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The ‘Four Bs’ of Reading

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Secretaries and Green Keepers of Messrs. Sutton and Sons at the Trial Grounds.

Reading is built upon what is known locally as the ‘three Bs’ - beer, bulbs and biscuits. This refers to three companies H & G Simonds, Huntley & Palmers and Sutton and Sons, which developed from the late 18th Century and continued in the town into the late 20th century. However, Reading is sometimes argued to have had ‘four Bs’ – if S & E Collier Ltd, the town’s renowned brickmakers, is included.

William Blackall Simonds founded ‘Simonds Brewery’ on Broad Street in 1785. The brewery was designed by locally born architect John Soane at Seven Bridges (now Bridge Street). The firm was known by its hop leaf symbol. By 1805, Simonds owned 10 pubs and he even supplied beer to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. When his son, Blackall Simonds, eventually took over the brewery, more pubs were opened. Blackall later went into business with his two younger brothers, Henry and George. When William Blackall Simonds retired in 1834, the brewery became known as H & G Simonds. It was taken over by Courage in 1960, and in 1973 it announced it would move away from the centre of town to Worton Grange next to Junction 11 of the M4. In 1980, the Bridge Street site closed. The Worton Grange site stopped brewing in 2010.

From 1870 until the 1970s, Reading was known as ‘Biscuit Town’ because of the fame of Huntley & Palmers biscuits. The company began when Joseph Huntley opened his own bakery on London Street in 1822 and in 1841 he went into partnership with George Palmer. 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 King's 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 5000 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.

Suttons Seeds was founded in Reading in 1806 by John Sutton. It was initially named the 'House of Sutton' and it supplied corn. The business grew in 1832 when John was joined 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 London Road at Earley. However, in 1976 the company relocated to Torquay, because Reading couldn't provide enough staff and in 1998 the firm moved to Paignton. It is now part of an international seed distribution business called Vilmorin.

Reading’s largest brickmakers were S & E Collier Ltd who were established at Coley in the mid-19th century. By 1870, Colliers had moved to Grovelands in Tilehurst. They operated until 1966. The company was well known for their terracotta and ‘Reading Red’ bricks. Colliers also produced pottery which imitated the form of Roman, Greek and medieval wares. This was marketed as ‘Silchester Ware’, in relation to the nearby historic town of Silchester.

As the 'Four Bs' were such important local industries, providing recreational facilities as well as employing a large part of the town's population, they feature highly in the local newspapers. Their activities and the activities of their associated sports teams and social clubs are well represented in the Reading Chronicle Collection.

See related objects

See related topic: Brick and Tile makers

See related topic: Huntley and Palmers Collection