Friends Studies


A wall in the Gardens has features which puzzle everyone, including Susan Campbell of the Historic Gardens Network, an expert on kitchen garden walls, who says that it is the oddest one she has ever seen.  This is the western boundary wall of the allotments which can best be seen from The Warren between the churchyard path and the Reading Canoe Club gate.  It is not a heated wall that might be expected in a kitchen garden.  Susan's comment sent a group of the Friends off on a search for an explanation.  Vickie Abel and Tim and Gill Clark went to museums and libraries, asked the experts, including John Evans, looked at other gardens with walls and thought about why an owner might want or need to build a special system into the buttresses along the wall.  With help from the Head Gardener, Will Paice, they, with Geoffrey Pearce and Dave Kenny measured and counted, looked at the brickwork, did a bit of excavation and a lot of weeding and clearing and Les Gibson photographed what they found as they progressed.  Finally Gill Clark wrote up their findings and sent them with photographs to the journals and newsletters of historic garden specialist groups for publication.  She wrote:

In Victorian times, the wall had a 150 ft peach house on its inner side and 22 equally spaced buttresses outside, continuing the 220 ft length of the wall.  Brickwork is of 19th century machine-made bricks.  The buttresses may have been additions or have been altered; the lower parts are mortared, but not keyed into the wall.  Through each buttress, offset to the left, runs a vertical pipe of glazed earthenware, topped by a circular terracotta 'chimney pot' that widens at its rim and tucks under the wall coping.  Two-thirds down the left side of each buttress is an inlet/outlet tube that feeds into the pipe or is the outflow from it.

Accumulated soil was removed from the pipe to the level of the side arm and washed out from the top.  The way further is blocked by brick rubble or this may be the bottom of the pipe.  There is no evidence of a linkage between buttresses and no sign on the wall of fire as a source of heat.  There is no ducting inside the wall.  Neither is there visible pipe work or fixtures on the outside or inside of the wall.

What was the system for and how did it work over the entire length of the garden wall?  It is a puzzle.  All suggestions welcome!


Black History

Reading's early black history (Reading Museum blog in March 2021 ( sparked considerable interest. The blog mentions Dorothy Blake, a black nurse whose portrait hung in The Rectory (as Caversham Court was known in the 18th century).  This was the period when the Loveday family lived in the house.  The portrait of Dorothy is mentioned in the family diaries, 'though we have no further evidence that she lived in Caversham.

Dorothy was said to have been originally "given to one of John Loveday's aunts by a Guinea Captain", presumably the captain of a ship trading with West Africa.  We know that the aunt, Lady Ann Hopkins, left a legacy to provide for the nurse, who died in 1780.  Dorothy must have been the same black servant  who was recorded as being baptised in 1728 at St Mary's Church, Leyton, who was listed as maid servant to Sir Richard Hopkins of Lea Hall, off Capworth Street,.

Sir Richard Hopkins was governer of Royal Exchange Assurance and a sub-governer of the South Sea Company after the 'bubble burst'. The Whig member of parliament for the City of London in 1724-27, Hopkins died in 1736, an immensely wealthy man with extensive property interests in England.

The Loveday Family of Caversham

The Loveday family of Caversham lived a much more modest lifestyle to Sir Richard Hopkins.  Thomas Loveday, goldsmith, banker and Freeman of the City of London, left the capital in 1665 to escape the plague.  He rented a substantial, 'though not particularly grand house, at that time in Oxfordshire.  The Caversham rectory would be the family home for over a century.

When Thomas died in 1681, the probate documents listed all the contents of the house, garden and workshop and also listed his many debtors and creditors.  Among the former were ships' captains and owners, to whom Loveday lent money on security of a part of the ships' cargo: men such as Benjamin Simonds who in 1664 borrowed £130 on security of a quarter of the ship 'Affrican Frigott'.  Captain Simonds belonged to the Royal African Company which was set up in 1660 and was granted monopoly over English trade with the west coast of Africa. Originally intended to exploit the gold fields of the Gambia River, the company later became involved in what was known as the triangular trade: arms, textiles and wine were shipped from Europe to Africa, slaves from Africa to the Americas, and sugar, coffee and tobacco  from the Americas to Europe.  Thanks to the banking activities, Thomas Loveday left his family financially secure: his widow Mary (Thomas' third wife) made a good living out of property rents and selling the produce from the Caversham estate, including fruit grown in the kitchen garden and orchard.  We know that Mary Loveday lived in the main Caversham house and rented out another, and that in 1702 her income from the estate was £24/annum, including £10 or £12 from the sale of fruit from her 60 apricot trees.  Estimating the modern day equivalent is notoriously tricky: the Measuring Wealth website puts the relative income value of £24 in 1702 at around £60,000 by 2020 whilst the National Archives' currency converter gives a purchasing power of the sum of £2,567.60.

Thomas Loveday Senior's son, also Thomas, made an advantageous match, marrying Sarah Lethieullier, the daughter of a wealthy family of merchants trading with the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere.  Sarah's sister Ann, was married to Sir Richard Hopkins, the city merchant to whom Dorothy Blake was maid servant (see above).  The son of Thomas Junior and Sarah, John Loveday (1711-1789) was an antiquarian scholar who enthusiastically toured the landed estates of Britain over the course of decades, noting in his extensive diaries details of art works in the owners' collections.  The. Loveday family left The Rectory for Williamscote in Oxfordshire at the very end of the 18th century, in 1799.

The Simonds Family

In the 19th century, the family who lived in the Old Rectory, the Simonds family, established their wealth, again through banking and through brewing.  In 1813 Simonds Brewey won an important contract to supply beer to The Royal Military  College, Sandhurst.  Simonds were a pioneer of pale ale in the 1830's, exporting India pale ale to the British Army in India.  When the British Army moved to Aldershot, Simonds again gained the contract in 1882.  Overseas branches were formed to deal with the army's needs in such places as Malta and Gibraltar, parts of the expanding British Empire.

The Loveday and Simonds families were part of the economy of England in the 17th to the 19th centuries, an economy based upon wealth originally created by trade, some of it to the slave trade, with lands in what was to beome the British Empire, and elsewhere around the globe

John Loveday of Caversham

A paper on John Loveday was published in the Berkshire Family Historian (Volume 41, September 2017) the journal of the  Berkshire Family History Society.  

Loveday Family Documents

Mr and Mrs John Markham, descendants of the Loveday family, presented several family documents and letters to the County Archivist Mark Stevens of the Berkshire Records Office in April.  Once the documents are catalouged The Friends will be able to view them and also see them online.

The Markhams also presented the original of the Barbara Seton drawing of the 'Striped House' to Elaine Blake, Exhibitions Curator at Reading Museum.  The Friends will be welcome to view the drawing at the museum once it has been cleaned and curated.

The Caversham Court Timeline

Our historian, Dr Gill Clark, has brought together our knowledge of Caversham Court and the families who lived there in its long and fascinating history.  This research is summarised on a timeline extending from the 12th century to today. It will shortly be online from the website of the Berkshire Record Office.