Biscuitopolis & The Mad March Hare…

A couple of Sundays back, the Sticks’n’String knitters plus some Bluestockings came over for a yarn-swap and a tasty feast. The rules were simply that everyone should bring some kind of local fare for the table plus some yarn to swap. Everyone bought amazing things to eat – pies, sausages, cheeses, cakes, chutneys etc. – and Claire even bought DAFFODILS, which were very cheering indeed!

It was a wonderful day and I enjoyed hostessing immensely. I love having a house full of people, a huge pot of cider mulling on the stove, sausages popping in the grill, and busy yarn talk filling up the rooms. The festive atmosphere that having everyone around coupled with some SUNSHINE (at LAST!) put me in giddy spirits and infused the house with a sociable, Springtime atmosphere. The lingering feeling of fun induced a kind of mad March Hare feeling in me when I got in from work the next day, an impulse which made me want to stride about outdoors, enjoying the freshness of the air and the spectacle of evening light on red bricks. Spotting the half-wound and very tangled biscuit yarn around the back of a chair from the evening before, I became enthused with the notion of inventing a route – a winding, vacillating, meandering kind of trail – around all the places with BISCUIT connotations and links to the former biscuit magnates of Reading: Joseph Huntley and George Palmer.

BISCUIT YARN! Now, thankfully, less tangled…

Bargaineous EBAY WIN!

Mark texted to say his meeting had finished and he would be home unexpectedly early. We agreed that we would seize the evening together, and I set about mulling two small bottles’ worth of cider in the pot that was still on the cooker from the party the day before! Incidentally, if you have not had mulled cider, I can thoroughly recommend it as a beverage for a very fresh March temperature and it’s both easy to make, and warming to drink:


Ingredients:

Star anise (say, 2 stars?)
Half an orange, sliced into 1cm thick slices
Red peppercorns (they are so fragrant and amazing!)
Cloves
Black peppercorns
A few pinches of chilli flakes!
Cider
A teeny, tiny, miniscule pinch of salt to bring all the flavours out

Directions: place all in pot on low heat and turn off heat when you start to see steam rising off the surface of the mulled cider. Do not boil! Leaving this lying around for a couple of days is to be encouraged, so that the flavours really do MULL!

I normally would say you need cinnamon sticks, but we had none and to be honest, I didn’t miss them. The red peppercorns are in my opinion the key to the best mulled cider… anyway, once I had mulled 2 x 500ml bottles of cider in the pot, I returned this cider to the bottles and plotted our route around Reading’s BISCUIT DISTRICTS.

Since writing my last post on the subject of Reading’s Biscuits, I have discovered this amazing website, and have paired many of my findings there with the writings in the fantastic book of Reading Road placenames, by Adam Sowan. Abattoirs Road to Zinzan Street is the perfect book for the curious wanderer, and reading therein about placenames and streetnames and local history embellishes many of our walks around Reading with marvellous meta-data. I have also been trawling the Internet like some kind of crazed stalker, looking for information on the properties built by Joseph Huntley and George Palmer. So our walk the other day began with attempting to locate this property on Allcroft Road, which may or may not be the one in this photo below…

From Allcroft Road, we walked down Redlands Road, past the Museum of English Rural Life. MERL was built by Sir Alfred Palmer – who was the son of George Palmer, and the head of the engineering department of the biscuit factory.

From Redlands Road, we scampered around the backstreets and past this Art Deco wonderment on London Road. I have not been able to find out the history of this building, but I love its imposing edifice; its straight lines and austere elegance. It reminds me of the Art Deco offices of Huntley and Palmer that I have seen in old photographs, though I must stress that this is not those offices at all, as the 1930s H&P offices have long since been demolished.

Criss-crossing the backstreets with our cider, maps, and book, we chanced upon much fine brickwork…

…eventually finding the rather modest memorial to Joseph Huntley that is Huntley Court.

According to Adam Sowan;

Joseph Huntley opened his bakery and shop in 1822, with his son Thomas making the biscuits. After the latter died in 1857 there were only Palmers in the great business, but they kept the Huntley name up front until the end.

Most of the buildings in Huntley Court look very recent, but I love the little bits of old brickwork which huddle amidst the new structures like old documents telling the story of the town. From Huntley Court we went on to Palmer Park – which was my favourite refuge when I lived on Wokingham Road during 2009 – 2010. The tall Poplars which guard the pathways through this Victorian Park were paid for with George Palmer’s shiny gold, and a statue of him stands there still.

From Palmer Park we walked on down through the maze of terraced streets which lead down to the Kennet & Avon, and the place where the canal meets the river. This entire area was once filled with housing for the factory workers of Huntley and Palmers’ Biscuit Factory, and The Jolly Anglers pub (which was built for factory workers) remains there still. The pub was the subject of a passionate local campaign in recent times, and was closed for a while… however, John Westerndorp has reopened it. We found some delicious homemade chips therein, and a very friendly resident labrador whom Mark fell instantly in love with.

Walking on from the pub along the canal, we watched the sun setting, so that when we approached the only remaining part of Huntley and Palmers’ Factory, it was dark.

You can see the building which remains in the photo below, which dates to the early 1900s. I must go back and photograph the view near the factory today… I’ll save that for another walk though; another fine forray in the fresh March air.

8 Responses to Biscuitopolis & The Mad March Hare…

  1. Mark says:

    It was great fun having the house filled with knitters although I was concerned that they ALL declared that they wanted to leave with less yarn than they came with. I had visions of us losing the cat underneath a veritable mountain of discarded yarn 🙂

    The walk around Reading was brilliant, and having seen your skein on the chair I can now see what inspired the tangles in the route we took!

    Am happy to confirm the presence of a mad March hare in the house xxx

  2. tinebeest says:

    As always, your posts are filled with lovely things to talk about, walk about and think about. And biscuits. Biscuits are always good. Biscuits for peace! But anyway: who knew that there is so much history packed into one little corner of one’s own little world. I must go exploring in Leiden when the madness of teaching stops in May.

    And the image conjured up by Mark’s comment will make me giggle for a week at least. (Hopefully not during my viva, it would be hard to explain…)

  3. Kate says:

    Love the old photo (the hats! the hats!), and what fabulous brickwork there is in Reading. And a labrador buddy to boot!

  4. Kate says:

    PS I take it there weren’t any actual biskitz in the bargainous tin . . . or were there?

  5. Felix says:

    Thanks everyone for responses!

    I *LOVE* exploring my wee corner of the world and I think there is always amazingness just where we stand that can be examined, explored, loved.

    Aren’t the hats amazing! Such finery to wear to the factory… and Reading’s brickwork? That is a thing of pure joy. How I love the bricks…

    no biskitz in the tins I got from ebay, although the assorted cocktail biscuits tin I got from ebay had its original, grease-and-sugar-stained papers inside it. Naturally I could not bring myself to throw those away!

  6. Knit Nurse says:

    Your posts about the local history and backstreets of Reading are always full of inspirational gems. They are evidence of my belief that there is beauty and interest to be found in the most unlikely places, and have certainly made me reassess my view of Reading! Lovely photos too, especially the canal at dusk!

  7. Liz A. says:

    I had a lovely time at your yarn swap and did enjoy all the yummy local produce. Thank you to you and Mark for being such lovely hosts.

  8. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Archive » Ebay Yarn Sale!

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