Life story shared by Paul Beecroft. Additional information shared by Dennis Wood, Vice-Chair of The Friends of the University of Reading

In Reading Old Cemetery there is Sarcophagus on a tall plinth above base. Carrara marble. Crown topped Italianate sarcophagus in the Quattrocento manner of Lion’s paw feet. Projecting lower part decorated with symmetrical, wild garland of grapes and leaves. Upper side plain with floral wreaths to sides and ends. To the east side, wreath encircles ‘MARY’; to ends, wreath around family crest of male figure with bunch of grapes. Plinth on two-stage base with inscribed panels, that to the east reads:

Sacred to the memory of MARY WIENHOLT daughter of JOHN WIENHOLT Esquire of London and Higham Hill Essex. Born 30th October 1778 Died 9th December 1859. This monument has been erected by her nephews and nieces as a tribute of gratitude and affection. Here rests also MAGDALENA SUSANNA WIENHOLT, daughter of FREDERICK W. WIENHOLT Esquire of Leighton. Removed from the vault in St. Giles church, Reading. She died 7th July 1839 aged 55. Also to the beloved memory of MARY FRANCES WIENHOLT eldest daughter of the late JOHN BIRKETT WIENHOLT Esquire of Laugharne, Carmarthenshire who departed this life 26th September 1896 in her 8th year, also of ELLEN, sister of the above and second daughter of JOHN BIRKETT WIENHOLT Esquire who departed this life 17th March 1914 in her 87th year.

Mary’s sarcophagus is one of the three Grade II listed grave monuments in Reading Old. The other two are the statue of Bernard Lawrence Hieatt and the urns of Andrewes and Sarah and George Barrett.

Addendum (July 2023): The restoration of Mary’s monument by Reading Council revealed the entrance to her tomb. Mary’s grave is a vault, a space as big as a small room, containing the coffins of Mary, her two nieces and her aunt.

The name Wienholt was originally spelt Winholdt and its origins go back to Wiemsdorf, Oldenburg, Germany. Over the years the name has been misspelt, mainly by census readers and journalists. Examples are Weinholt, Wineholt, Wienhalt, Winehold, Wunholt.

The Weinholt family can be traced back to the early 1600s in Germany but in the first half of the 1700s John Wienholt arrived in England from Bremen Germany. He was born in 1742 and was a son of Johann Wienholt and Gesche Anna. He had four brothers and three sisters. The exact date of his arrival is not known but on 19th February 1766 by an Act of Parliament he was naturalised. His occupation was that of a Merchant of St. Helen’s, London. On 11th April 1772 at St. Mary Abchurch in London he married Sarah Jopson. This union resulted in six children.

John Birkett (1773-1852)

Ann Sarah (1777-1777)

Mary (1778-1859)

Daniel (1779-1799) (though it is possible that Mary and Daniel were twins)

Sarah (1775-1788)

Eleonora (1782-1791)

John Wienholt built up a very successful business as a Merchant of St. Helen’s Street, London and soon became a very wealthy man. They had their own wharf at London Docks and their ships treaded to India. (The Friends of the University of Reading). He lived with his family at Higham Hall in Essex. A large, detached house in its own grounds.

Photo of Higham Hall.

Although wealthy and living very comfortably the family was not without tragedy. His second child Ann Sarah died shortly after she was born and in 1788 his daughter Sarah died when she was just 14 years old, and Eleonora died in 1791 aged just 13. Further tragedy was still to follow. His son Daniel who had joined the family business as a Merchant died on 9th October 1799 at the age of 26. He was onboard HMS Lutine which sank during a storm between the Frisian island of Vieland Terschelling, off Holland.

At the time the ship was enroute from Yarmouth delivering gold and silver to Hamburg. Daniel’s body was washed ashore some 350 miles further north on the Island of Sylt, Germany (which at the time was part of Denmark). He is buried in the Westerland churchyard on Sylt. Daniel was a Merchant and at the time of his death it is understood that he was carrying £40,000 on the Lutine for investment in the House of Parish & Co., Hamburg. A tablet to his memory is in the church at Westerland which reads:

Sacred to the memory of Daniel Wienholt second son of John Wienholt Esq of Great St. Helen’s in the City of London, merchant, who was lost to the inexpressible grief of a mother, a brother and a sister in HBM Frigate ‘Lutine’ off the coast of Holland in the night of the 9th Oct. 1799. Having drifted on the shore of Sylt, he was discovered by Herrn Straendvoyt Decker to whom the family owe a debt of gratitude for his great attention and for his careful preservation of the property found on the body which was interred in Westerland churchyard on the 11 Nov. 1799.”

Therefore, after 1799 only the children Mary and John Birkett were surviving.

John Birkett WIENHOLT was born on 21st August 1773. As with Mary, nothing is known of his childhood or teenage years.

