Meet Reading’s oldest traders at Oxford Road as we take a trip down memory lane
What was it like to live and shop on Oxford Road in Reading in the 20th century?
The road is Reading’s main artery, heading west, and it had its own train station – still there of course – as well as a cinema, a hospital, and bakers, butchers, grocery stores, haberdashery and furniture stores.
Decades passed and the cinema became a pool hall, then a church, the Battle Hospital site was sold for a Tesco supermarket and apartments and new stores opened to cater to the new communities that made their home. at Oxford Road.
Read more: The Reading stores where we spent our hard earned money
Reading Oxford Road memorabilia from residents of yesterday and today are featured in a Reading Museum online exhibit.
The presentation is part of the Reading High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) project, funded with government funds, to create growth and restore architectural history in the Oxford Road, Castle Street and Russell Street Conservation Area.
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Oxford Road stores have changed time and time again over the past 50 years.
But there are still a few “heritage” businesses that were part of old Reading.
The Turners paving company, near the railway bridge, recently closed when the owner retired.
The Thake sign writing business was established in 1890 and operated from Oxford Road until its sale in 2015. The business is now part of Letterworks in Lovelock Road.
A butcher that opened in 1958 survived until 2009. Gilbert’s Meat Market, with its famous statue, was an Oxford Road landmark.
AT BerkshireLive we believe there are only three old businesses still operating on Oxford Road. We apologize if we missed any – and please contact us to let us know who we missed.
So here are the three remaining businesses on Oxford Road that we think your grandparents would remember.
If you’ve driven or passed the Music Man lately, you’ll have noticed that Elvis has left the scene. Don’t panic, it hasn’t been stolen but is in the process of being repainted.
Music Man owner Peter Sirrell has said Elvis will be back on the sidewalk by the end of the summer.
Mr. Sirrell is the third generation of his family to sell on the road. His grandfather Harold ran a general flea market in the 1960s and 1970s called Reading Exchange & Mart.
His son Cyril ran the eponymous Cyril’s from the 1970s until his son Peter took over.
The red-fronted shop sells musical instruments and sound equipment and what would have been called a hi-fi system when it opened in 1991.
Mr. Sirrell says business is still strong for vinyl with record collectors from across the country as well as browsers.
He often arrives at work to find vinyl collections left on his doorstep “because people can’t bear to throw them away”.
He says, “When the CDs came in we had a real boom and people were lining up outside on a Saturday.
“Now people see things that I put on social media and call me and ask me to keep them to themselves.”
An example of Music Man’s exemplary customer service was reported by Berkshire Live’s forerunner in 2012, when Mr. Sirrell remembered a client who hadn’t been there for 20 years. And he remembered exactly what she had bought: a saxaphone.
What are your memories of shopping on Oxford Road? Let us know in the comments below
The east end of Oxford Road, near the IDR Bridge, is home to Demain 1953. As the name suggests, this upscale men’s outfitter on 98 Oxford Road opened as Quality Wear in 1953.
The owner was a Jewish refugee who arrived in Britain as part of the Kindertransport – a rescue effort organized to get children out of Nazi Germany. He learned to sew on his own and opened Quality Wear in Reading. This hidden gem is now run by his grandson Jonathan Ryz.
The shop relies less on the passing trade and more on customers who come from a large area around Reading to be measured and fitted for bespoke suits made in Italy.
The store also offers luxury ready-to-wear for men.
So gentlemen of Reading, for a taste of Savile Row in Reading, take a trip to Tomorrow 1953 where you will receive 20th century customer service and quality clothing, just like the first Mr. Ryz intended.
This locksmith shop started out after WWII on Greyfriars Road in a stable near the Greyfriar pub
In 1953 the owner sold to Harry Westcote who moved the business to 153 Oxford Road. He ran it until 1979 when it was sold to Spencer Dew, who moved a few doors to No 149.
Brian joined his father in 1992 and is now assisted by his own son Graham. Spencer Dew died in 2015.
Brian Dew says life on Oxford Road is “totally different” these days and not just because of the impact of Covid.
He said: “Back then there were more people, we saw the same characters walking on the road, now it’s quieter because everyone is in their car.”
Mr. Dew and his son do bench work in the shop, repairing old locks and carving plaques.
The business is well used by the many rental agencies on Oxford Road who still need to cut the keys for new tenants.
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