Reading, Berkshire

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Borough of Reading
Status: Unitary, Borough
Region: South East England
Ceremonial County: Berkshire
- Total
Ranked 318th
40.40 km²
Admin. HQ: Reading
ONS code: 00MC
- Total (2004 est.)
- Density
Ranked 116th
3,564 / km²
Ethnicity: 86.8% White
5.2% S.Asian
4.1% Afro-Carib.
Reading Borough Council
Leadership: Leader & Cabinet
Executive: Labour
MP, Reading East: Rob Wilson
MP, Reading West: Martin Salter

Reading is a town and a unitary authority (the Borough of Reading) in the English county of Berkshire. It is located at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, halfway between London and Oxford. The borough has a population of over 144,000, although the contiguous urban area commonly referred to as Reading is significantly larger.

Reading is an important business centre in South East England and is often referred to as the capital of the Thames Valley, with the headquarters of some major British companies and the UK offices of a number of major foreign multinationals.

The name Reading is pronounced to rhyme with bedding (in IPA /ˈrɛdɪŋ/).


The centre of Reading is situated close to the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, reflecting the town's history as a river port. Just before the confluence, the Kennet cuts through a narrow and relatively steep sided gap in the hills forming the southern flank of the Thames flood plain. The absence of a flood plain on the Kennet in this defile enabled the development of wharves off the notoriously fickle unimproved Thames navigation.

Reading is located some 40 miles (64 km) due west of central London, and 25 miles (40 km) south east of Oxford.

Position: grid reference SU714733

Reading suburbs: Calcot, Caversham, Coley, Coley Park, Earley, Emmer green, Fords Farm, Katesgrove, Purley-On-Thames, Southcote, Tilehurst, Whitley, Whitley Wood, Woodley

Nearby towns and cities: London, Oxford, Newbury, Wokingham, Bracknell, Henley-on-Thames

Nearby villages: Pangbourne, Shinfield, Sonning, Sonning Common, Theale, Three Mile Cross, Twyford, Winnersh


St Mary's Church and market
The lion in Forbury Gardens — an unofficial symbol of Reading

The settlement was founded at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet in the eighth century as Readingum. The name is probably from the Anglo-Saxon for "(Place of) Readda's People", or (less probably) the Celtic Rhydd-Inge, "Ford over the River". It was occupied by the Vikings in 871 but had recovered sufficiently by its 1086 Domesday Book listing to contain around 600 people and be made a designated borough. The town saw much pilgrimage in mediaeval times to Reading Abbey see below. In 1253 Reading's Merchant Guild succcessfuly petitioned for the grant of a charter from the King and negotiated a division of authority with the Abbey. The dissolution of the Abbey saw Henry VIII grant the Gild a new charter in 1542 with which to become a borough corporation to run the town.

By the end of the sixteenth century Reading was the largest town in Berkshire, home to over 3,000 people. During the medieval period and Tudor times Reading grew rich on its trade in cloth, as instanced by the fortune made by local merchant John Kendrick. The town played an important role during the English Civil War; it changed hands a number of times, and despite its fortifications the longest siege was only ten days in April 1643. However the taxes levied on the town badly damaged its cloth trade, and it did not recover. Reading was also the only site of significant fighting in England during the Glorious Revolution of 1688 with Battle of Reading.

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. Reading's trade benefited from better designed turnpike roads which helped its 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 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.

In 1801, the population of Reading was about 9,400. During the 19th century, Reading grew rapidly as a manufacturing centre. From 1832, the town returned two Members of Parliament. A reformed town council was introduced in 1839. The railway arrived in 1841, with a second system connecting in 1849. In 1851 the population was 21,500. The town was given county borough status in 1887. By 1900, the population was 59,000 — large sections of the housing in Reading are terraced, reflecting its nineteenth century growth. The town has been famous for the "Three Bs" of beer (from 1785, India Pale Ale was invented in Reading), bulbs (18071976, Suttons Seeds), and biscuits (18221977, Huntley & Palmers). In the nineteenth century the town also made 'Reading Sauce', described as a sharp sauce flavoured with onions, spices, and herbs, very like Worcestershire Sauce, and even more popular in its day.

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 of its time in Europe. This extended the urban area of Reading right up to the M4 motorway, which acts as the southern boundary to the town. Further recent housing developments have substantially increased the number of modern commuter houses in the surrounding parts of Reading, and 'out-of-town' shopping hypermarkets.

Listed companies headquartered in Reading include BG Group, Wolseley and Yell. Other large employers in the area include Information and Communications Technology (ICT) giants like Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Oracle, as well as financial services giant Prudential and shaving products company Gillette. The town also hosts two annual music festivals — Reading Festival and WOMAD.

