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Reading Bus Depot previously Reading Corporation Electric Tramways

The Power Station: boiler house left and generator hall right

Reading Bus and Tram Depot

Berkshire Industrial Archaeology Group took the opportunity to record details of the Reading Bus Depot during the three weeks before the demolition contractors moved in on April 20th 1998. We were invited to assist the Oxford Archaeology Unit in the recording of the depot before it was demolished to make way for ‘The Oracle’ shopping mall development.

Main entrance to the garage and west end of the 1932 office block


The bus company was a municipal concern run by the Reading Corporation before 1991. It was started in 1879 with horse-drawn tram cars run by the Imperial Tramways Company. The depot for the horse-drawn trams was just east of the Reading West railway station on the south side of the Oxford Road. The Imperial Tramways Company was bought up in 1901 by the Reading Corporation who made the decision to electrify the system. Reading Corporation Electric Tramways moved to the Mill Lane site in 1903 and the first electric tram cars ran on 22 July 1903. The new Tramways Depot was built on the site of St Giles Mill, a brass foundry and the old Reading water works.

Motor buses were introduced in 1919, AEC vehicles running on solid rubber tyres. On the date of our visit the tripod clamp used to assist levering off the solid tyres was still in place in the concrete floor of the garage. Trolley buses replaced trams, the first trolley buses started running on 18 July 1936. Trams ceased to run in 1939. The trolley buses, in turn, were phased out in 1968.

Trolleybus overhead wire maintainance vehicle.


Detail of stairs to General Manager’s office in the 1932 office building


The most significant part of the garage before it was demolished was the old Reading Corporation Tramways Power Station. When the electric trams were introduced in 1903 there was no national power supply so a boiler house and generating station were built at the new tramways garage. The generators supplied power at 500 volts for the trams. The station was also used to power the Town Hall and supply the houses of some of the people in charge of the Corporation.

The other part of the garage which was of interest was the offices. These had been as a single storey building on the west of the site fronting on to Mill Lane when the tramways depot was built in 1903, with the tram sheds behind. The Managing Director had his office in the centre of the site, alongside the power house. The workshops were on the east side of the sight. This changed in about 1932 when the new bus shed was built and a second storey added to the office block. The General Manager had a new office built in a wood panelled suite on the south west corner of the first floor of the new office block.

1932 office block looking east. The General Manager’s office is on the left above the entrance. Power Station beyond.


Dennis Johnson
10 August, 2011

Chronology of the Mill Lane Depot of Reading Transport

  • 1903 Built as Tramways Depot by R W Blackwell & CoPower Station with boiler house and power house:
    • 3 Babcock & Willcox water tube boilers
    • 4 Browett & Lindsey compound vertical engines, each driving a British Westinghouse 6-pole compound dynamo of 100 kw, total 400 kw at 500 volts
  • 1919 Motor buses introduced
  • 1923 Bus garage, paint shop and joiners shop built
  • 1926 Extension to the north
  • 1928 Infill between paint shop and offices
  • 1932 Stores, second storey to offices
  • October 1936 Power station last used
  • 1936 Trams transferred to bus garage and extra tracks laid
    Tram shed on west demolished
  • 1936 New trolleybus depot built by A J Main, Glasgow Works
  • 1941 Boiler house stripped for trolleybus maintenance workshop
  • 1971 Rebuilding of stores, etc
  • 1991 Refurbishment of offices including division of first floor offices and restructuring on ground floor
  • 1998 Demolition to make way for ‘The Oracle’ shopping mall


Mill Road site, 1903 layout (North is towards the top). The area occupied by the new depot was previously the site of St Giles’ Mill and the mill tail


Mill Road site, 1932 layout


Plan of 1903 Power House and General Manager’s office


Elevation of the 1932 General Manager’s office interior showing fireplace and panelling

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