Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Reade, Charles Compton (1880–1933)

by John M. Tregenza

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Charles Compton Reade (1880-1933), town planner and journalist, was born on 4 May 1880 at East Invercargill, New Zealand, son of Lawrence Edward Reade, lawyer, and his wife Margaret Hannah, née Booth. He was a grand-nephew and cousin respectively of the English novelist Charles Reade (1814-1884) and William Winwood Reade (1838-1875), author of The Martyrdom of Man. Little is known of his early years except that he spent 1896 at Wellington College.

In 1906-09, while assistant editor of a London 'society journal', he wrote articles for Australasian newspapers which he later incorporated into The Revelation of Britain, a Book for Colonials (Auckland, 1909). Shocked by the unhealthy conditions in which most inhabitants of English industrial cities lived and worked, Reade warned his Australasian contemporaries, in characteristically colourful style, that they would only avoid such evils in their own rapidly expanding cities by planning of the kind already practised in Germany by many municipalities and in England by William Lever in his industrial estate of Port Sunlight. In 1911, in Auckland as editor of the Weekly Graphic and New Zealand Mail, he encouraged unsuccessful attempts to enact an Auckland town planning bill and a town planning bill for the whole of New Zealand, not only printing sympathetic illustrated articles but delivering popular lectures illustrated by 'numerous capital limelight pictures'.

In 1912 he returned to London and was soon active in the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association of Great Britain, both as organizer of a proposed Australasian town planning tour and, in 1913, as acting secretary of the association and acting editor of its magazine Garden Cities and Town Planning. On 26 February 1914 he married Marjorie Pratt, secretary to the musician Landon Ronald. By July Reade was again in New Zealand where, with W. R. Davidge a London architect, he delivered a series of lantern lectures on town planning to large, enthusiastic audiences. They then crossed the Tasman to begin a programme of sixty lectures in five Australian States. When Davidge returned to England in September, Reade completed the Australian programme. In 1915 he continued to lecture in several States and to advise governments on an expenses-paid basis.

In 1916, having been engaged as town planning adviser to the Vaughan Labor government of South Australia, Reade drafted a town planning and housing bill which allowed planning for built-up as well as new suburban areas, and provided for co-operation with the State Bank of South Australia to finance low-cost housing for 'persons of small means'. Co-ordination of planning was to be in the hands of an American-style commission of three experts. Quickly passed through the House of Assembly, the bill was rejected in the Legislative Council. Reade's 1914 lecture, 'Garden cities v. Adelaide slums and suburbs', still rankled in the minds of Adelaide men of property who rightly judged that Reade wished to enforce improvements in sub-standard rental housing.

Following the Vaughan government's fall in July 1917 and his bill's failure, Reade planned a new garden suburb, later known as Colonel Light Gardens, and prepared for Australia's first Town Planning and Housing Conference and Exhibition. Held in Adelaide in October, it was attended by 250 delegates from all over the country, including the lord mayors or mayors of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. Reade, a dynamic speaker, was in his element. 'When one mentions to him the term town planning', wrote a reporter, 'he begins to “kindle” and it is not long before he veritably glows'. He organized an associated exhibition, spoke on 'The metropolitan organization of municipal town planning' and wrote the foreword to the substantial Proceedings. His paper was illustrated with a map of suburban Adelaide showing two concepts eventually adopted in the later 1980s—a linear park along the course of the River Torrens and an outer belt of parklands.

The Liberal premier Archibald Henry Peake was sufficiently impressed by Reade to offer him a new engagement as town planner from 1 July 1918 for a period of two years at £500 a year.

At the second Australian Town Planning Conference and Exhibition, held in Brisbane that year, Reade delivered the key address, 'Practical town planning'. After extensive discussion the main principles he expounded were unanimously endorsed by delegates and formed the basis of a new South Australian town planning and development bill. Once again, although the bill was sponsored by a Liberal government and now gave the primary initiative in planning to local government authorities rather than a commission, having been passed by the assembly it met intense opposition in the property-elected Legislative Council. It was also opposed by the South Australian Register, inspired by George Taylor's Sydney publication, Building. 'The mischief and misrepresentation that time and again have come from Sydney', wrote Reade, 'apparently are very deep seated … and without any justification whatever'. It was a disgrace that 'decent people cannot attempt to do decent work for the good of Australia without personal malice and misrepresentation to hinder them'. Despite strong community support for the bill as passed by the assembly, the council eliminated sixty-one clauses dealing with the making of town planning by-laws and insisted on excluding the City of Adelaide from the bill's scope. The resulting Act, while giving the government town planner some powers relating to new subdivisions, allowed no opportunity for that creative co-operation between local government, town planner and statutory authorities which Reade and the Brisbane conference delegates had recommended. Understandably he now sought a new field for his energies.

Reade was the first government town planner in the Federated Malay States in 1921-30. He drafted Malaya's first town planning enactment in 1923, organized the first Town Planning and Housing Exhibition in Kuala Lumpur in 1926, drew up or supervised numerous planning schemes of enduring value, and established a department which by 1930 had a professional staff of seven.

From 1930 to 1933 he was director of town planning and development for the Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia—a position in which he was often frustrated. The economy was dominated by four new copper-mines; he could neither persuade the owners to accept general plans for the townships serving their mines, nor the administration to amend an existing ordinance to allow control of subdivisions. He found more satisfaction in overseeing development of S. D. Adshead's plan for the capital, Lusaka.

On 16 October 1933 Reade arrived in Johannesburg to become town planning expert for the Rand and Pretoria. He attended a meeting of the Witwatersrand joint town planning committee and offices were engaged for him. On Saturday 28 October he was found shot dead in his hotel room with a revolver beside him. Enquiries made by the Rand Daily Mail revealed that he had been 'suffering from repeated attacks of malarial fever and was much depressed as a result'. He was survived by his wife, son and daughter who were temporarily living in England while he obtained a house for them.

Whatever motivated Reade in his last hours, there is no doubt about the consistency of his faith and practice as a town planner for the preceding quarter of a century. For him, town planning was an art and a science which could immeasurably improve the quality of life for people of all races. In the days before academic courses in the subject he made himself an expert by the on-site study of existing examples of planning, by discussion with fellow pioneers and by omnivorous reading. It was characteristic of his thoroughness that in his Australian years he ordered from a London agency reports on town planning cut from world newspapers. A skilled photographer, journalist and speaker and a witty raconteur, he had an exceptional capacity to arouse enthusiasm for his cause among diverse people. He also proved a patient and skilled negotiator in framing legislation and devising planning schemes. If he was denied the opportunity to plan on a large scale and to reform sub-standard housing, it was not because his ideas were faulty, but rather that he had to work within societies lacking democratic constitutions.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Gardiner, Some Aspects of the Establishment of Towns in Zambia During the Nineteen Twenties and Thirties (Lusaka, Zambia, 1970)
  • L. Sandercock, Cities for Sale (Melb, 1975)
  • A. Hutchings and R. Bunker (eds), With Conscious Purpose (Adel, 1986)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1917, 2 (28), p 249
  • Federated Malay States Government Gazette, 1923-29
  • Town Planning Institute, Journal, 44, no 9, Sept-Oct 1958
  • J. Tregenza, ‘Charles Reade, 1880-1933: town planning missionary’, Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, no 9 (1981)
  • Times (London), 30 Oct 1930
  • Rand Daily Mail (Johannesburg, South Africa), 30 Oct 1930
  • GRG 7/28/1915/7, GRG 73/1920/ series 1/87 (State Records of South Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John M. Tregenza, 'Reade, Charles Compton (1880–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/reade-charles-compton-8166/text14275, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 31 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014