Dr David Peacock, the well known Newbury historian, gave the meeting an interesting talk on Victorian Newbury. As it is too extensive subject to cover in one evening, the main focus was the later part of that period from the 1870’s to 1901. A taste of what we learnt follows.
The main traders in Newbury and area at this time were Corn and Coal Merchants and Brewers. They were supported by the Kennet and Avon canal which was still very much a going concern in the 1870’s. Their goods arrived at Newbury Wharf, where the present West Berks Museum was a storage area, along with other large barns. Paintings by local artists such as Victor Corden provide evidence for these Victorian scenes. As the century advanced the advertisements in the local directories and newspapers show how they moved premises as the railway network spread. Many of these prominent business men, such as Henry Flint coal merchant, rose up to become town councillors, JP’s and Newbury Mayor’s .
There were eight local breweries at one time these gradually merged together over the years finally becoming part of Courage. Several of these brewery buildings can still be identified around the town. Alongside all this alcohol productions there was the huge rise in the Temperance Movement all over the country. This was greatly supported by all the churches and most of the local villages had a Temperance Society. This was a mass movement holding large processions and meetings of which we saw photographic evidence. The Temperance Hall in Northcroft Lane was opened in 1875 and some of their slogan can still be read in the engraved stonework on the building. The movement encouraged the opening of coffee houses and mineral water companies thrived at this time. Bottles from both local breweries and mineral water companies can be seen at West Berks Museum.
There was a sense of reform and public services. Hospitals, schools, gas, water and sewage works were all enthusiastically tackled by these confident and active Victorians. The well to do middle classes built themselves bigger and better houses. Local charities had become corrupt in the Georgian era many had “lost” large sums of money, these were shaken up and many of the local almshouses were moved rebuilt or updated.
The local architect James Money was responsible for many of the new almshouses and many other local landmarks in his career of 50 years. These varied from the everyday and ordinary to more striking designs like the Phoenix Brewery, Oddfellows Hall and Hungerford and Newbury Town Halls These were mostly executed in local bricks and have a quietly pleasing elegance, many are still in evidence today although sometimes it is necessary to look upward..
In 1877 Queen Victoria’s Jubilee was celebrated. The programme declares the procession was lead by the Stockcross Brass Band, this was part of the Stockcross Working Men’s Club. The Queen’s death in 1901 was marked by the restoration of the old Cloth Hall making it into a museum and art gallery, a plan led by the Mayor at that time John Rankin.
As time went on more changes came. The safety bicycle arrived replacing the penny farthing and making it easier for women to take to two wheels much to outrage of some. Gertrude Bacon, from Cold Ash, was one of these daring young ladies. She is possibly the first woman in the country to take to the air in the early pioneering days of flight.
Another local celebrity was the circus owner ” Lord ” George Sanger who gave Newbury the Queen Victoria statue and lions on the spot in the market place where his father had had a stall. This monument has led a varied life but is, for the moment, settled in place in Victoria Park.
There were many and various changes in society in this late Victorian period and we just touched on a few of them.