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Report - The Peoples Pantry (market place WW2 bombing site) - Reading

jack watkins

28DL Full Member
The History
During the second world war reading and the rest of Berkshire were considered by many to be rather safe areas away from the intense bombing raids of the blitz on London. However reading was still subject to as many as 20 bombing raids from German aircraft many of which were likely targeting the nearby reading station railway lines which were utilised to aid in the war effort hence the most fear of a bombing raid on reading was on the station. On top of this Berkshire by no means left the war unscathed as seen in the report given by Berkshires county ARP officer at the end of the war which states as follows although the area did escape and major bomb damage and destruction:
  • From the commencement of the war until the end of June 1940, the county escaped any enemy attention, though the sirens were sounded for one or two alerts.
  • Between July 1940 and May 1941 some 1,595 bombs and many incendiaries were dropped in the county.
  • After May 1941 only occasional small attacks, totalling 115 bombs, were experienced, the last of these being April 1944.
  • Between June and the end of 1944, a dozen flying bombs, and in March 1945, a long range rocket, fell in the county.
The number of casualties was: Fatal: 43; serious, 96; slight, 181.
Five enemy aeroplanes were reported to have been destroyed in the county.
The total number of bombs dropped was 1,710, of which 1,595 were H.E., 105 were oil bombs, and 10 were parachute mines. In addition, there were 54 occasions when falls of the 1 kgr. incendiary bombs were recorded, and these numbered several thousand in all, though no attempt was made to count them accurately.
The fall of bombs by years was as follows:
1940: 1,310;
1941: 296;
1942: 21;
1943: 11;
1944: 72.

The fall by county districts was:
Wokingham, 236;
Easthampstead, 224;
Newbury, 200;
Maidenhead, 190;
Windsor Borough, 177;
Bradfield, 175;
Abingdon, 164;
Faringdon, 95;
Windsor Rural District, 88;
Hungerford, 74;
Wallingford, 52;
Wantage, 35.

source: http://www.arborfieldhistory.org.uk/C20/memories_bombs.htm

Anyway focusing back on reading, reading had seen no significant bombing raids or casualties until Wednesday February 10th 1943 when the most significant wartime bombing raid took place on reading when two Dornier 217 bombers were seen following the great western railway line which connected reading westwards towards London . At some point the bombers split and one headed towards Newbury while the other at 4.34pm carried on over south reading raining down machine gun fire on the town and release 4 1000lb bombs on the town. Assuming the bombs were intended to hit the railways the attacker in reading missed its target as the bombs landed too far south and struck parts of the market place and the adjacent friar street and the even further south minster street. The raid killed a total of 41 people and likely injured many more. The majority of the casualties that day occurred in 175 Friar Street , a Victorian arcade in reading which housed a range of shops and frequently market stalls , one shop in particular was the peoples pantry in which 29 of the total casualties occurred when on the 4 bombs struck the arcade completely destroying the shop and severely damaging the arcade. the peoples pantry was a typical British wartime restaurant that provided both locals and British armed forces with meals at a "reasonable price" during the second world war. The casualties would have been considerably higher if it hadn't been a Wednesday and shops closed earlier and it was for this reason that my grandfather at 13 years of age decided not to stick to his routine visits to the peoples pantry the day it was bombed.

above is the readings Victorian arcade which housed the peoples pantry taken in 1941.

the above photo was taken in the peoples pantry around likely some time between 1939 and 1943

The papers at the time being very careful in what they reported said very little on the incident other than the following

A.R.P. Personnel and soldiers searching for victims amongst the ruins of a British restaurant destroyed in a raid on a home counties town

However the reading mercury (the newspaper at the time) would go onto publish the following soon after on May 8th 1943

The Raid on Reading

Town Hall and a Church Damaged

The Home Counties town, victim of a tip-and-run raid, was Reading, it can now be revealed. Bombs fell in the centre of town, causing considerable damage, and a number of casualties. Many were seriously injured. Children were among the victims. […] One of Reading’s oldest churches, St. Laurence’s, was damaged.

source: http://www.arborfieldhistory.org.uk/C20/memories_bombs.htm

skipping forward 50 or so years brook Henderson house had been constructed over the site of the peoples pantry leaving no obvious trace of the fated restaurant. brook Henderson house years ago as I hear from my grandfather may have housed a bank or loans business as he tells me he took out another mortgage on his house to afford a new Morris minor and then went on the simply be let off office space for local businesses and at one point provided office space for the local council. Brook Henderson house was also constructed over the now derelict Bristol and west arcade which housed shops such as long tall sally and a local run business called the bag shop for many years until 2004 when the above office space was left derelict then in 2006 the below Bristol and west arcade was purchased by a developer with the intent to demolished the entire site however the developer ended up bankrupt and sold off the site which was then likely purchased by another developer who constructed a wooden walkway in the building with 3 shops which were eventually shut in 2015 as a result of health and safety concerns. after some partial demolition work the building has now sat derelict for 3 years.


the inside of Bristol and west arcade today


the above photograph of Bristol brook Henderson is the exact site of the bombed Victorian arcade


the photo above shows close to the site of the peoples pantry after the blast clearly after a clear up had taken place

most of the area in the last picture is now covered by a sainsburys however an underground section of Bristol and west can be accessed near this point

Heading underground into what were the service tunnels and basement of Bristol and west it soon became apparent that there are still bomb damaged traces of the fated peoples pantry hidden away from public eye, only to be discovered if you can pass the mass of pigeon shit and mould in the area.


a number of broken pipe parts were in the area

the way out

the window frame and glass were all bent inwards from the blast


old fittings



the bomb damaged window sill



the choice of building material definitely date the building. Victorian yellow brick wall and caved in window are all that is to show today of the restaurant however when you consider its local significance it was a great find.

soon Bristol and west arcade will be torn down to construct accommodation reading really doesn't need and chances are this part of the buildings heritage wont be preserved however this wont erase the memory the bombings in the area as the adjacent the chambers of the now blandy and blandy llp building were severely damaged in the raid and now hold the memorial plaque to those killed.

furthermore st laurences church directly to the right of the plaque still shows bomb damage to this day with part of an arch way left in the church yard and many visible shrapnel marks over the front façade of the building. also parts of the building are very clearly newer than others.



visible shrapnel marks


today the area around the peoples pantry show little sign of the extent of the total damage caused with the town hall looking totally new compared to its façade post bombing.


casualties of the same raid also occurred down the road in minster street when one the 4 bombs hit a local department store Wellstead’s which now shows no resemblance to the area it once was. in terms of signs of the raids on reading the market place shows most of the history.


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