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Three Wokingham Families by Peter Must reported by Bryan Pledger.

The talk started with a photograph of the blue plaque on Montague House in Broad Street stating the house was named after Henry Montague, a schoolmaster in 1654. The Winkfield records of the Mountagues from 1538 in the Berkshire Record Office has the Will of Thomas Mountague 1628.  There is a plaque to him in Winkfield Parish Church.  He died on 31st March 1630.  His Will divided his estate between Henry and his sons Henry and Zacheus, and his brother Jonas and his son Thomas. From the Book of Clerics, Henry c1573 -1632 was in 1610 a schoolmaster in Oakingham.  William Whitlock, Lord of the Manor of Beches, Wokingham’s mother -in-law in her Will appointed her friend Henry Mountague to be an overseer.  Henry married and had children including Henry, Thomas and Zacheus.  He died in 1634 and in his Will, signed Henry Mountague, listed a house in Wokingham that included a School room.  Henry the younger is listed in Liber Cleri as a schoolmaster in Wokingham 1635.  “The Antiquities of Berkshire 1723” notes the tomb on the north side of All Saints Church as the site of Henry Mountague’s grave.  In the Will of Edward Mylem 1633 he leaves his house to his wife that is between that of Henry Mountague and Richard Whitlock.  The present house in Broad Street is newer than this house thus the spelling of his name and location on the blue plaque are incorrect.

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William Heelas born in 1776 in Luton was a woolstapler and Baptist.  An advert in 1798 shows that where he lived in Market Place had linen and woollen items for sale. By 1828 the store is listed as William Heelas and Sons.  By 1840 he moved to Buckhurst House now Hilton St Anne’s Manor.  In 1828 the Test and Corporation Acts were repealed allowing non-conformists to take office and allowing William to serve as Alderman and JP.  He died in 1856 leaving his properties to sons William and John.  William moved to Buckhurst House.  John married and had children including John, Daniel, James and Tyndale.  John first lived in 3 Market Place but moved to Holt House in 1855.  He died in 1884 and is buried in the Baptist Chapel in Milton Road.  John Jr born 1826 married and they rented Woodlands (Littlecourt, now Wade Centre) and died in 1910.

Daniel born 1820 married in 1860 with Edward Daniel born 1866 later staying in the business.  On 29th April 1854 a business at 33 Minster Street, Reading was taken over with Tyndale running the Wokingham store and John Jr and Daniel the Reading store. In 1870 they acquired premises in Broad Street, Reading where it is today.  Daniel moved into The Holt when his father died and Daniel’s son Edward Daniel became Joint Managing Directors with cousin John when he died.  John married in 1882 having 4 children including Raymond who was the last to be actively involved with the company.  In 1926 the store became just Heelas Ltd and was sold to John Lewis in 1953 becoming John Lewis in 2001.

Tyndale born 1839 enlarged the Wokingham store up to the Bush Hotel.  He married in 1869 having children including Arthur b 1869 and Frank 1874-1964.

Arthur married in 1907 with son Eric born 1911 who worked for the company but did not run it.

Frank bought Embrook Flour Mill near to what is now Woosehill roundabout in 1904 He made many donations including Emmbrook Mission Room and St Paul’s.  His death in 1964 saw the end of the Heelas family in Wokingham.  The store closed in 1965 for re- development.  Today there is an engraving in the wall of John Lewis of “HEELAS”.  In Wokingham there is Heelas Road and William Heelas Way is on the new housing site at Montague Park.

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John Walter I born in 1739 started The Times newspaper in January 1788.  His son John Walter II born 1776 took over its running in 1804.  In the 1820’s he acquired Bear Wood Estate building a lake and a classical style villa.  He was a generous man, building houses in the locality, a school and a church.  He died in 1847 when his estate was inherited by son William III born 1818, enlarging the estate and building Bearwood House to replace the original one.  He provided a model village for his estate workers, the Walters Arms pub and paying for St Catherine’s Church, Bearwood to be refurbished.

In 1862 he funded the entire cost of St Paul’s Church, Wokingham, paid for a new school, parish rooms and a clock tower at the corner of Station Road and Shute End

He died in 1894 and was buried in the very large family grave.

John Water III’s eldest son John Balston died on Christmas Eve 1870 when he fell through the ice at Bearwood Lake.

John Water III was succeeded by son Arthur born 1848. He inherited The Times and died in 1910 and was buried in a modest grave in St Catherine’s graveyard.

The Times was sold to Lord Hinchcliffe in 1908 and Bearwood was sold in 1911 becoming a convalescent home in WW1, then Royal Merchant Navy School then Bearwood College and now Reddam House School.  Recently an exhibition at the school was attended by John Walter VII and his sister the actress Dame Harriet Walter.  Today Walter Road, the pub and Walter Infants School now on its site in Oxford Road are reminders.

The three families have left an enduring mark on the fabric and lives of the town.

February 2020

Sandra Barkwith

Sandra Barkwith

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