Alec's graduation photo

The Early Days of Wantage Hall

Wantage Hall, built in 1908, is the oldest hall of residence at the University of Reading. CONNECTED speaks to Chris Willson, the son of Alec Joseph Willson, who was one of Wantage Hall’s very first residents.

University education came to Reading in 1885 via a University of Oxford ‘extension unit’, and in 1892 this merged with the Schools of Science and Art to form the University College, with the geographer Halford Mackinder as its first Principal. The College expanded its range of subjects and from this moment the drive towards separate University status began to gather pace, with this being achieved in 1926.

The time before achieving separate University status remains an important part of the University of Reading’s history. Chris’s father, Alec, attended the University College Reading in the early 1900s, and Chris shares with CONNECTED what he knows of Alec’s story and his photographs from the time.

Chris said: “My father was born in 1890 at Wolverton, Bucks. He was the youngest of five children and the only one to attend college. Very soon after graduation in 1910, he set sail for Canada where he lived for the rest of his life.

“He became an accountant and was employed at the same firm in Montreal for over 48 years and was the company treasurer until retirement. He married a woman named Mabel Green and they had a son who died in infancy. Mabel also passed away and Alec married again in 1950, which resulted in my birth in 1952.

“Like most young people, I never really asked him much about his early life and regret it now. He was 62 when I was born and he died in 1972, when I was 20. So it means a lot to have these photographs and his autograph book to help me piece together memories of his time at Reading. I also visited Wantage Hall myself in 1991 to see where my father spent his early years.”

Alec’s Diploma Certificate

Alex Willson's Diploma CertificateA photo of Alec’s Diploma Certificate, issued by University College Reading in 1910, shows that he studied the following subjects:

First Year – English, Modern History, French Writing, French, Drawing, Geography (General), Mathematics, Commercial Arithmetic, Book-keeping, and Business Method (Elementary).

Second Year – General Science (Physics and Chemistry), Materials, Industries and Products, Commercial Geography, Principles of Commerce, Book-keeping, Business Method (Advanced), History of Commerce, and German.


Alec’s autograph book

Photos showing Alec’s autograph book from Wantage Hall 1909-1910:

Alec's autograph book Alec's autograph book Alec's autograph book







First Dinner at Wantage Hall

A photo showing the list of people who attended the first dinner at Wantage HallAlec attended the first dinner in Wantage Hall, with his name appearing as “A.J. Willson” in the left column. Chris also took a photo, during his visit in 1991, of a document detailing the first dinner in the hall which was held on 7th October 1908 with Lady Wantage, the Founder of the Hall, in attendance. The photograph of the document shows that she was sat at the High Table and made an after dinner speech.

Here are some excerpts from Lady Wantage’s speech on the night:   

“It is to me a great pleasure to be here tonight as the guest of the Principal, and to join in the Inaugural Dinner of Wantage Hall. I rejoice to see so large a gathering of students already installed in the new building. I think it … much to the credit of the Architect, Mr Smith, and to all those who have so zealously worked under him that this beautiful building has been brought to completion in less than a year and a half after the first soil was cut. The Principal, the Warden, and the Architect have devoted much thought and care to the details of the arrangements, including the furnishing, which, I hope, will contribute to the comfort of those who live here.”

Document showing Lady Wantage's speech on the first dinner at Wantage Hall“A few rules and regulations there must be, as in every well-ordered home: but they will be few and simple and liberty will be the rule of the Hall: liberty of conscience, of opinions, of action. We hope that discipline will come from within rather than … and we look … to the students themselves, to their sense of … and responsibility to preserve order and maintain a high tone among themselves. And I feel assured that the confidence we repose in them will not be abused.”

“It is this which constitutes, so to speak, a college atmosphere: a thing impalpable and intangible but … the less real. To keep this atmosphere clear, and pure, and bracing, and to maintain a standard of high ideals and loyal devotion to duty will, I trust, be the common aim of all connected with the College and the Hall, both teachers and students. If this is done, then, I feel confident, we may look to the College taking in due time a high place among the Universities…”

“I will now conclude by wishing God-speed to Wantage Hall, to the home which we are this evening inaugurating; and I feel sure all will join with me in prayer that upon it may rest the Divine Blessing, without which no work of man can prosper.”

Group photos

Here is Alec’s graduation photo and Alec with his football team in Reading – Alec is circled in both photos.

Alec's graduation photoAlec's football team at Reading 





Share your memories

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