Reading's Great People


Great People of Reading

Who are the greatest figures connected to Reading in history?

From December 2004 to February 2005 Reading Borough Libraries ran a vote to find out which Reading people of the past are most popular with people today. You could vote by email or paper for anyone connected to Reading who died before 2001. Members of the public could make their own suggestions about people to vote for. After an exciting discussion of the voting at a debate at the central library the results were announced on Feb 22nd. With a total of 273 votes cast the results of this vote are listed here.

This vote was tied in with the libraries recent purchase of the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) which details over three hundred people of national importance who were either born in Reading, lived here, or made a substantial contribution to Reading’s history. There are over fifty thousand biographies in the new DNB, which aims to include anyone who has played a notable role in influencing British life. You can also consult the printed copy of the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in the Biography section on the First Floor of the Central Library. You can read entries via our online subscription to the DNB on the links page of this website. (If you read this page from a PC that is not in Reading Libraries you will need to know your library barcode number.)

Twenty examples from the hundreds in the DNB with Reading connections were listed on the voting form and you can find biographies of these people on this website below alongside those of other local notables not in the DNB. These are a cross section of those connected to Reading including royalty, republicans, entrepreneurs, trade union leaders, poets, priests and suffragettes. This gives you an idea of the wide variety of people who have been connected to Reading throughout history. Some have only a smaller connection to Reading, but are of wider national or worldwide significance and have made Reading's name famous, while others helped make the town what is today.

1st - George Blackall Simonds (1847-1929), Sculptor and Brewer.
Made the Maiwand Lion in the Forbury and the statue of Queen Victoria. Chairman of Simonds Brewery 1910-29. 85 votes

2nd - George Palmer (1818-1897), biscuit manufacturer and MP for Reading.
Made Huntley and Palmers the world’s largest biscuit manufacturer. 43 votes

3rd - Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), writer, dramatist and poet.
Famously imprisoned in Reading Prison. 31 votes

4th - Edith Julia Morley (1875-1964) OBE, literary scholar and suffragette.
The first female professor in Britain who worked at Reading University. 20 votes

5th - King Henry I (1068/9-1135), King of England and lord of Normandy.
Founded Reading Abbey and is buried in Reading. 17 votes

6th - William Marshal, (1146-1219), Earl of Pembroke. Lord Marshal and Regent of England.
One of the greatest of medieval Barons who lived in Caversham.

7th - William Henry Fox-Talbot (1800–77), pioneering photographer.
Made Reading the location one of the world’s first commercial photographic labs. 13 votes.

8th - Blessed Hugh Faringdon (d. 1539), Last Abbot of Reading Abbey.
Catholic Martyr, hung drawn and quartered in the Forbury. 6 votes.

9th - Sutton, Martin Hope (1815-1901), seed merchant.
Made Sutton and Son the world’s largest seed supplier. 4 votes.

The remaining people received 3 or fewer votes.

Addington, Henry, Viscount Sidmouth (1757–1844)
Conservative Prime Minister and Home Secretary. 1 vote.

Blagrave, Daniel (1603-1668?), M.P for Reading and Regicide.
Parliamentarian supporter in the Civil wars and one of the prosecutors of King Charles I. 1 vote.

Cannon, Walter A. Union Leader and Railwayman.
Proposed the 1945 Labour Party Policy for Nationalisation of "the Commanding Heights of Industry". 3 votes

Hives, Ernest Walter, first Baron Hives (1886-1965), aero-engine designer and industrialist.
Developed and produced the Merlin Engine that won the Battle of Britain. 2 votes

Hopkins, Harold Horace (1918–94), physicist and endoscopist lived in Reading.
Developed the modern endoscope used by surgeons to see inside the body. 3 votes.

Kendrick, John (1574-1624), merchant and charitable founder of the first Oracle. 1 vote

Laud, William (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury from Reading.
Vital figure in the outbreak of Civil War. Executed by order of Parliament. 2 votes.

Lean, Sir David Lean (1908 – 1991), film director and producer.
Director of Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago who was educated in Reading. 0 votes.

Martin, Thomas [Tommy] (1916-1987), boxer.
One of Britain’s most successful pre-war black boxers, born in Reading. 1 vote

Mitford, Mary Russell (1787-1865), essayist, dramatist and poet.
One of the nineteenth century’s most popular female authors lived locally. 0 votes.

Newbery, John (1713-67), Reading publisher and bookseller.
Established the publication of literature for children in English. 2 votes.