On 16th November 1785 their father John Wienholt died. At the time John Birkett was only twelve years old and Mary was only seven. Fifteen years later on 24th June 1800 their mother Sarah died. They are buried in a crypt at St. Swithin’s Church, Cannon St. along with their daughter Sarah.

By this time John Birkett was 26 years old and had followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Merchant specialising in dry salting anchovies. Things did not always go well for him as in 1801 and 1804 he was declared bankrupt. He did however recover from this and continued as a Merchant and became a wealthy man. John Birkett initially lived at Thames Ditton, Surrey and then Castle House, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire.

On 19th October 1816, in Laugharne he married Sarah Hill. Below there are images of John Birkett and Sarah.

The marriage resulted in a total of eleven children which included Mary Frances (1817-1896), Frederick (1818-1881) and Ellen (1828-1914). Some of his sons emigrated to Australia.

Below there are images of some of the Weinholt children from the website ‘Geni’. The photos of the brothers come from the book  ‘History of Queensland: Its People and Industries’ (1923) Vol 2. The stained glass in memory of Frederick can be found at the south transept of St Martin’s Church, Laugharne. On the top row from left to right: Arthur, William, Daniel, Arnold. On the second row: Edward, Emma, Frederick.

John Birkett WIENHOLT died 1st September 1852 at his home in Laugharne. Some parts of his life were a mystery. There is a suggestion that he married a wealthy widow who had died in 1814 leaving him a fortune but there is no confirmed record of the marriage.

In June 1817, he was involved in not one but two duels. A newspaper reports:

DUELS. – On the 27th ult. An affair of honour took place in the neighbourhood of Longharne, Carmarthenshire, between J.B. Wienholt, Esq. and Major Thomas, the latter having declined to make an apology for a publication alluding to the former gentleman. The parties having taken their ground, the seconds agreed to fire by signal, which Mr. W. anticipated, and discharged his pistol in the air; upon which Major T. recovered his pistol, and Mr. W. received the Major’s fire, and on being asked by the Major and his second if then satisfied, replied in the affirmative. On the succeeding day, an affair of honour took place in the same neighbourhood, between Colonel Starke and J.B. Wienholt, Esq; when, after exchanging shots, by the judicious interference of the seconds, the matter was accommodated to the satisfaction of all parties, who separated as friends.

Mary WIENHOLT was born 30th October 1778 and baptised with her (possibly) twin brother, Daniel, on 1st December 1778 at St. Swithin London Stone, City of London (Church of England). By the time Mary was 22 she had lost both her parents; her father died at 43 years of age when she was only seven years old, whilst her mother died in 1800 aged 56.

In 1811 Mary was resident at 4 Fitzroy Street, London W1. She moved in political circles and was a friends and allegedly had a daily correspondence with William Pitt the younger. (The Friends of the University of Reading).

It is not until 1825 she is known to be living in Reading. When and why she moved to Reading is not known. Her parents had left her very well off and was considered as a lady ‘living off her own means’.

possible early portrait of Mary Wienholt

She resided at the ‘Acacias’, London Road, Reading which is situated at the junction with Redlands Road. ‘Acacias’ was later on the house of the Palmer family, the famous biscuit makers, who donated it to the University and it is now part of Reading University. During Mary’s time the garden at the rear was huge going right back to the narrow road beside the Museum of English Rural Life. The property had stables and Mary was known to have a private carriage. Living on the premises was a coachman, housekeeper, cook and a housemaid.

Mary soon joined the upper class society of Reading and would often attend functions along with the Mayor of Reading, the High Sheriff, Lords and Ladies along with well-known Reading names such as Simonds, Palmer and Sutton. She enjoyed attending operas, concerts and balls, in particular the Berkshire Hunt Ball that was held annually.

Verified portrait of Mary Wienholt from the private collection of Mary’s great-great-great niece Elizabeth Day. Thank you to The Friends of the University of Reading for sharing this photo.

In February 1825 the Judges for the Oxford Circuit attended Reading Town Hall to open His Majesty’s Commission. Numerous people assembled and a party of Javelin men escorted the judges. Mary attended this.

In January 1845 Queen Victoria returned to Windsor from Stratfield Saye. The Royal cortege was met by several carriages of gentry, one of which was Mary.

Mary contributed to many charities in the Reading area. Some contributions were made annually. She made monetary contributions to the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Orphans, the poor and homeless, many churches such as St. Giles, Trinity Church in the Parish of St. Mary and the Parish church in Burghfield. On occasion, her generosity would go further afield such as The Wantage Cottage Hospital, St. John’s National Schools, The Indian Relief Fund (relief for the suffering of people in India). Many of these donations would be for £5 which is equivalent to £100 today.

