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Essex Field Club
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Essex Field Club

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Thomas William Reader (1859-1923) F.G.S., Grocer, amateur geologist and EFC Librarian

Thomas William Reader was born on 12th March 1859, baptised in Holy Trinity Church Islington on 29th June 1859 and died on 29th January 1923 at Mon Repos, 17, Gloucester Road, Finsbury Park aged 63.

A grandfather and namesake, Thomas Reader (1796-1855), was a brewer from Chalk, in Kent. His father, William Reader (1829-1910), a grocer and tea dealer, was born in Dartford, Kent while his mother, Eliza Frances Hubbard (1831-1916) came from Crayford, Kent. They married on 20th August 1857 in Islington. Thomas, who was their eldest child, had 5 brothers and 2 sisters. A younger brother, Francis Woodland Reader (1864-1951), a zincographer, was an eminent amateur archaeologist who wrote many articles for the Essex Naturalist.

T.W. Reader was listed as a scholar in the 1871 and subsequently pursued a career as a grocer’s assistant and then grocer, working with his father in Hemingford Road, Finsbury. He was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1891 and taught geology at Morley College and Toynbee Hall. Thomas developed interests in photography and geology which he pursued with the Essex Field Club, which he joined in 1903; and the Geologists’ Association where he was elected to membership in 1903. Thomas’s younger brother Francis had joined the Essex Field Club on 28th January 1899. By 1903 they were both on the Council of the Photographic and Pictorial Survey and Record of Essex which had been inaugurated by the Essex Field Club “for the purpose of gathering a permanent collection of photographs and other pictures of objects of interest, also maps, plans, and other documents, so as to give a comprehensive survey and record of all that is valuable and representative of the County of Essex, and of the neighbouring rivers and sea.”

Shortly after being elected a member of the Geologists’ Association he served on their Council 1906-1910. He was also a member of their Illustrations Committee putting to good use his practical knowledge of photography, engraving and block -making. He served the Geologists’ Association with distinction and was the first recipient of their prestigious Foulerton Award on 6th February 1920 for making an outstanding contribution to the Association. This is evidenced by more than 100 of his photographs being accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the Geologists Association. Reader was a constant attender of the Geologists’ Association long and short excursions, especially if a photographer was required and he took great interest and pleasure in meeting members. On 7th July 1906 he acted as one of the directors on an excursion to Danbury and Little Baddow. He directed a visit to Bruce Castle Museum, Tottenham on 9th March 1907 and another to the Borough of Stepney Museum, Whitechapel and the Nature Study Museum, Cable Street on 21st March 1908. He also wrote with Dr Theophilus Ord a 9-page report of the excursion on 15th July 1911 to Dinton Chilmark and the Vale of Wardour. A week later, on 22nd July 1911, he acted as Excursion Secretary on a trip to Wenden (Audley End) and Saffron Walden. The published field trip report includes 3 of his photographs; a mass of calcrete on the Abbey Farm, Audley End; a view from Field Bridge on the Saffron Walden Branch Line showing glacial clays and gravels overlying Chalk; and a Boulder Clay Pit near Seward’s End, Saffron Walden with glaciated rocks heaped in the foreground. Thomas also regularly displayed exhibits, especially at the Annual Reunion. On 3rd November 1905 he displayed a collection of Eocene mollusca, &c., from the Paris Basin; and a specimen of “St. Hilda’s snake (Ammonites annulatus) from Whitby. The following year on 2nd November 1906 he exhibited a series of ammonites from the Lias. He mounted two displays in 1908, the first on 3rd April 1908 when he exhibited fossils from the Paris Basin; while on 27th November 1908 he exhibited Pliocene fossils from English and foreign localities. On 5th November 1909 Thomas exhibited Devonian and Carboniferous corals, while on 3rd November 1911 he exhibited specimens of divining rods. He displayed rocks and minerals from north Cornwall and Derbyshire on 6th November 1914 and two years later, on 4th November 1916, he exhibited fossils and rock specimens from Mere, Dorset. Thomas exhibited photographs he had taken on excursions on 1st November 1912; 7th November 1913; 6th November 1914; 4th November 1916 and finally on 7th November 1919. Many of his geological photographs may be viewed on-line in the Geologists’ Association Carreck Archive, hosted by the British Geological Survey.

