William John Day VENNER (1860-1916)

Photo credit: Teresa Verney-Brookes

William John Day Venner (1860-1916) was the oldest son of William and Martha (sometimes known as MARY) Venner who ran a bacon curers, sausage manufacturers, and butter and egg merchants on Southampton Street, Reading.

According to local historian Katie Amos William John Day Venner, was a town councillor for 15 years. “He pre-deceased his mother in 1916, having been ill for some weeks with blood poisoning. Sadly his early death meant he would not take up the presidency of the National Federation of Meat Traders, the following year. He was also one of the founders of the Reading and District Butcher’s Association, and had many other interests in the town besides”

The following article about M. Venner and Sons was written by Katie Amos:

“M. Venner and Sons is unusual amongst Reading’s long lost shops and businesses, in that the M. Venner in the title was a woman.

Martha (sometimes referred to as Mary) Venner, nee Day was born in the Axbridge area of Somerset, and married her husband, William, in Abergavenny in 1859.

William and Martha would seem to have moved to Reading not long after they married (although they both came from the West Country originally – William was baptised in Sampford Peverell, Devon on 15th Feb. 1835).

William’s parents were also called William and Martha. His father was a butter merchant, and William followed in his father’s footsteps, doubtlessly learning the trade from him. (One of the couple’s son’s obituaries states that William junior started his business in 1856, the year he turned 21.)

Perhaps looking for a good market for their products the couple settled in Reading and appear in the 1861 census a year after their eldest child’s birth at 68 Southampton Street. William is 26, a butter and egg merchant, Martha is 24 and William 1. They also have a servant, Mary Clements, who was born in Wales, so perhaps came with them after their marriage. The next couple of censuses find the growing family still residing in Southampton Street, but by 1871 they are at nos 81/82, then later at 97-99, and then expanding into 101 as well.

They had nine children together all baptised at St Giles’ Church (the list below includes William’s occupation as shown in the baptism register):

William John Day 1.5.1860 father’s occupation butter merchant

Maria Jane 21.4.1862 father’s occupation butter merchant

Martha Annie 14.2.1863 father’s occupation butter merchant (Martha died 20.12.1863 age 8 months 3 weeks)

Richard James 10.9.1865 father’s occupation butter merchant

Eliza Annie 12.5.1867 father’s occupation butter merchant

Martha Beatrice 5.1.1870 father’s occupation provision merchant

Mary Tucker 27.2.1873 father’s occupation provision merchant (died age 5 weeks old)

Florence Mary 24.5.1874 father’s occupation grocer

Elsie Roberta 9.5.1880 father’s occupation provision merchant (died age 3 years old)

Only a year or so after Elsie’s birth, in the early summer of 1881, William died, age 46, and was buried at London Road Cemetery on 4th July, leaving his wife and children to run the business he had built up over the last 25 years. His personal estate was valued at £1, 404 13s 4d.

Martha seems to have risen to the challenge, along with sons William and Richard, and her surviving daughters. The Reading Mercury of 28th April 1888 was delighted to report on the opening of new and extensive premises at the rear of the Southampton Street building. It is described as being built in red brick, 48ft 6in by 36ft and three floors tall. The ground floor contains stabling and the van house, the first floor is a general warehouse and the second floor is stores. It is well lit and ventilated and has patented hoist machinery to help with the loading and unloading of goods. Mr Joseph Greenway of Duke Street was the architect and it was built by Mr D Taylor of South Street.

A few years later the street directories note that the Venners are now ‘bacon curers, sausage manufacturers, egg, butter and provision merchants’. They soon adopt the new telephony system too and have the phone number Reading 61.

Given that butter and eggs constitute a good part of the ingredients for biscuit making (was it Huntley and Palmers presence in the town that drew them here?), it is not surprising therefore to see that the Venners were listed as one of the creditors of the biscuit making firm of Messrs Meaby and Co. Ltd who were winding up the business in 1897. 

By 1901 Martha had moved to 52 London Road, which she called Axbridge. The 1911 census gives Martha’s occupation as wholesale and retail provision merchant – employer. With her are two of her daughters, 44 year old Eliza is office forewoman at M. Venner and Sons, to which has been added in brackets ‘parent and brothers’. The same annotation has been added to her sister Martha Beatrice’s entry, although she works there as a cashier.

