Life story retold by Yota Dimitriadi; addendum by Simon Shiel
Samuel Wheeler was a major producer of tiles in Reading. He and his brother John founded the Tilehurst Potteries at Kentwood Hill in 1885 and specialised in roof tiles, bread pans and flowerpots. Three handmade clay pots of different sizes that were made at Tilehurst Potteries are in the archives of the University of Reading.
Brickmaking was a distinct feature of Reading. “One source for that information is the pioneer list of brickfields in Great Britain and Ireland produced by Robert Hunt in 1860. He notes 35 brick and tile works in Berkshire, of which eleven were in or around Reading, including Caversham and Erleigh (so spelled)” (Information 91, British Brick Society, 2003). A map showing ‘Brick and tile makers in Berkshire since
c. 1800′ is published in Michael Dumbleton’s book (1990 and 1993) ‘Brickmaking: a Local Industry, Ascot-Bracknell-Wokingham’ by Bracknell: Bracknell and District Historical Society, 1978; 2nd ed., Bracknell.
According to Stephen B. Cox, the great 19th.century British novelist Thomas Hardy in his map of ‘Wessex” appearing in his Wessex novels, he renamed Reading as ‘Auld Brickham’. Even today when you walk around the town centre, you can see the ornamental bricks on the frontage of many of the buildings. The book Bricks and Brickwork in Reading by Two Rivers Press gives an account of long history of brickmaking in Reading. Apart from the Wheelers, two more major brickmaking businesses in Reading included the Colliers and Poultons.
The family business went on to Samuel’s two sons: Samuel the younger and Frederick who carried on as Builders Stonemasons and Brickmakers at Reading and Tilehurst in the county of Berks under the style or firm of Wheeler Brothers until 31st March 1897, when the business was dissolved by mutual consent and announced publicly (The London Gazette, 1 March 1897).
Samuel died on New Year’s Eve, 31st December 1902 at his house ‘Broughton’, in Coley Avenue. He was 83 years old and was being unwell for a few months.
His funeral took place on 5th January 1903 with a service at Greyfriars Church at 2.15. The family had asked for no flowers. The service was attended by many friends and the large staff of employees from Caversham Road and Tilehurst, and was conducted by the Revs S. H. Socle and E. B. Brown. The hymn, “Jesns lives! thy terrors now,” was sung.
The interment took place the family vault at Reading Old cemetery, where the employees were formed up in lines, through which the cortege made its way. The arrangements were carried out by Messrs. Heelas, Sons, and Co., under the personal supervision of Mr. W. B. Fordham.
His sons John and Frederick are also buried in separate plots near him.
Samuel’s granddaughter, Kathleen Wheeler Crump (1884 – 1977) was an American sculptor known for life-size portraits of horse-race winners and also for portrait busts of prominent persons such as Clarence Darrow, Samuel Gompers and Queen Elizabeth II of England. When the monarch visited America in 1954, one of her official gifts was a portrait of herself by Kathleen Crump.
By Simon Shiel: Kathleen, actually named Ellen Kathleen at birth, lived in my house. Her father Frederick ran the family business. They had clay pits in the surrounding area, using the clay to produce their tiles, pots, etc. I imagine Kathleen would have been playing with this clay at a young age (in my house and garden perhaps!), and developed a talent for sculpture, which enabled her to develop her career later on.
Buried in Section 32, Row B, Plot 3