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Page last updated at 10:07 GMT, Wednesday, 23 September 2009 11:07 UK
Origins of Oracle shopping centre
By Emma Midgley
BBC Berkshire

The Oracle Shopping Centre
The Oracle was officially opened in 2000 by Princess Anne

The Oracle shopping centre in Reading celebrates its tenth anniversary on 23 September 2009, but is built on the ruins of much more ancient buildings.

From 1996 to 1998, a team of up to 50 archaeologists worked on excavations on the site of The Oracle development.

They discovered an ancient tannery, items from the ruins of Reading Abbey and a water mill dating back to the Domesday Book.

The Oracle itself takes its name from a 17th Century workhouse.

The workhouse was one of the earliest in the country and was built in 1628 by John Kendrick, a philanthropist who had made his fortune in the cloth industry.

Holy Brook

The Oracle workhouse featured a brick arch which spanned the stream then known as the Holy Brook. The Holy Brook can still be seen as you enter The Oracle shopping centre from Minster Street.

The workshop was turned into an army barracks during the Civil War and demolished in 1850, but its name lives on in Reading.

The Oracle Workhouse Gate
The Oracle Workhouse was originally created for poor clothiers

The archaeologists discovered below the remains of the workhouse were the pits of a 16th century tannery.

In the 1500s a wooden vat would have been set into each clay-lined pit, containing a foul liquor in which the animal hides were soaked.

The smells would have wafted towards churchgoers at nearby St Mary's.

Domesday Book

Excavations also revealed that a water mill stood on the south bank of the River Kennet since at least the time of Domesday Book in 1086.

St Giles Mill was rebuilt on a much larger scale around 1600, and survived until it was pulled down to build the Reading tram depot in 1903.

A carved stone 12th Century corbel, which had been taken from the ruins of Reading Abbey, was also found during the excavations.

The work was carried out by the Oxford Archaeological unit and funded by Hammerson plc, the company which owns the Oracle shopping centre.

St Giles Church (C) Reading Museum Service
St Giles Mill is recorded in the Doomesday Book in 1086

By the time Hammerson acquired a 22-acre site in the south of Reading town centre in March 1997, the area had most recently been occupied by Reading-based Simonds' Brewery (latterly owned by the Courage brewing company) and by the Reading Transport bus depot (formerly the Reading Corporation tram depot).

The brewery had earlier relocated to a new site adjoining the M4 motorway, while the bus depot was relocated to a location just west of the town centre as one of the first phases of the redevelopment.

Today the Oracle covers 700,000 sq ft over three levels. It features two major department stores, seven large stores, and a further 85 smaller shops.

In addition, a riverside leisure area has been created along both banks of the River Kennet. This has 15 restaurants and cafe bars as well as a multiscreen cinema complex.

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