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History of Reading

Reading may have existed as early as the Roman occupation of Britain, possibly as either a
trading port on the River Thames, or as an intersection on the Roman road connecting London
with Calleva Atrebatum near Silchester.[1]

The first evidence for Reading as a settlement dates from the 8th century, where the town
came to be known as Readingum. The name probably comes from the Readingas, an Anglo-
Saxon tribe whose name means "Reada's People" in Old English,[2] or (less probably) the Celtic
Rhydd-Inge, "Ford over the River".[3] The name of the settlement was derived from an earlier
folk, or tribal, name. Anglo-Saxon names ending in -ingas originally referred not to a place but
to a people, in this case specifically the descendants or followers of a man named Reada,
literally "The Red One."[4][5]
In late 870 an army of Danes invaded the then kingdom of Wessex and set up camp at Reading.
On 4 January 871, the first Battle of Reading took place, when an army led by King Ethelred and
his brother Alfred the Great attempted unsuccessfully to breach the Danes' defences. The
battle is described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and this account provides the earliest known
written record of the existence of the town of Reading. The Danes remained in Reading until
late in 871, when they retreated to winter quarters in London.[6][7]
After the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror gave
land in and around Reading to his foundation of Battle Abbey. In its 1086 Domesday Book
listing, the town was explicitly described as a borough. The presence of six mills is recorded,
with four on land belonging to the king and two on the land given to Battle Abbey.[7]
Time of the Abbey
Reading Abbey
Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121, and he is buried within the Abbey grounds. As
part of his endowments, he gave the abbey his lands within Reading, along with land at
Cholsey. He also arranged for the land previously owned by Battle Abbey to be transferred to
Reading Abbey, in return for some of his land at Appledram in Sussex.[7][8]
The foundation of Reading Abbey led to the town becoming a place of pilgrimage and enhanced
the town's prosperity. However the relationship between already established borough's
burgesses and the Abbey was to prove strained at times. In 1253 Reading's Merchant Guild
successfully petitioned for the grant of a charter from the King and negotiated a division of
authority with the Abbey. However disputes continued over the Abbey's powers to raise taxes
and appoint the Guild's officers. Even the title of the Guild's first officer was open to dispute,
with the Guild and, on occasion, the King referring to him as the Mayor, whilst the Abbey
continued to call him the Guild Warden.[8]

It is not known exactly how badly Reading was affected by the Black Death that swept through
England in the 14th century. But it is known that the abbot of Reading Abbey, Henry of
Appleford, was one of its victims in 1361, and that nearby Henley lost 60% of its population.[9]
In 1487, Henry VII granted a further charter that went further than previous charters, although
still leaving the appointment of the Mayor/Warden in the hands of the Abbey. This charter, and
a subsequent judicial arbitration in 1499, confirmed the Guild as a body corporate in
Dissolution and war
The Abbey was largely destroyed in 1538 during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. The
last abbot, Hugh Cook Faringdon, was subsequently tried and convicted of high treason and
hanged, drawn and quartered in front of the Abbey Church. The dissolution initially saw the
Mayor appointed by the King's officers administering the dismemberment of the abbey
properties. However in 1542 Henry VIII granted the Guild a new charter that permitted the
burgesses to elect the Mayor.[10][11]

The earliest map of Reading, published in 1611 by John Speed.
By 1525, Reading was the largest town in Berkshire, and tax returns show that Reading was the
10th largest town in England followed closely by Colchester and Leicester, based on taxable
wealth. By 1611, Reading had a population of over 5000 and had grown rich on its trade in
cloth, as instanced by the fortune made by local merchant John Kendrick. At this time, Reading
had mostly traditional timber framed houses, a few examples of which still exist in Castle
Street, Market Place and other places. Often the front ground floor of the house was given over
to retail activities, with family and lodgers living in the rooms behind and above.[9][12]
The town played an important role during the English Civil War; it changed hands a number of
times. Despite its fortifications, it had a Royalist garrison imposed on it in 1642. The subsequent
Siege of Reading by the Parliamentary forces succeeded in April 1643. However, the taxes
levied by the various parties left Berkshire 'in a miserable condition, hardly a sheep, hen, hog,
oats, wheat, or any other thing for man or beast to feed upon'.[7] The town's cloth trade was
especially badly damaged, and the town's economy did not fully recover until the 20th
Reading played a significant role during the Revolution of 1688, with the second Battle of
Reading being the only substantial military action of the campaign. James II had stationed an
advance guard of 600, largely Irish, troops in Reading to stop the march of William's army
towards London. Seeing these troops as an occupying force, the people of Reading requested
help from William, informing him of the Royalist positions in the town. As a result, a relief force
of about 250 troops attacked from an unexpected direction, and forced the Irish troops to
abandon the town. This defeat of James' troops by an inferior force, together the willingness of
the people of Reading to support William, convinced James of the insecurity of his position and
he fled the country.[7][14]
18th century
View of Reading from Caversham by Joseph Farington in 1793.
The 18th century saw the beginning of a major iron works in the town and the growth of the
brewing trade for which Reading was to become famous. Agricultural products from the
surrounding area still used Reading as a market place, especially at the famous Reading cheese
fair but now trade was coming in from a wider area.[15]
Reading's trade benefited from better designed turnpike roads which helped it establish its
location on the major coaching routes from London to Oxford and the west country. It also
gained from increasing river traffic on both the Thames and Kennet. In 1723, despite
considerable local opposition, the Kennet Navigation opened the River Kennet to boats as far as
Newbury. This opposition stopped when it became apparent the new route benefited the town.
The opening of the Kennet and Avon Canal in 1810 made it possible to go by barge from
Reading to the Bristol Channel.[16]
From 1714, and probably earlier, the role of county town for Berkshire was shared between
Reading and Abingdon. The Assize and Quarter Sessions courts met in both towns, with the
Lenten Assizes traditional held in Reading and the Summer Assizes in Abingdon. The county gaol
was at Reading, but both had a house of correction, also known as a Bridewell, that held
prisoners from various parts of the county.[17]
Towards the end of the century, Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, lived at Bulmershe
Court, in what is now the Reading suburb of Woodley. Although he moved to Richmond when
he was appointed prime minister, he retained his local connections. He donated to the town of
Reading the four acres (16,000 m) of land that is today the Royal Berkshire Hospital, and his
name is commemorated in the town's Sidmouth Street and Addington Road.[18][19]

