Waterhouse Collection

The architect Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905) was one of the most popular and successful architects in England in the 1870s and 1880s. His most famous buildings include Manchester Town Hall (1877) and the Natural History Museum in London (1881). Waterhouse built his family home at Foxhill, on the Whiteknights estate in Reading (now the main University of Reading campus) where his parents also had a house.

The collection consists of manuscripts and books written by or related to the Waterhouse family, including family letters. The letters are mainly from Alfred's wife, Elizabeth to her brother, Thomas Hodgkin (1831-1913), dated from July 1890 – 24 November 1900 (MS 2787). These were written when she was living with the rest of the family at Yattendon Court, and are mainly concerned with family, spiritual and international matters. There are also five letters from Alfred Waterhouse to Thomas (the earliest dated 20 November 1858). The collection also contains the spiritual journals of Alfred's mother Mary (1805-1880), a Quaker minister (MS 508).

Elizabeth Waterhouse (1834-1918) wrote several books, including a collection of verse and some anthologies. She is also the author of The Island of Anarchy, a Utopian story which was re-published in 1997 by the Reading-based small publisher Two Rivers Press. Other copies of books by Elizabeth Waterhouse are held in the Reserve Collection.

The Waterhouse family purchased the Yattendon estate in 1878, and Alfred built Yattendon Court (now demolished) as their family home. Between 1890 and 1914, Elizabeth ran the Yattendon Metalworking Class, an evening class in copper and brass working for local men and boys, similar to many such guilds and classes inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Yattendon Class became affiliated to the Home Arts and Industries Association (HAIA) which was established in 1884 to promote and encourage the revival of rural craft industries which had declined partly due to the migration of the rural population to the towns.

Copper mug designed by Elizabeth WaterhouseThe class built up a reputation for good design, and produced a variety of items including pin trays, plates, jugs and lanterns in an Arts and Crafts style, most of which were produced to Elizabeth’s own designs. The decorative motifs were inspired by garden plants and foliage, whilst others featured peacocks, deer and leopards. Many of the items were sold at the annual exhibition of the HAIA, held at the Albert Hall, whilst other items were sold at Liberty’s in London. Work by the class on display at the HAIA exhibition of 1899 was favourably noted in The Studio magazine (17, 1899). Two items produced by the Yattendon Class, a mug or tankard (shown right) and a tall vase, both in repoussé copperwork, are now in the collection of the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) homepage.

Waterhouse was a noted watercolourist of architectural perspectives, and later of landscapes, and produced many fine sketchbooks of studies whilst touring abroad, many of which inspired his architectural design work. One of his watercolours, entitled Lake at Foxhill (c.1879), is also held in the collection of the Museum of English Rural Life. The Museum also holds a willow basket for a donkey cart, which was made to order for a vehicle used by Waterhouse at Yattendon. The University Special Collections has recently acquired two watercolours by Alfred's son, Paul of interiors at Foxhill.

The University of Reading Special Collections Services and the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) homepage are housed in a Grade II listed building, which was designed and built by Alfred Waterhouse between 1880–1882. The original building, known as East Thorpe, was built as the home of Sir Alfred Palmer of the  Huntley and Palmers biscuit company.

East Thorpe was later acquired by the University, and was extended to form St. Andrews Hall, a University hall of residence. The hall closed in 2001.

This online exhibition provides more information about the history of the building.

The University also owns Foxhill, the Waterhouse family's former residence, which is situated on the University's main campus and now occupied by the Department of Law.

More information

  • The eight books in the collection are catalogued and appear on Enterprise
  • A full description is available from our online database
  • For more information on Alfred Waterhouse, see Alfred Waterhouse, 1830-1905 : biography of a practice by Colin Cunningham and Prudence Waterhouse. Oxford : Clarendon, 1992. (Available for loan at University Library:FOLIO--720.942-WAT/CUN).

    For more information on Elizabeth Waterhouse, see Elizabeth Waterhouse by Jill Greenaway in In the valley of the Pang, edited by Dick Greenaway & Dorcas Ward. Reading : Friends of the Pang and Kennet Valleys, 2002, pp. 39-48 (Available for reference at MERL LIBRARY--9675-INT).

  • Manuscript numbers MSS 386, 508 & 2787
local history, church history & theology, University of Reading correspondence, personal papers, other archives/mss waterhouse

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