The Unique Harris Shopping Arcade
A map to Harris Arcade

History of Harris Arcade

The Friar Street entrance to Harris arcade in the swinging 60s. The Friar Street entrance to Harris arcade in the swinging 60s.

Harris Shopping Arcade was built in about 1930 and despite some big changes it still looks much the same now as it did then. It is named after the businessman who owned and developed the site, Mr John Harris.

The entrance to the arcade from Friar Street is at No.15. A substantial Georgian period townhouse, built at about the same time as the houses on either side, all of which feature in the arcade's later development. The Friar Street entrance leads through what would have been the ground-floor reception rooms and on into the back garden.

On the right-hand side (where the Arcade Bookshop is now) for many years was the famous Sally's Cafe. This had been developed from the kitchen of the property next door at No.14.

On the left side is the Mobile phone shop and the Flowerbox, these together with the bookshop and two shops at the entrance, formed the first small arcade of shops. This existed at the middle to end of the 1920's. The current entrances were made next and the arcade completed in it's entirety in 1930.

The layout changed little over the next 40 years or so. There were shops along one side with showrooms and offices of Mr Harris's company, the Great Western Motor Co along the other.

The arcade escaped from the war unscathed, although there was apparently a war-time brothel in the basement of one of the shops.

The historical plan of Harris Arcade Map from 1878, showing the site of the future arcade.

Sally's Cafe became particularly well known in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the fearsome manager was a Mrs St Nicholas (aka Baroness Erisso) mother to a teenage Marrianne Faithfull, which ensured for a time, that the Rolling Stones known locally as "the boys", were frequent visitors.

After the Great Western Motor Co sold-up and moved to Vastern road the new owners made some changes. They decided to keep the arcade intact but changed the layout to accommodate shops on both sides for the entire length and a large indoor market where the car showrooms and garage had once been.

Some of these changes can be traced along the shop fronts today. The nice polished granite up-stand supporting the windows of the original shops becomes a dull wooden one under the windows of the more recent shops.

Similar looking, but rather more dated facades with their recessed doorways and differently textured terrazzo flooring distinguish the arcade's earliest shops near the Friar Street entrance

The very popular indoor market, known simply as "Traders" was entered through double doors half-way through the arcade where it changes direction. The cut-outs for the hinges are still visible in the wood-work.

For many in Reading, this was the hey-day of the arcade. Anyone intent on shopping in the very popular Traders, would probably have walked through Harris arcade to reach it, ensuring there was a level of passing trade which the current tenants can only dream of!

Some of the businesses which started out in Traders are still thriving locally, for example Shakti and The Bag Shop both now in the Bristol & West arcade or Kik Sports now in the biggest authentically independent part of town, Harris Arcade itself !.

To be continued...

If you have any stories or photos of Harris Arcade please let us know at rossjhale@hotmail.com

Or visit the Takeaway Gallery in the arcade.

Thank you !

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