Some of the permanent residents of Reading Old
In the Berkshire Record Office two big books hold in handwritten entries the names of all burials in Reading Old up to 1980. From then onwards records seem to be digitised. According to the Reading Crematorium there are 12,000 monuments and 120,000 people buried in the site. Some of the graves have multiple occupants.
This website is an attempt to share some of the life stories of people buried in Reading Old. Some biographies have been easier to reconstruct than others. They were documented in the press, there were archival records or families had extensive collections of photos and stories to share. There may have also been a gravestone to serve as a good starting point for research: the memorial inscription, the symbolism on the stone, the type of stone and the size of the memorial, the location of the grave and its neighbouring graves or trees planted around them, served as helpful indications at times.
We want to acknowledge the Berkshire Family History Society electronic resource (CD) ‘Monumental Inscriptions at Reading Old, London Road (Cemetery Junction) 1843-1994‘ as it provided an invaluable starting point in locating graves and cross-referencing dates and names.
Other biographies were harder to find for many reasons: due to the young age of the deceased, the circumstances of their death, their life. We found that indications of wealth did not always give us more access to information, especially when we were researching the forgotten women of Reading Old. Collaborators researching unmarked graves have also a hard task in reconstructing those life stories and speak those names again. Unmarked graves were usually, but not always, indication of funeral poverty and even finding the names to research was a challenge in itself.
The library of biographies serve as a historical record of Reading’s past and the wider social reforms
We are aware that no research is uncontentious. Some of the life stories may contain details about hardship, others may talk about an unexpected or tragic death. If you are affected by the content of a biography, please consider seeking out support or advice. We list some organisations and resources that you can approach.
The key ethical consideration that we followed was if this life story is shared, what implications will it have? For instance, links with Britain’s colonial past are bound to be made in a Victorian cemetery like Reading Old, and stories shared are of those who were affected, like Willie Wimmera or Mary Smart. There are some stories that for now we have chosen not to share as part of that ethical code. At the same time the same ethical consideration became a guide for an attempt to represent underrepresented groups or marginalised communities.
As you will see the biographies vary in length and content. The commonalities lie in sharing a photo of the grave (where it is possible) and the location of the grave. A number of them are precious family stories. We wanted to preserve the voice of the writer, so there was minimal or no editing in those accounts. We also wanted to preserve trust in this community endeavour. When the story was not by a family member secondary sources that helped piece it together were shared.
We know that we have only scraped the surface in terms of researching those buried at the site and that there is still much more work to be done. We thus invite you to join us with biographies, on our social media pages or by volunteering your time at our monthly work parties.
If you are to visit the cemetery, please note that some of the graves are located in less accessible areas of the site. Consult the cemetery map first. For your safety, you may not be able to visit a part of the site but photos of the graves listed in the stories are shared on the website.
The website is a work in progress and is regularly updated. As more information come to light, corrections and amendments may have to be made. Contact us if you spot an error or want to make a contribution or would like to suggest an amendment. We can discuss with you when changes can be made.
Thank you to everyone who let us into their precious family histories.