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Eden, in his 1797 survey of the poor in England, reported of the St Mary's workhouse that: The Poor are chiefly maintained in a workhouse, erected about 20 years ago, for £1,400, of which £650 has been paid off. The parish has a standing overseer, who, it is generally observed, keeps down the rates more than officers elected annually. Tea is generally used here, twice a day, by the Poor; the other part of their diet is, principally, the best wheaten bread, and occasionally a little bacon; it is seldom sufficiently boiled, and is thought to give them the sallow complexion which is much observable here.
The money was designated for several causes but the bulk, £7,500, was to establish a workhouse.
By 1628, the site had been redeveloped to provide a workhouse for poor clothiers.
The impressive building (for which William Brockman, brickmaker of Tilehurst, supplied 200,000 bricks and 20,000 tiles) became known as "The Oracle" — the name possibly deriving from "orchal", a violet dye obtained from lichen.
A bequest of £4,000 was made on identical terms for the setting up of a workhouse in Newbury.
In January 1626, the town corporation paid William Kendrick (John's brother) the generous sum of £1,900 for his house and workshops on Minster Street, opposite St Mary's church, and with handy access to the Holy brook and Mill stream.