William Winwood Reade was born at Murrayfield near Crieff on the 26th December 1838, of a family distinguished in the annals of the Civil and Military services of the Honourable East India Company, and was the eldest son of William Barrington Reade of Ipsden House, Oxfordshire, a considerable landowner whose younger brother was Charles Reade, the author of The Cloister and the Hearth and of many other famous novels and successful plays. Winwood Reade's mother was Elizabeth, daughter of Captain John Murray, R.N., herself the inheritrix of an estate in Scotland, and she survived him by many years, as did his five brothers. He was educated first at Henley Grammar School and afterwards by Dr Behr at Hyde House, Winchester, and on the 13th March 1856 matriculated Magdalen Hall, Oxford, not then known by its revived name of Hertford College. The Hall was then of no great reputation, and Reade did not bring to it the mental discipline that he might have acquired at one of the great public schools, at that time rough but efficient nurseries of manners.
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