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Blandy & Blandy LLP was founded in Reading in 1733 and we have remained at the heart of the Thames Valley ever since.
John Blandy took a lease of the messuage with gardens courtyard and stable at 1 Friar Street, which remains the firm’s main office in Reading today, from John Blagrave on the 29 December 1798 at a rent of 4 pounds.
Needless to say, much has changed during that time. In the early 18th century writers describe Reading as having a population of fewer than 5,000, a figure that had doubled by the time of the first census in 1801. The wider Reading area’s current population is estimated to be 330,000, making the town larger than many UK cities, including Belfast and Newcastle. In that time, Henley-on-Thames' population has increased more than fourfold to over 11,000. The town prospered in the 17th and 18th centuries thanks to the manufacture of glass and malt and the trade in corn and wool.
Blandy & Blandy pre dates other notable Reading businesses including Simmonds Brewery (1785), Suttons Seeds (1807) and Huntley and Palmer (1822) and institutions such as the Royal Berkshire Hospital (1839), Reading Gaol (1844) and the University of Reading (1860).
It is well known that the building sits on land that was originally the hospitium or guest house of the great abbey founded in Reading in 1121 by Henry I (1100-1135), and dissolved in 1539 under Henry VIII (1509-1547), when Hugh Faringdon, the last Abbot, was executed. An excavation carried out at the property in 1998/9 revealed some medieval tiles, which were probably part of the floor of the hospitium, as they are similar in type to those in the Reading Museum, which came from the Abbey.
Detail from an OS map of 1841 shows 1 Friar Street and the covered walkway leading to the graveyard of St. Lawrence’s Church. There is also reference to a bank, the original site of Stephens Blandy & Co., now Lloyds Bank.
Prior to John Blandy’s occupation of the property in 1798 it had been a Schoolmaster’s house, believed to be owned by Dr Anthony Addington, who inherited a property from his father in law, Dr Haviland Hiley, headmaster of the Reading Grammar School. An 1843 survey of the Blagrave estates describes 1 Friar Street as ‘formerly the Schoolmaster’s house and after, the Mitre Tavern, formerly in the occupation of John Chaplin and then of James Hawkes’. W.E.M. Blandy suggested that the deep cellars running under part of the garden were a relic from the period as a tavern. It seems that Dr Addington sold the house in 1784 to John Henry Blagrave on his retirement and subsequent move to Windsor to attend King George III.
1 Friar Street was leased to the partners by the Blagrave Estate until 25 June 1875 when William Frank Blandy bought the freehold.
At this time the new Victorian town hall was being completed to the designs of the highly successful architect Alfred Waterhouse, which may have prompted William Frank Blandy to commission Frederick W. Albury, a senior partner of one of the oldest and best known firms of architects in Reading, Brown & Albury of 154 Friar Street, to draw up plans to modernize the building from the dated Georgian style to the modern Gothic Revival into which the Town Hall had been transformed. It may have been at this time that the building belonging to and adjoining St Lawrence’s Church was pulled down and the passage through the church yard to Friar Street opened fully.
In 1935 Dryland Haslam, a forebear of Haslams, prepared plans on the occasion of a Bill being promoted in Parliament, which proposed the acquisition of 1 Friar Street for an addition to the Municipal buildings. The section of the Bill relating to 1 Friar Street was stopped after a hearing before a committee of the House of Lords.
In 1939, after the start of the Second World War, the Council asked permission to dig a tunnel, called a creepway, five feet below the ground from the basement of the Town Hall through the garden of 1 Friar Street and onto St Lawrence’s Churchyard in order that staff in the Control Centre in the Town Hall could escape if need be following an air raid warning. It seems Mr Blandy agreed to this provided the tunnel was filled in after the war, but there is no evidence to suggest that this tunnel was ever dug.
The Gothic Revival frontage so proudly erected by W.F. Blandy was but fifty years old when on a grey and drizzly day, Wednesday 10 February 1943, a solitary German bomber, identified as a Dornier DO217, flew very low over the town dropping a stick of bombs and machine gunning people in the streets of north Reading and Caversham. Four bombs fell in a line from Minster Street to Friar Street, with the result that the front of 1 Friar Street was completely destroyed. Luckily most shops in Reading were closed on that Wednesday afternoon as it was half day closing, so fewer people than might have been usual were in the town. However 49 people were seriously injured and 41 killed, one of whom was Mr Ted Blandy’s clerk, Mr Frank Seymour, who was working with Mr Ted at the time in an office at the front of the building. Mr Ted also received injuries as a result of the bomb.
After the bomb damage temporary accommodation was taken at number 8 The Forbury, and Mr Ted Blandy instructed Mr Smith, Architect of Reading, to draw up plans for the rebuilding of 1 Friar Street, which was not completed until about 1951. The entrance was now placed at the side of the building, accessed from the footpath leading through St Lawrence’s Churchyard.
The Town Hall had been severely damaged by the bomb as well and the Corporation asked permission to erect temporary premises in the garden of 1 Friar Street. The Corporation gave up these buildings in the late 1970s, when the new Civic Centre was opened, and the Litigation Department of the firm moved into them.
In the early 1990s the building was again altered when the main entrance was placed at the front of the building. The ‘temporary’ buildings, formerly occupied by the Town Hall and then occupied by Blandy’s Litigation Department, were demolished in late 1999 and in 2000 a large extension was built providing more office space to accommodate the expanding firm. The architects of this development were Hives & Co., of Reading.
The firm continues to grow and evolve. In 2015 Blandy & Blandy relocated its second Reading office to 33 Blagrave Street, re-establishing a link with the Blagrave name dating back to 1798, and in the firm opened a new office in Henley-on-Thames following the acquisition of the business of Collins Dryland & Thorowgood LLP. Today the firm is home to 50 lawyers, including 18 partners, and over 100 staff. Blandy & Blandy LLP's joint managing partners are Jonathan Gater and Tim Clark and Brenda Long became its first female chairman in January 2016. All three trained at the firm.
Blandy & Blandy is very much a part of both towns’ futures as much as it is of their history, advising prominent local names including Reading Borough Council, the University of Reading and Reading Transport Group, clients on high profile locations such as the new Thames Tower, Reading Station and Thames Valley Science Park and in relation to some of the region’s largest residential and mixed use developments. On the private client side, the firm continues to act for a growing number of private individuals throughout their lifetimes and indeed to advise many families and business across several generations.
Blandy & Blandy LLP is ranked as a top tier firm in Chambers UK Guide, Chambers HNW Guide and The Legal 500 and has held the Law Society’s Lexcel quality mark since 2003. The firm's success has also been recognised through a record number of awards and nominations in the past few years, including being ranked among the UK's leading Planning law firms by Planning Magazine, shortlisted for 'deal of the year' at the Thames Valley Deals Awards, receiving a regional conveyancing excellence award at the national ESTAS awards, being named as a 'role model' at the Women in Business Awards and named 'property law firm of the year' at the prestigious Thames Valley Property Awards.
In 2018 Blandy & Blandy LLP celebrates its 285th anniversary, making it one of the region’s oldest firms and among the 25 oldest law firms in the UK.
Chairman Brenda Long commented: “Reading and Henley continue to be exciting and thriving towns to be a part of and with the advent of Crossrail and ongoing town centre developments, they look set to continue to grow. There is still a real air of positivity in the region, despite any uncertainty, among businesses and in relation to both the commercial and residential property markets. We will be toasting our 285th anniversary and the firm’s history and longevity at our annual summer garden party and Christmas drinks but our focus remains on a bright and exciting future”.