2022 marks 40 years since Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, was born at Reading's Royal Berkshire Hospital. To mark the occasion, the National Portrait Gallery lent a new portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge to Reading Museum.

In this blog, learn about Reading's royal history and Kate's links to the local area, illustrated by artworks from our art collection.

Reading's royal past

For more than a thousand years Reading has been linked with England's royals. The town first appeared in the history books (Asser's Life of King Alfred) as a 'royal vill' in 867, when the town was captured by Viking raiders.

Several centuries (and one Norman conquest) later, a royal abbey was built in the town by King Henry I in 1121, which was later garrisoned by Royalist troops during the English Civil War. Many monarchs would enjoy more peaceful visits to the town in the centuries to come, including most recently HRH Queen Elizabeth II and her late husband Prince Philip.

The royal connections of the wider county were recognised in 1957, when Berkshire was proclaimed as the Royal County of Berkshire, largely due to the presence of nearby Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle photographed at sunset.
Windsor Castle. (Photo by David Iliff. License: CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Royal Berkshire Hospital

Kate Middleton was born on the 9th January 1982 at Reading's Royal Berkshire Hospital, known locally as the RBH or the Royal Berks.

The Hospital started as an independent charitable organisation. It was built upon land donated by Lord Sidmouth, a Reading resident and former Prime Minister of England. Sidmouth's work was supported by King William IV, who granted the use of ‘Royal’ in the RBH's name.

The RBH opened its doors on the 27th May 1839. Some of its first patients were workers injured while building the Great Western Railway. The original Bath stone building on London Road was designed by local architect Henry Briant and constructed between 1837 to 1839.

Lithograph of the Royal Berkshire Hospital.
Royal Berkshire Hospital. Lithographed by T. J. Rawlins, about 1839. (REDMG : 1974.102.1)

Kate's early life in Berkshire

Kate grew up in the village of Bucklebury, where her parents still live today. Bucklebury itself has royal heritage, as it was once a royal manor belonging to King Edward the Confessor (of Bayeux Tapestry fame).

At some point between 1151 and 1154, Bucklebury's church of St Mary the Virgin (today a Grade I listed building) was acquired by Reading Abbey. Its ornate stone Romanesque south doorway dates to this period, and bears similarities to the cloister capitals that decorated Reading Abbey. You can view examples of these in the Reading Museum galleries today.

Watercolour of Bucklebury parish church.
Watercolour of Bucklebury parish church, by an unknown artist, 1865. (REDMG : 1950.60.1)

The Middleton family regularly attended worship at Pangbourne parish church of St James the Less. Much like Bucklerbury's, Pangbourne's church became part of Reading Abbey in 1135. The church's west tower is dated to 1718 on various bricks and stones, but the rest was rebuilt in 1866 by J. Woodman in a decorated Gothic style.

A print showing Pangbourne parish church, drawn and engraved by Charles Tomkins, 1792.
A print showing Pangbourne parish church, drawn and engraved by Charles Tomkins, 1792. (REDMG : 1974.549.1)

At the heart of Bucklebury is Bucklebury Common. This is one of the largest commons in southern England, covering a total of 860 acres. The area is owned by the Bucklebury Manor estate, but has public access on a network of public rights of way. Today, the estate's management is assisted by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust.

Oil painting of Bucklebury Common by Edwin Wilkins Waite, about 1900.
Oil painting of Bucklebury Common by Edwin Wilkins Waite, about 1900. (REDMG : 1931.287.1)

Celebrating Kate's 40th in 2022

In recent months we have been delighted to display a portrait of Kate, taken by photographer Paolo Roversi, in the Reading Museum galleries. The artwork was generously lent to us by the National Portrait Gallery as part of their Coming Home programme. The portrait celebrates Kate's life today as well as her roots in the local area.

Photograph of the Duchess of Cambridge.

The portrait remains on display until the 4th June 2022. Visiting is free. Plan your trip to Reading Museum today.