BEYOU [[1]] is Berkshire's Lesbian & Gay Information Network and contains information and resources covering a wide range of issues. There's information, addresses and links to local groups, safer sex sites, bars, clubs, magazines and much more. There are two notable gay bars, The Wynford Arms [[2]] and The Granby [[3]] public house. Reading also has its very own Gay Pride [[4]] which is held annually in King's Meadows.


Although the largest town in Berkshire over many centuries, Reading had to wait until the 1974 County change to become the official county town of Berkshire (when the much smaller town of Abingdon moved to Oxfordshire). The Borough of Reading became a unitary authority area in 1998 when Berkshire County Council was abolished, and is now responsible for all aspects of local government within the borough. The borough council has made several applications for city status, but as of 2004 these have all been rejected.

The borough limits now include the former villages of Caversham, Southcote and Whitley together with part of the village of Tilehurst, but exclude several settlements which are still part of the urban area. These settlements include Woodley, Earley and Lower Earley which form part of Wokingham unitary authority, and the remainder of Tilehurst, Calcot and Purley-On-Thames which form part of West Berkshire unitary authority. The exclusion of these areas from the borough is politically controversial, and proposals occasionally surface to include them.

Reading and the surrounding area is currently divided between the parliamentary constituencies of Reading East and Reading West. Historically Reading was represented at various times by the members for the former Parliamentary Borough of Reading and the former parliamentary constituencies of Reading, Reading North, and Reading South.


Reading Abbey

Reading Minster, or the Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin as it is more properly known, is Reading's oldest ecclesiastical foundation, known to have been founded by the 9th century and possibly earlier. Although eclipsed in importance by the later Abbey, Reading Minster has regained its importance since the destruction of the Abbey and is now the seat of the Bishop of Reading.

Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121. He was buried there, as were parts of Empress Matilda, William of Poitiers, Constance of York, and Princess Isabella of Cornwall, among others. The abbey was one of the pilgrimage centres of medieval England, it held over 230 relics including the hand of St. James. The abbey was largely destroyed in 1538 during the Dissolution and Henry VIII had the abbot, Hugh Cook Faringdon, hanged.

Reading School, founded in 1125, is the tenth oldest school in England. It is based in Victorian buildings designed by Alfred Waterhouse on Erleigh Road.

The Reading Borough Public Library service dates back to 1877. The Central Library which was opened in 1985 contains the Reading Local Studies Library which provides books, maps, and illustrations of the history of the town and Berkshire. The Museum of Reading opened in 1883 in the Town Hall, parts of which date back to 1786. The museum contains galleries relating to the history of Reading and its related industries and to the excavations of Silchester Roman Town, together with a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry and an art collection. In the suburb of Woodley, the Museum of Berkshire Aviation has a collection of aircraft and other artifacts relating to the aircraft industry in the town.

The University of Reading was established in 1892, affiliated to Oxford University. It was chartered as an independent university in 1926 and moved onto its new Whiteknights campus in 1949. The University runs several museums and botanic gardens in the town, including the Museum of English Rural Life, the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, the Cole Museum of Zoology, and the Harris Garden.

Thames Valley University now runs what was Reading College & School of Arts and Design.


Reading's location in the Thames Valley to the west of London means that it has always had a significant position in the nation's transport infrastructure. As described above, the town grew up as river port at the confluence of the Thames and Kennet. Today both of these rivers remain navigable, although such navigation is exclusively leisure oriented. The locks of Caversham Lock, Blake's Lock, County Lock, Fobney Lock and Southcote Lock are also all within the borough.

Reading was also a major staging point on the old Bath Road (A4) from London to Bath and Bristol. This road still carries significant local traffic, but has now been largely replaced for long distance traffic by the M4 motorway which closely skirts the borough and serves it with three junctions (J10-J12). Within Reading the Thames is crossed by both Reading and Caversham road bridges, whilst several road bridges cross the Kennet.

Reading is a major junction point on the national rail system, and as a consequence Reading station is a major transfer point as well as serving heavy originating and terminating traffic. The main route is the Great Western Main Line, which runs west from London's Paddington station before splitting in Reading with lines serving the West Country (Swindon, Bath, Bristol) and South Wales. Secondary lines connect Reading with London's Waterloo station, Guildford, Gatwick Airport, Birmingham, Basingstoke, Southampton and the South Coast. A railway-operated express bus service links Reading with Heathrow Airport.

Local transport is largely road based, with significant peak hour congestion in the borough. A comprehensive and frequent local bus network within the borough, and a less frequent network in the surrounding area, are provided by Reading Buses.


