A Potpourri of social history talks – Online

Enjoy all three talks in the autumn Potpourri series  for the price of two, with a talk series ticket.

The talk series comprises of:

Thursday 22nd October, 2-3pm, “Reading Abbey” with John Painter

Next year is the 900th anniversary of the founding of Reading Abbey. In the run up to this significant event, explore the history of the Abbey with expert John Painter.

Discover the impact of Reading Abbey on the town of Reading, both in its heyday as a royal Abbey and as one of the ten leading monasteries in the country. Hear about the impact of the dissolution and its subsequent use as a royal palace, the destruction of the Civil War, and the subsequent re-development of the Abbey Quarter and preservation of the Abbey Ruins up to the present day.

Thursday 5th November, 2-3pm, “Living through the English Civil War” with Catherine Sampson

The countryside in and around Reading was horribly affected by the Civil War. This talk tells the story of what happened to the ordinary folk when the soldiers arrived.

Discover how villages, particularly those along the Bath Road, were caught up in the skirmishes. Practically all were looted. Many individuals died because of the diseases the soldiers brought with them. Others attempted to stave off financial disaster. The cloth trade suffered disastrously. Among the masses however, we can still identify the individual. The husband who hid his valuables. The Reading Pest House occupant who feared the worst. And the Woolhampton sheep farmer who attempted to stop the plundering. Discover their stories  and more in this fascinating talk.

Thursday 19th November, 2-3pm, “Fair Mile Hospital” with Mark Stevens 

One hundred and seventy five years ago, public mental health care was invented. Acts of Parliament from 1845 resulted in ‘lunatic asylums’ being built in every county in England and Wales. Berkshire’s own asylum opened in 1870. It would become known as Fair Mile Hospital. Situated near the River Thames, and close to Cholsey, this institution dispensed care to generations of local people. Discover its history and experience 19th century mental healthcare, in this fascinating talk by Berkshire County Archivist, Mark Stevens.

To book individual talks – see their separate events listings. 

Pre-booking is required because spaces are limited. Full joining instructions will be emailed in advance. Bookings close one day before the event.

To join these talks, you will need a computer device with speakers. Ideally, also a webcam and microphone. You also need to be able to access the internet from it. First-time users of Zoom, will need, to download a small piece of software which will be sent to you in advance. Technical help is available, please contact  

To book – scroll down.

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  • Catherine Sampson MSc
    Catherine Sampson MSc

    Catherine is a veteran family historian. Her own family history research is mainly concentrated in East Anglia and the North-East.

    Catherine read Prehistory and Archaeology at the University of Sheffield in the 1980s, and more recently gained a distinction in a Masters in English Local History at Oxford University. She is a keen social historian, specialising in the Early Modern period and chairs Berkshire Family History Society and also Project Purley, Purley’s local history society. She has published several histories of her own family and in 2010 edited “Purley in Old Images”.

  • John Painter
    John Painter

    John Painter has been actively involved with the Friends of Reading Abbey from 2011, and secretary since 2013. Throughout, he has been an active supporter of the efforts to consolidate the Abbey Ruins and get them re-opened to the public in plenty of time for 2021, the 900th anniversary of the Abbey’s foundation. He is the joint editor, with Dr Peter Durrant, of “Reading Abbey and the Abbey Quarter” (Two Rivers Press, 2018).

  • Mark Stevens
    Mark Stevens
    County Archivist for Berkshire

    Mark is Berkshire’s county archivist.

    He grew up in Maidenhead and has a lifelong love of history in the Royal County. He is particularly interested in historic mental health care and the people who received it and is the author of two related books: “Broadmoor Revealed” and “Life in the Victorian Asylum”.

    Mark was elected as vice-president of the Berkshire Family History Society in 2016.

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