Originally a private residence from around 1800, this Grade II listed building was later lived in by George Palmer of the Huntley and Palmers biscuit company, then donated in 1905 to the University Extension College (later Reading University). It was to serve as the senior common room, to ‘always be used for the purposes of dignity and usefulness’ by the University and ‘preserved in good repair and order in perpetuity’.
With its stonework restored this year, an extensive lawn with its curved brick wall, itself a listed feature, and remains of a fernery, The Acacias retains an atmosphere of a Victorian gentleman’s residence. Not normally open to the public, visitors will be able to visit the Senior Common Room, take part in one of the lawn games or simply relax in a ‘Gentleman’s Club’ chair. There will be an exhibition on the evolution of this ten acre site, from Sutton’s seed ground to university campus. Visitors can stroll through the cloisters to the Dairy café, itself housed in an interesting building once the British Institute of Dairying.
The Common Room was an institution much supported by Edith Morley, a lecturer in English who became Britain’s first female professor. Truly an ‘Extraordinary Woman’ she was a suffragist, a member of the Fabian Society and especially known for her work with refugees. Her memoirs were recently published by Reading’s Two Rivers Press which will mount a small exhibition on Professor Morley and her fight for equality.