Charity takes on Reading University to save First World War building


The Victorian Society has launched a campaign to try to stop Reading University from knocking down St Patrick’s Hall – a building that was used by air cadets during the First World War.

Among those who lived there was William Earl Johns, creator of the Biggles books, who may have based the book Biggles Learns to Fly on the time he spent at St Patrick’s.

Poignant symbol

The university says the existing halls are obsolete and cannot fulfill the needs of 100s of today’s students. It added: ‘What was appropriate for air cadets in the First World War is inappropriate for students in the 21st Century, who rightfully expect high standards.’

The Victorian Society said the proposed redevelopment was ‘especially poignant’ as 2015 marks the centenary of the establishment of the No 1 School of Military Aeronautics in the university’s buildings. Royal Flying Corp planes were kept on the university playing fields nearby.

Biggles’ creator

Captain WE Johns served in the trenches before joining the RFC. He first brought Biggles to his readers in a story entitled The White Fokker in 1932. The character eventually featured in almost 100 books and remained popular for decades. In more recent times, Biggles – white, middle class and not averse to a bit of Edwardian-style language – has fallen victim to the rulings of political correctness.

To find out more about the Victorian Society’s campaign, click here.

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