Caversham Court – Overview
The site of a former mansion, Caversham Court is now a public garden in the Reading suburb of Caversham. The old rectory at Caversham was used for many years by influential families in the area, before a Tudor replacement was built on the site of the original house. Available in the Reading Museum shop, a heritage guide about the Caersham Court Gardens covers the site’s history from its first house to its current purpose as a public space run by the council.
Caversham Court was known for many years as ‘The Old Rectory’, and was the second great house of the parish, after the main mansion building of Caversham Park, used for many years by BBC Monitoring and BBC Radio Berkshire.
The rectory stood on the site of the old Chapel of Our Lady of Caversham, an important pilgrimage centre in Medieval times for the worship of the Virgin Mary.
The medieval community that existed in Caversham was gathered around the north side of Caversham Bridge to the east of St Peter’s Church, which was built in the 12th century. The second Earl of Buckingham, Walter Giffard, donated the land for the church and accordingly its rectory, together with a considerable amount of land around it. The Augustinian Abbey of Notley were also gifted money by Giffard, and it was these monks that installed a small monastic cell at Caversham.
A Tudor era house was built after the Dissolution of the Monasteries centred around two courtyards, with its beautiful timber-framing providing a local nickname of the Striped House. The grand staircase dated from 1638, and its walls showed bullet holes from an attack during the siege of Reading, an eleven day blockade in the English Civil War.
Following the Restoration of Charles II, the Rectory was leased to Thomas Loveday who later bought the property and is thought to have laid out and landscaped the garden. Based on the rough layouts dating from that time, Caversham Court Gardens are divided into two main sections either side of an axial terraced walk running towards east/west through the centre, roughly 50m north of the River Thames.
The gardens have consistently been given the prestigious Green Flag Award and Green Heritage Site status for a period of ten years since they opened, most recently in September 2020. Green Flag Awards are granted to parks and outdoor spaces that are well-maintained, welcoming, healthy, safe and secure. Green Heritage status was granted to show that the gardens promote excellent care and upkeep of a site of historical importance.
From the home of Augustinian friars to a country club for Reading locals, the land now known as Caversham Court Gardens has a long and varied history. Throughout its journeyed story, Caversham Court has been home to unscrupulous money-lenders, travelling antiquarians, brewers and bankers, all with an eye for profiteering at the expense of the people of Reading.
For many years, Caversham Court was home to the Simonds family, first in 1799 by William Blackall Simonds who re-developed the Tudor era Caversham Rectory into a viable mansion. At that time the property had 25 rooms, with its own brewery, boathouse, carpenter’s workshop, extensive stables and the Summer House. The latter is the only building still remaining from the period and is now more commonly known as the Gazebo.