Harrinson Testimonial Cross in St Mary’s Churchyard

On the morning of 19 December 1887 almost exactly 135 years ago Canon Garry unveiled the Harrinson Testimonial Cross, also referred to as the Jubilee Cross, in St Mary’s Churchyard. 

Harrinson Memorial Cross

Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) Planning Applications Committee approved long overdue repairs to the Grade II listed cross and its inscription at their meeting on 7 December 2022.

Included in the same application for listed building consent were repairs to and cleaning of: the Simeon Monument in Market Place; Queen Victoria Jubilee Statue in Town Hall Square and the damaged Zinzan tomb in St Mary’s churchyard (within the curtilage of St Mary’s Minster).

The work is to be paid for from the High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) project funded by Historic England and RBC.

Reading CAAC supported the listed building consent for these works.

Isaac Harrinson

Mr Isaac Harrinson (1810-1888) was a surgeon on Castle Street, later moving to ‘Bardsey’ on Bath Road. His generous donations had allowed improvements to be carried out to St Mary’s Minster and St Mary’s Butts.

Opening up the churchyard

St Mary’s Butts looking south 1886. On the left the Allied Arms, entrance to Barley Court, No 55 Sisley & Goodall Plumbers and 54 onwards to be demolished. Centre – Middle Row. On the right the Swan Inn and entrance to Hosier Street. Courtesy of Reading Borough Libraries local studies department.

A row of ‘unsightly and unsanitary’ [ref 1] cottages backing on to St Mary’s churchyard and ‘Middle Row’, a group of properties in the middle of the Bridge Street end of the road were demolished in 1886. The opening up of the churchyard was seen as a positive step and long overdue. Malcolm Summers describes how in 1865 the council had purchased some of the properties with a view to demolishing them but progress was slow due to lack of funds. Financial support from Isaac Harrinson eventually persuaded the council into action and the buildings were demolished in 1886 [ref 2].

At the June 1885 council meeting that agreed to the work G W Colebrook stated “St Mary’s churchyard, when thrown open in the manner proposed, would form an important ‘lung’ to the town, He believed the Butts would some day be one of the leading thoroughfares of the town and that the removal of the cottages would ‘let in light’ upon a much wider question”[ref 3].

St Mary’s Butts before and after the demolition of the cottages on the east side and Middle Row

Commissioning of the testimonial cross

The parishioners of St Mary’s in 1887 subscribed to a testimonial fund which was used to commission a cross for Isaac Harrinson to thank him for his generosity. This was Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Year that had already seen the erection of a fountain in the middle of St Mary’s Butts and of a statue of the Queen in Town Hall Square.

Nineteen designs were submitted for the churchyard cross and two were selected for a final decision by Mr Harrinson. The design selected was by Spencer Slingsby Stallwoood (1844-1922). The builders were Messrs Wheeler.

Inscription beneath the finial ‘By Thy Cross and Passion, Good Lord Deliver Us’

Beneath the finial at the top of the cross is an inscription ‘By Thy Cross and Passion, Good Lord Deliver Us’. There are four shields above the base with the arms of Mr Harrinson, the Borough of Reading, the Diocese of Salisbury (the former diocese of Reading) and Diocese of Oxford (the current diocese). 

Leaded inscription to Isaac Harrinson Esq

The leaded inscription on the steps which will be re-instated said:

Erected
by public subscription to record the munificence of
ISAAC HARRINSON, Esq.
by which the improvements in St. Mary’s Butts 
were brought to a successful completion. 
A.D. 1887
The year of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

Unveiling of the cross – improvement v heritage preservation

The Berkshire Chronicle and Reading Mercury both reported at length on the ceremonial proceedings, the speeches made and the details of the cross. The reports vary in some details but are substantially the same.

Canon Garry spoke about the improvements being made in Reading “Those who lived in Reading and kept their eyes open could not but recognise the gradual but continuous course of re-construction which their very interesting old borough was undergoing. That work had been done not to order, as in many foreign towns, for there was none of that uniformity by which the last Emperor of the French took away almost the last vestige of interest from the old city of Paris; but in Reading the process of improvement had been carried out by private enterprise and according to individual tastes.”

He went on to add that some of the houses in St Mary’s Butts were also in need of improvement but “…he trusted that whenever their restoration or rebuilding was taken in hand, the old gables which were such a feature of the place would be retained [ref 4]”. The press report in the Berkshire Chronicle continues that “…they were as equally worthy of being preserved as the old inn in Holborn [ref 5].”

The ‘old inn’ was the Staple Inn which was considered to be under threat of demolition in the mid 1880s. The image below accompanied an article in the Illustrated London News “The quaint old house is probably doomed, as modern shopkeeping wants the site for a more remunerative display of retail business establishments; but the hall and garden ought to be spared [ref 6].”

The Staple Inn, High Holborn. Illustrated London News 13 November 1886 via wikimdia commons.

Staple Inn did survive and parts of it are listed Grade I. The listing descriptions (1246103 & 1246100) record that Alfred Waterhouse restored the buildings in 1886 and in the case of 1-4 Holborn Bars removed the plastered front and eighteenth century sash windows.

The gables that Canon Garry refers to could be those on any of the old buildings in St Mary’s Butts some of which were demolished around the turn of the century. The Swan Inn and other buildings on the northern corner of Hosier Street were replaced by the four storey timbered buildings we see today but The Horn and immediately neighbouring properties remain.

Presentation to Isaac Harrinson

Following Canon Garry’s speech Mr Harrinson was presented with an illuminated address by Mr W H Poutney showing St Mary’s Butts in 1885 and 1887 after improvement. He responded, describing how he had to overcome many difficulties to achieve his mission and his gratitude to everyone who had helped to carry it out. 

Then the Mayor, W B Monck, thanked Mr Harrinson for his generosity which allowed the works to take place. The council’s contribution had come from the profits of the sewage farm which he said had never made a profit before and probably never would again. He proposed a vote of thanks to St Mary’s vestry committee, the architect and the builder responsible for the cross.

 


References

  1. Reading Mercury 6 June 1885
  2. Malcom Summers, Signs of the Times: Reading’s Memorials. Two Rivers Press. 2019.
  3. Reading Mercury 6 June 1885 report on Reading Town Council meeting of 4 June 1885.
  4. Reading Mercury 24 December 1887
  5. Berkshire Chronicle 24 December 1887
  6. Illustrated London News 13 November 1886.

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