Mary, although unmarried and having no children of her own, appears to have enjoyed their company. As previously mentioned she supported a charity for orphans. On at least one occasion in August 1856, St. Giles Sunday School children of some 200 boys had a treat of cake and tea and outdoor amusements which included the Royal Berks Militia Band. Mary had arranged for the children to proceed to her grounds and tents had been erected but due to the rain they had to return to the school rooms, and everything was removed from the tents.

Mary would often be joined at her home by other family members. One regular visitor who would stay with her was Mary Frances Wienholt. Mary Frances was the daughter of John Birkett and consequently Mary’s niece. She was born in Rotterdam, Holland on 6th June 1817. She would attend many functions with Mary, which caused some confusion when naming them in local newspapers and they were often referred to as the Misses Wienholts or just as Miss Wienholt and Miss F. Wienholt. Mary Frances also made many monetary contributions to local churches and charities in Reading.

Two other family members would visit Mary.  One was Ellen Wienholt. Ellen was a sister of Mary Frances. She was born on 3rd January 1828 at Penycoed, St. Clears. In 1878 the Wienholt family purchased Merley House in Wimborne, Dorset and Ellen and Mary Frances resided there. It was a huge house and described as having 25 bed chambers, stabling for 18 horses, coach houses, servants rooms, extensive lawns with views of the sea over Poole harbour. Merley House is a Grade I listed building. The household had many servants.

Another family member was Magdalena Susanna Wienholt. Magdalena was the daughter of  Frederick W. Wienholt, brother of John (Mary’s father). Magdalena was born 21st January 1784 in Leghorn, Italy. Her confirmation of baptism, which took place on 21st February 1784, shows her name as Magdalene Susanne, daughter of Frederick Wienholt and Magdalene. Magdalena was a cousin of Mary.

Magdalena died on 17th July 1839 in Malvern Wells. Her death was reported in newspapers that she was ‘of Reading’. It is therefore thought that she was living with Mary at ‘Acacias’ and was away from home at the time of her death. Magdalena was buried in a vault in St. Giles Church in Reading.

Mary died at her home ‘Acacias’ on 9th December 1859. She was buried in Reading Old Cemetery and the monument described above was erected in her memory. Following her burial the family moved the body of Magdalena from the vault at St. Giles and she now rests with Mary.

Mary Frances died at her home in Wimborne on 26th September 1896. She too was buried with Mary and Magdalena.

Ellen died at her home in Branksome Park, Bournemouth on 17th March 1914, where she had moved to after the death of Mary Frances. She too has been buried with Mary in Reading Old Cemetery.

The following information about ‘Acacias’ and the Wienholt family was originally supplied to the University of Reading around 2005-6 by Mary’s great-great-great niece Elizabeth Day. The file is to go into the University Special Collections.

In 1818, Edward Law, a local coal and salt merchant who owned a wharf on the Kennet, had the Acacias built on the corner of London Road and Red Lane (now Redlands Road) very close to the existing Green Bank house which had been built around 1770. The three storey house was brick built and faced with Bath Stone on three sides, which was very stylish in that period. The grounds extended back to what is now Acacia Road and there were a coach house and stables halfway along with access from Red Lane and also by a long drive leading from the front of the house around the corner of the road junction that can still be seen.

In 1821, the property was leased by Edward Wall to Mary Wienholt, a wealthy independent lady who wanted to move away from London. She occupied the house until she died in 1859 and the house was occupied by a relative for a time after that. It has been suggested that Mary, who was a friend of the Palmers, helped finance George Palmer with the development of the biscuit business.

In 1862, George Palmer acquired the property from the Wienholt estate and moved with his family from Elmhurst House in what is now Upper Redlands Road. During his time at The Acacias, George had a bow-shaped extension added to the east side, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the renowned Victorian architect, and this provided a servants’ access via a staircase to the basement. He also added a conservatory and fernery at the rear, the fernery understood to have been designed by James Pulham in around 1891 and constructed with his patent Pulhamite material in a long corridor. George owned the property until his death in 1897 when it was passed to his second son Alfred Palmer.

After George died, Alfred had no personal need for the property and, as the University College in Valpy Street was looking for a new location, he leased it to the College along with Green Bank and what is known as the ‘Old Red Building’  in 1904. The College and its successor, the University of Reading, have occupied it to this day. The Acacias was bequeathed to the University by Alfred on his death in 1936. Initially the first floor (including George Palmer’s former bedroom), was used as the College Library until a new Library building was opened in 1923 in the middle of the London Road site. The rest of the building was used as the Senior Common Room and this is still the use of part of it to this day, the rest being a dining room and a meeting room with the top floor providing accommodation for staff. During the Great War, the coach house and stables were used as the armoury for the Officers’ Training Corps and then it was used as a workshop for the building maintenance staff until most of the University moved to Whiteknights campus.

Section 44, Row I, Plot 29