The Retreat in Reading, a brief history

The Retreat has character and characters

Hosts of eccentrics have peopled The Retreat. These include Moriarty, Military George, renowned fighter pilot and geologist Bobbie Langham, Barry the mouth-organ player and perhaps most memorable in recent years Frank Wicks, who made a posthumous appearance on a CD by local group, Bidgie Reef and the Gas, set up by former landlord, Peter Brooks, and customer, Roger Winslet. SOURCE:

The Retreat in the 1800s

The Retreat opened its doors as a pub in 1875. Early landlords included Thomas Law and George Uzzle.

Many of the other pubs that were close by have closed since then.

The 1900s

There was a steady succession of landlords at the pub through the 1900s.

In the early 1950s The Retreat, was one of the eight pubs owned by S H. Higgs of Reading, whose Lion Brewery stood on the site now occupied by the Police Station in Castle Street. The brewery and its eight pubs were bought by Wethereds in 1954. The precise date S H Higgs acquired The Retreat is not known.

Wethered’s owned the property for many years. They also formerly owned the house next door, 10 St John’s Street, and there were plans in the 1970s, perhaps mercifully unrealised, to extend the pub into this property.

It is noted that in 1971 the pub was still owned by Whitbread. It subsequently passed into the hands of Enterprise Inns.

The Retreat matches supplied by Boulden's Match Company in Southampton

At some time in the 1900s, one of the landlords sourced matches, pictured here, for their smoking customers. These were sourced from Boulden’s Match Company in Southampton.

The Retreat was one of the Reading pubs included in CAMRA’s first Good Beer Guide in 1974 with many subsequent re-entries. The pub continues to merit the description, ‘a delightful back-street pub’.

Notable 20th-century proprietors included P J Dunne, who had a brass ‘licence-plate’, the Lawrence family and George Scott, who with his late wife, Rose, moved to the Dove in 1992.

The 2000s

The Retreat duck pub sign

The Retreat was sold by Enterprise Inns to Admiral Taverns in 2006. Initially under Graham Mutton, and subsequently Peter Brookes then, Bernie Whiten and Jane Marsden, it acquired a deserved reputation as a free house selling a good range of micro-brewed beers, as well as cider and European bottled beers.

The now-famous Pickled Onion Contest started in 2006 with controversy from the outset. >>> read more

There were big concerns about the future of the pub in 2013 when the landlords Jane Marsden and Bernie Whiten were leaving. Bernie and Jane, in their decade at The Retreat, were enormously popular. A book showing their history with The Retreat was published >>> see the book

But, life went on. Here’s a link to a review from 2015.

The Retreat is one of the last two surviving mid-terrace pubs in Reading, the Foresters Arms being the other.

Brian Moignard became the landlord in 2013 and he is still there today.

In 2019, the tenancy became available and yet there was concern over the future of the pub. In August of that year, Dave Gray, Di Whitaker and Mark Birmingham bought the tenancy with the specific intent of keeping the traditions going.


In the autumn of 2020, in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, a major refurbishment was carried out. Here are some photos of the work nearing completion.

Past landlords/publicans

Click here for a list of past landlords Reading.

Can you tell us more?

If you know more details of the history of The Retreat, Reading or have any photos from yesteryear, please share them with us.

More background information