This makes it very clear that the business is Martha’s, running a business that she has clearly developed, albeit alongside her sons.

Butter was still very much part of the business and they even had what appears to be their own brand – M.V.S butter as this advert from the Reading Mercury 2nd September 1911 shows:

Black and white newspaper cutting showing an advert for M. VENNER & Sons who are listed as Butter Specialists, Reading
Source: Reading Mercury 2nd September 1911

An advert from 1908 for the business shows that they have standards that today’s consumer would appreciate, they demand and receive a warranty from each farmer that they purchase from that they animals are sound and free from disease. They also employ a local vet firm to come daily to inspect each pig or other animal before they are ‘used, sold or exposed for sale’, as well as receiving frequent visits from Reading Sanitary Authority’s own Official Inspector.

Specialities include sausages, brawn, pressed beef and polonies (also known as Baloney or Bologna sausage, then, particularly at Christmas time turkey, geese, duck and fowl could be bought from them. Their products were known for winning prizes at dairy shows (at least 3 medals at the 1922 Dairy Show – a national event held in London).

In 1919 they advertised that to help the war effort, if customers were to feed a pig for their own use, then Venners would ‘kill, cure and smoke it for a moderate charge’!

Martha died on 15th November 1921, and the probate entry described her as Head of the firm of M. Venner and Sons, grocers and provision merchants. Her estate was worth £25,800, showing that the business had been a profitable one.

Unlike her male peers, she doesn’t seem to have warranted a large funeral or a big report in the newspapers on her passing. However, the Venner family did have some influence, in particular Martha’s son William John Day Venner.

Martha’s other son, Richard, also became a town alderman and was involved with the Reading Dispensary Trust, and the Highways Committee before becoming Mayor of Reading in 1929 (and was assisted in this role by his daughter Miss Florence Nellie Venner). Like his brother, he too had been a President of the Reading and District Butcher’s Association, and when not sitting on a committee he was a member of Prospect Park Bowling Club.

Black and white photograph(dated 1911)  of the Mayor of Reading - R.J Venner and a large audience of children looking on as he opens Westfield Road Playing Field, Caversham
Source: Reading Mercury 2nd September 1911

Mayor of Reading, R.J Venner at the opening of Westfield Road Playing Field Caversham, 6th. October, 1930.

Of the girls it is known that Martha’s daughter Maria had a similar path to her mother – she married a butcher called Francis Twose, and when he died aged 39, she carried on the business in Reading (with some help), although she didn’t reach quite the same successful business heights as her mother.

Maria’s daughter Florence May also worked in the same sort of field as her grandparents she was a county instructress in dairying for Berkshire, and was also known for giving cheese-making demonstrations. She later went on to marry a farmer

Martha Beatrice, as noted above, was long connected with the family firm, having first been educated at Hemdean House in Caversham and later in Paris (according to her obituary in July 1944). She was also a member of St John’s Church, and never married. 

Eliza also remained single and died age 49 in 1917 at her mother’s house and was buried at London Road Cemetery. Likewise for Florence Mary who was 71 when she passed away in 1944.

Given the hardships that grief must have brought Martha over the years, her stamina and determination in making her family’s business work, and work successfully is quite impressive”.

Extra information added by Yota Dimidriati and Teresa Verney-Brookes

Source: Reading Library Collection

Artists impression of the factory of M. Venner and Sons, bacon curers, sausage manufacturers, and butter and egg merchants, 1908. The view is from above, over Southampton Street, Reading. From Reading Library collection.

Black and white mounted photograph of The Tanners Arms Public House, Reading
Source: Reading Museum

On the gable end of building on the left to the Carpenters Arms Public House is a sign to Venner’s bacon curers behind the pub.

The site now occupied by the Deep Blue City Gate Apartments on the corner of Southampton Street and Upper Crown Street was, for many years, the home of Messrs Venner and Sons’ Bacon Factory. The firm started by accident when Mrs Martha Venner’s specially- Blended butter became so popular that she and her husband turned their home into a grocer’s shop in 1856. In 1888, however, their sons demolished several dwellings to build a large bacon factory, which included bacon and ham . (From Royal Berkshire History on Facebook)

During WW1 anglosised names they took the precaution and renamed the German Sausage to the Empire Sausage from Reading in the Great War.

Buried in Section 58, Row C, Number