Life story retold by Cynthia & Steve Thomas with additional information by Yota Dimitriadi
Alfred Oliver was born on 24 February 1868 at Bishops Cannings in Wiltshire. His father was the school master, church organist and postmaster. He married Mary Sophia Rees at All Saints in Fleet, Hampshire on 1st October 1893. She was born in c1865 in Neath Glamorganshire, Wales, though another census states that she was born on the Briton Ferry, Glamorganshire Wales. Her father was an accountant and his father was recorded as “gentleman”.
Alfred was a tobacconist when married and had a shop in Cross Street, Reading. The shop was about halfway down the street on the left-hand side going down from Friar Street. It consisted of a shop with a dining room behind and living apartments on the first floor. A door at the side of the shop led to the private part of the premises, had a door to a small garden and then into the back courtyard known as Percey Place.
In 1895, Alfred and Mary Sophia had a daughter, Irene B. (Bertha) K. (sometimes recoded as C) Oliver. They called her Rennie. She was born in Reading. Rennie had been suffering from a tuberculosis infection in the glands in her neck for two years. Tragically she died of heart failure two days after an operation at The Royal Berkshire Hospital on 14th November 1901. She was 7 years old. Her mother, Mary Sophia Oliver was stricken with grief. Years later she drowned herself and her body was found on 28th March 1918. She was 53 years old. The cause of her death was recorded as ‘Suicide by drowning during temporary insanity.’ She is buried at The Old Cemetery with her daughter.
In July 1920, Alfred married Annie E. Crouch in Reading.
Alfred was bludgeoned in his shop and while he was still alive and conscious when he was found shortly after and was taken to the hospital, he could not say what happened. He died the following day at 5.50pm. A number of accounts have been written about the incident and suspects. When Alfred died on 23rd June 1929 from his terrible injuries at The Royal Berkshire Hospital, his probate was to Annie Elizabeth Oliver, widow. Effects £ 2120. 9 shillings.
Cynthia Thomas remembers: “When Mum was working as an apprentice hairdresser for Miss Jones opposite McIlroys in Oxford Road, the news of the killing of Mr Oliver became a talking point and Mum remembers this.”
Alfred is buried in Reading Old Cemetery with his first wife and daughter. I do not have a date for the death of Annie Elizabeth.
A very sad story. However great to honour the memory of these people of Reading.
In November 2021 Rabble Theatre brought this piece of local history to life with its play “Who Killed Alfred Oliver?” staged in Reading Minster.
Angela Buckley : The Reading Shop Murder
BBC News (2021): Murdered Reading tobacconist’s family welcome new play
Buried in Section 35, Row B, Number 13