Thomas William Reader and the Essex Field Club.

Reader was elected a member of the Essex Field Club on 28th November 1903. His younger brother Francis had joined the Essex Field Club in 1899. Francis and Thomas presented archaeological specimens in 1901. F.W. Rudler noted in 1903 that his friend T.W. Reader “is good enough to sacrifice much time in co-operating with Mr. Cole in overhauling … the mineralogical collection in its museum at Stratford”. Reader wrote a letter to the press in June 1904 congratulating Hastings on its museum and encouraging " a working scheme of dual management and mutual help between a town council and a scientific society". Interestingly he signed the letter as a member of the Geologists' Association and Honorary Geologist to the Essex Museum of Natural History. Thomas was soon elected librarian to the Essex Field Club on 8th April 1905. In that year he reported on recent additions to the library and added the problem of properly binding up 1,000 volumes was becoming a “burning question”. The annual report in 1907 mentioned Reader’s skilled and persevering efforts in rapidly putting the library into order. He also made arrangements for a visit to the Laindon Hills by the Essex Field Club and Geologists’ Association. Reader was librarian when it was agreed by Essex Field Council in June 1912 to allow West Ham teachers and Club members to use the library in return for West Ham Council agreeing to bind and maintain the library. In 1915 he donated a copy of Kirby and Spencer’s Introduction to Entomology, published in 1818, to the library. He was librarian until 1918 when he was succeeded by Fred. J. Brand. On 26th January 1907 he gave a lecture entitled 'The Evolutionary History of Carts and Waggons'. This talk was illustrated “by a beautiful series of photographic lantern-slides, and comprised such subjects as the following:- From the Sledge to the Wheel; Vehicles of the Pre-historic and early historic periods. British Roman, Saxon, Medieval examples. Welsh, Scotch, Irish, and Essex types. Peculiar Foreign Carts.” In October 1907 he delivered an address to Toynbee Antiquarian Society on the history and development of coinage. Reader mooted writing a special memoir on the geology of Essex from notes he had on the subject for the Essex Field Club. Unfortunately, this was never published. After he resigned as librarian he lectured to the Essex Field Club on 26th October 1918 about plant life of past ages which was illustrated with a large series of lantern photographs and diagrams. The Essex Field Club collection at Pitsea has two of his small photograph albums. One illustrates an Essex Field Club trip to Fowlness on 25th May 1907 which was given to William Whitaker. Three of these images are also held in the Carreck Archive. The other contains photographs of a field trip to Duval’s Pit, Grays on 27th April 1910 given to Percy Thompson, who subsequently donated it to the Essex Field Club. Oddly some of the same images of the Grays trip appear in the Geologists’ Association trip held on 9th April 1910.

Thomas William Reader died on 29th January 1923 at Mon Repos 17, Gloucester Road, Finsbury Park. Probate of his £2,829.99 estate was granted on 10th May 1923 to his brother Francis Woodland Reader (1864-1951), who shared his geological, antiquarian and photographic interests. Thomas was buried on 30th January 1923 in a family grave plot 34452, square 25 at Highgate Cemetery (West). His brother Francis W. Reader joined the Geologists’ Association on 13th April 1923, very shortly after his brother’s death. Earlier, his brother led and reported on an inspection of the remains of the City wall of old London on 7th March 1914 Proceedings of the Geologists Association vol. 26 1915 pp. 105-109.

Obituaries appeared in the Proceedings of the Geologists Association vol. 35 1924 pp. 158-159 and the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society vol 79 1924 pp. lxv-lxvi.

Account provided by Mr William George
page last edited on Fri May 1st 2020 by site user 68