19th century
Map of Reading from 1830 by Ordnance Survey.
In 1801, the population of Reading was about 9,400. During the 19th century, the town grew
rapidly as a manufacturing centre. Reading maintained its representation by two members of
parliament with the Reform Act 1832, and the borough was one of the ones reformed as a
municipal borough by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. In 1836 the Reading Borough Police
were founded. The Great Western Railway arrived in 1841, followed by the South Eastern
Railway, in 1849, and the London and South Western Railway, in 1856.
The Reading Establishment, an early commercial photographic studio, operated in Reading
from 184447 and was managed by Nicholaas Henneman, a Dutchman and former valet of
William Henry Fox Talbot (a pioneer of photography). Many of the images for The Pencil of
Nature by Fox Talbot, the first book to be illustrated with photographic prints, were printed in
The statue of George Palmer, Broad Street looking westwards, c. 1890.
By 1851 the population was 21,500. The previous year, the Reading Union Water Company had
started construction of the works to resolve the shortage of safe drinking water that was
affecting the growing town. Untreated water was pumped to the Bath Road Reservoir by a
pumping station at Southcote Lock on the River Kennet, and filtered there before being gravity
fed to consumers. The works were completed by 1852.[21]
The Summer Assizes were moved from Abingdon to Reading in 1867, effectively making
Reading the sole county town of Berkshire, a decision that was officially approved by the privy
council in 1869.[22] The town became a county borough under the Local Government Act 1888.
By 1900, the population was 59,000large sections of the housing in Reading are terraced,
reflecting its 19th-century growth. The town has been famous for the Three Bs of beer (1785
2010, Simonds' Brewery),[23][24] bulbs (18371974, Suttons Seeds),[23][25] and biscuits
(18221976, Huntley and Palmers).[23][26][27] In the 19th century the town also made
'Reading Sauce', described as a sharp sauce flavoured with onions, spices, and herbs, very much
like Worcestershire Sauce.
20th century and beyond
Kings Road in 1979, on the right is the demolished Huntley & Palmers building.
Compared to many other English towns and cities, Reading suffered little physical damage
during either of the two World Wars that afflicted the 20th century, although many of its
citizens lost their lives, or were injured, in the conflicts. The names of the dead are
remembered on the Berkshire War Memorial at the entrance to Forbury Gardens, or on various
suburban war memorials. One significant air raid occurred on 10 February 1943, when a single
Luftwaffe plane machine-gunned and bombed the town centre, resulting in 41 deaths and over
100 injuries. Most of these were accounted for by a single bomb, which struck the crowded
Peoples Pantry restaurant in the Market Arcade.[28]
The town continued to expand in the 20th century, annexing Caversham across the River
Thames in Oxfordshire in 1911. This expansion can be seen in the number of 1920s built semi-
detached properties, and the 1950s expansion that joined Woodley, Earley and Tilehurst into
Reading. Miles Aircraft in Woodley was an important local firm from the 1930s to 1950s. The
Lower Earley development, started in the 1970s, was the largest private housing development
in Europe. This extended the urban area of Reading up to the M4 motorway, which acts as the
southern boundary to the town. Further housing developments have increased the number of
modern commuter houses in the surrounding parts of Reading, and 'out-of-town' shopping
At the end of 1966 the Yield Hall multi-storey car park was opened, providing covered space for
522 cars. It was noted that the ramps were arranged to segregate up-traffic from down-traffic,
with "one-way circulation" through most of the building.[29]
The local shopping centre, The Oracle, built in 1999, is named after the 17th century Oracle
workhouse with funds bequeathed by John Kendrick, which once occupied a small part of the
site. It provides three storeys of shopping and boosted the local economy by providing 4,000
As one of the largest urban areas in the United Kingdom to be without city status, Reading has
bid for city status on three recent occasions in 2000 to celebrate the new millennium; in 2002
to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II; and 2012 to celebrate the Diamond
Jubilee. All three bids were unsuccessful.[32][33][34][3

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