their delicious cakes or pastries.
I’ve never been to this branch but visited their shop on Kings Road. I’m sure their coffee, pastries and cakes are as good in west Reading too. The décor of this branch is a bit more random than in town centre but I think it perfectly suits the surroundings.
To be continued… visit the blog next Thursday for the second part of this exciting walk.
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