Reading Broad Street

Reading is a major shopping centre. The principal shopping area is around Broad Street, which was pedestrianised in 1995. Broad Street is anchored at its east and west ends respectively by The Oracle and Broad Street Mall enclosed shopping centres.

There are three major department stores in Reading: John Lewis Reading (formerly known as Heelas), Debenhams and House of Fraser. There are also branches of the chains Marks and Spencers and British Home Stores.

The booksellers Waterstone's have several branches in Reading. Their Broad Street branch is of particular interest, as it is a remarkable conversion of a nonconformist chapel dating from 1707.

Behind Sainsbury's in Broad Street is the Bristol & West Arcade which runs through to Friar Street. There are several shops, namely Rock-A-Round (retro clothing); The Bag Shop (bags); Replay Records, (cut-price records); Kik-Sports (Martial Arts); and Shakti (ethnic clothes). There's a small family-run cafe just inside the Friar Street entrance.


Reading F.C., formerly based at Elm Park, has since 1998 been in its new 24,084 capacity all-seater Madejski Stadium (named after chairman John Madejski). The football club is nicknamed the Royals (previously known as the Biscuitmen).

The Reading Half Marathon is held on the streets of Reading in April of each year, with as many as 13,500 competitors from elite to fun runners.

Reading is a centre for Rugby Football in the area, and supports the Guinness Premiership team London Irish and three senior semi-professional clubs; Reading R.F.C., Redingensians R.F.C. and Reading Abbey R.F.C.. The town is also home to Reading Greyhound Racing and the Reading Racers speedway team, and there is a velodrome at Palmer Park.

Like many Thames-side towns, Reading has several rowing clubs, representing both town and university. The local Redgrave-Pinsent Rowing Lake provides training facilities, although much rowing is also conducted on the river itself. Dorney Lake, some 12 miles to the east of Reading, provides a full international competition venue and will host the rowing events of the 2012 Summer Olympics.


Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in Reading (HM Prison) from 1895 to 1897. While he was there he wrote De Profundis, which was published in 1905. After his release he lived in exile in Paris and wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, published in 1908.

Thomas Hardy painted a rather disparaging picture of the town, lightly disguised as Aldbrickham, in his 1895 novel Jude the Obscure.

T E Lawrence lost the first draft of his Seven Pillars of Wisdom at Reading train station.

Thomas Noon Talfourd, the judge and dramatist was born in Reading and later became MP for the town.

Mary Russell Mitford lived in Reading for a number of years and then spent the rest of her life just outside the town at Three Mile Cross and Swallowfield.

Charles Dickens was asked to stand as MP for Reading, but declined. He became president of the Reading Athenaeum. In his Bleak House, Esther Summerson goes to school in Reading.


Reading is served by two local newspapers.

Three local radio stations broadcast from Reading, these being Reading 107 FM, 2-Ten FM, and BBC Radio Berkshire. Other local radio stations, such as London's 95.8 Capital FM, Basingstoke's 107.6 Kestrel FM and Slough's Star 106.6 can also be received in Reading.

Notable people

Notable current and former residents of Reading include:

Utilities and infrastructure


Mains water and sewerage services are supplied by Thames Water.


Mains electricity may be purchased through numerous providers. Mains electricity is delivered by Southern Electric.

Electricity is generated by a 2 megawatt (peak) wind turbine at Green Park, constructed in November 2005. Due to its close proximity to the M4 motorway, Ecotricity, the company who built the turbine, have stated that it may be seen by as many as 60 million people per year, the most visible in the country.


Mains gas may be purchased through numerous providers.


Fixed-line telephone providers with significant coverage are:

  • BT (all areas)
  • NTL (cabled areas)

Other providers exist but have limited coverage.

Telephone dialling codes:


Receipt of public television services is subject to the holding of a valid Television licence.

Terrestrial broadcast television is available, both analogue and digital (Freeview).
The major provider of satellite broadcast television is Sky Digital (UK), whose current offering is digital. Other satellite television providers do have coverage.
Cable television services are available from NTL, in cabled areas. NTL's current cable television service offering is digital.


Dial-up Internet access is available from multiple providers with pay-per-minute (no standing charge), and fixed monthly cost (no cost per minute) packages available.

ADSL Internet access is available from multiple providers, with service piggy-backed on to a BT telephone line. Coverage is subject to line conditions, but is generally very good.

Cable Internet access is available from NTL, in cabled areas.

Various other flavours of DSL Internet access are available over BT telephone lines by means of Local loop unbundling. Coverage is dependent on whether the particular provider has availability from BT telephone exchange serving the line in question.

External links