Quelch, Lorenzo 'Len' (1862-1937)
Pioneering Reading Socialist and Council member. 1 vote.

Talfourd, Sir Thomas Noon (1795-1854), writer, judge, and politician.
MP for Reading who helped establish modern copyright and family law. 2 votes.

Waterhouse, Alfred (1830-1905), architect.
Designed the Natural History Museum and Reading Town Hall. 0 votes

  • Blagrave, John (1561-1611) mathematician, land surveyor and designer of astrolabes and sundials. Lived in Southcote. Biography of John Blagrave at the Royal Berkshire History Website
  • Crawshay [née Yeates], Rose Mary (1828-1907), educationist and feminist. Born in Caversham she married into the Crawshay family of Welsh ironmasters, who owned Caversham Park. She created many educational projects in Wales and championed women’s rights. 1 vote.  
  • Friday, Robin (1952-1990), Footballer (Not in DNB). Voted Reading player of the Millennium by Royals fans in 1999. Played for Reading from 1974-6. 3 votes. Biography of Robin Friday at the Royals website  
  • Isaacs, Rufus Daniel (1860-1935), first Marquess of Reading. Liberal MP for Reading, Viceroy of India (1921-6), Lord Chief Justice (1913-21) and Foreign Secretary. 1 vote. The Columbia Encyclopedia Biography  
  • Marten, Henry (1601/2-1680), Leading Republican and regicide. Parliamentarian Governor of Reading briefly early in the Civil War. 1 vote.  
  • McIlroy, William (Not in DNB) Mayor of Reading. Owned McIlroy’s stores. McIlroy Park is named after him. Suggested by Barbaras Hobbs "Many times mayor of Reading. McIlroy's shop was one of the best on town and it was very sad when the store was closed down. I think some time in the fifties." 2 votes. 
  • Mikardo, Ian. (1908-1193). Labour MP for Reading 1945-59. Influential backbench politician who was Chairman of the Labour party from 1970-1. Mark Drukker of Reading, said "Popular MP. Made Reading famous for his Reading sheets in his election campaigns. Loyal to his background." 'Reading Sheets' are part of the 'Reading system' of canvassing introduced by Mikardo during his campaign to take the Conservative seat of Reading in 1945. The system later adopted by other parties in the UK, and one of the foundations of modern electioneering, divided the electorate into for, against and the undecided. This allowed him to focus energies on getting pro-Labour supporters to the polls and winning over the 'don't knows'. There is an Ian Mikardo High School in Tower Hamlets where he was later MP. Biography of Ian Mikardo
  • 1 vote.  
  • Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) (Not in DNB). Suggested by Mr John Slade and got one vote. “The greatest of all French Poets who lived for a while in Kings Road, Reading. While there he wrote most of ‘Illuminations’ generally considered his greatest work. He is by far the greatest artist to have lived in Reading.” It is now known the twenty year old French Decadent poet lived and worked as a French tutor at 165 Kings Road, from August to December 1874, rather than being at Scarborough at this time as previously thought . ‘Illuminations’, was the last poetic work he ever completed. Biography of Arthur Rimbaud
  • Simonds, Gavin Turnbull, Viscount Simonds (1881-1971), lord chancellor. Born and brought up in Reading in the famous family of local brewers. 2 votes.  
  • Simeon, Rev. Charles (1759-1836), Anglican clergyman. Born and brought up in Reading. Contributed greatly to the evangelical revival in the Church Of England. 1 vote.  
  • Charles Simeon Biography. John Dearing, the first person to vote in the poll, commented on his selection of Simeon: "He was not just "a great contributor to the evangelical revival in the C of E" - he was the most influential person during its second, post-Wesley phase. He was a great preacher who exerted a profound influence on the faith and morals of Cambridge University and by recognising the danger to Evangelicalism from the indifference of the Bishops etc. he safeguarded its future by establish a Trust to acquire administer patronages. It is astonishing a) that he's not in your top twenty and b) that there is no street named after him in Reading! 'A prophet is without honour...'"
  • Smith, Goldwin (1823-1910), noted journalist and historian, born and brought up in Reading though lived much of his life in Canada. 1 vote. Goldwin Smith Biography 
  • Valpy, Richard (1754-1836), Headmaster and reformer of Reading School making it renowned. He educated nine people in the DNB, and is remembered in Reading’s Valpy Street. 1 vote.  
  • Zinzan, Peter (Not in DNB) Owner of Calcot Park and also founded the family after which Zinzan street is named. 3 votes 

There are many other important people from Reading. Go here for a longer list. Other Reading Greats

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