Reading ( as Redding) is a town in England, located at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, midway between London and Swindon off the M4 motorway. It is one of the contenders for the title of the largest town in England. For ceremonial purposes it is in the county of Berkshire and has served as the county town since 1867. It is also home to one of England's biggest music festivals which is associated with Leeds.
Reading was an important national centre in the medieval period, as the site of an important monastery with strong royal connections, but suffered economic damage during the 17th century from which it took a long time to recover. Today it is again an important commercial centre, with strong links to information technology and insurance. It is also a university town, with two universities and a large student population.
The settlement was founded at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet in the 8th 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 after the first Battle of Reading in 871, but had recovered sufficiently by its 1086 Domesday Book listing to contain around 600 people and be made a designated borough.
The foundation of Reading Abbey by Henry I in 1121 led to the town becoming a place of pilgrimage. 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. The dissolution of the Abbey saw Henry VIII grant the Guild a new charter in 1542 with which to become a borough corporation to run the town.
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 on the town by the garrison badly damaged its cloth trade, and it did not recover.
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.
In 1801, the population of Reading was about 9,400. During the 19th century, Reading 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 1844 to 1847 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 Reading.
In 1851 the population was 21,500. The town became the County Town (superseding Abingdon) in 1867 and became a county borough under the Local Government Act 1888. By 1900, the population was 59,000—large sections of the housing in Reading are terraced, reflecting its 19th century growth. The town has been famous for the "Three Bs" of beer (from 1785 dominated by the Simonds' Brewery - India Pale Ale was invented in Reading), bulbs (1807–1976, Suttons Seeds), and biscuits (1822–1977, Huntley & Palmers). In the 19th century the town also made 'Reading Sauce', described as a sharp sauce flavoured with onions, spices, and herbs, very like Worcestershire Sauce.
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 hypermarkets.
The local shopping centre, The Oracle, built in 1999, is named after the 17th century workhouse founded by John Kendrick which previously occupied the site. The original 'Oracle' gates can be seen in the Museum of Reading in the town hall but usual reside in the main hall of Kendrick School, a girls' grammar school set up from money from John Kendrick's Will. It provides 3 storeys of shopping and boosted the local economy by providing 4,000 jobs. Reading has also made itself more appealing to tourists by pedestrianising Broad street
|Borough of Reading|
|Region:||South East England|
| Ranked 318th|
- Total ()
| Ranked |
|Ethnicity:|| 86.8% White|
|Leadership:||Leader & Cabinet|
|Executive:||Labour (council NOC)|
|Mayor of Reading||Councillor Peter Beard|
The borough council has bid for city status in several recent competitions but, as of 2007, these have been unsuccessful. The application for city status is politically controversial, with some groups of residents strongly opposed, while others support the bid.
Reading's municipal boundaries are particularly old and constrained; and proposals occasionally surface to expand the borough to include them. It is believed that Reading's chances of receiving City Status would be substantially boosted if these suburbs were to be included within the borough.
However, the constricted nature of the borough also creates more serious difficulties for the town, as it attempts to develop and grow. The diminishing amount of suitable land within the borough's boundary can bring the council in to conflict with those neighbouring it, who in turn have their own priorities and requirements. The longest running example of this is the planned third crossing of the Thames. So far, South Oxfordshire's politicians and residents, whose primary concern is maintaining the non-urbanisation of their region, have successfully opposed this. As a consequence, the debate has at times become somewhat acrimonious between the opposing sides, and little progress has been made.
Today Reading and the surrounding area is divided between the parliamentary constituencies of Reading East, represented by Rob Wilson, and Reading West, represented by Martin Salter. The whole of the town is within the multi-member South East England european constituency.
Reading is due west of central London, southeast of Oxford and east of Swindon. The centre of Reading is on a low ridge between the Rivers Thames and Kennet close to their confluence, reflecting the town's history as a river port. Just before the confluence, the Kennet cuts through a narrow steep-sided gap in the hills forming the southern flank of the Thames flood plain. The absence of a floodplain on the Kennet in this defile enabled the development of wharves.
As Reading has grown, its suburbs have spread in three directions:
However outside the central area, the floors of the valley containing the two rivers remain largely unimproved floodplain, subject to occasional flooding. Apart from one road across the Kennet floodplain, and the M4 looping to the south, the only routes between the three built-up areas are in the central area, creating road congestion there.
Reading has its own subregional catchment area, incorporating the towns of Earley, Woodley, Wokingham, Bracknell and Twyford, plus large villages such as Pangbourne, Theale, Winnersh, Burghfield and Shiplake.
The borough has a population of 144,000 in an area of 40.40 km², while the Office for National Statistics' definition of the urban area of Reading is significantly larger at 232,662 people in an area of 55.35 km². This latter area – sometimes referred to as Greater Reading – incorporates the town's eastern and western suburbs outside the borough, in the civil parishes of Earley, Woodley, Purley-on-Thames and Tilehurst (see below for further details). This urban area is itself a component of the Reading/Wokingham Urban Area. Reading is the 17th largest settlement in England, based on the population of the urban area. Furthermore, except for London boroughs, it is the most populous settlement that does not have city status.
Historically, the town of Reading was smaller than the current borough, and has had several definitions over the years. Such definitions include the old ecclesiastical parishes of the churches of St Mary, St Laurence and St Giles, or the even smaller pre-19th century borough.
The suburbs and districts include:
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.
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 of the monasteries and Henry VIII had the abbot, Hugh Cook Faringdon, hanged.
The mediaeval borough of Reading was served by three parish churches. Besides Reading Minster, these were St Giles' and St Laurence's churches, both of which are still in use as Anglican churches. The Franciscan friars built a friary in the town in 1311 and after the friars were expelled in 1538, the building was used as a hospital, a poorhouse and a jail, before being restored as the Anglican parish church of Greyfriars Church in 1863. There are several other Anglican parish churches in areas that are now part of suburban Reading.
St James' Church was built on a portion of the site of the abbey between 1837 and 1840, and marked the return of the Roman Catholic faith to Reading. Reading was also the site of the death of Blessed Dominic Barberi, the Catholic missionary to England in the 19th century who received John Henry Newman into the Catholic faith. The town contains many other churches and religious centres of varying faiths.
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. There are 6 other state secondary schools and 37 state primary schools within the borough, together with a number of private and independent schools, kindergartens and nurseries. Some of the designated schools for pupils in the borough's catchment areas are actually in the neighbouring boroughs. Besides mainstream schools the Reading area has a Steiner-Waldorf school and an active Education Otherwise home schooling network.
The University of Reading was established in 1892 as an affiliate of Oxford University, and moved to its London Road Campus in 1904. Reading was chartered as an independent university in 1926 and moved onto its new Whiteknights Campus in 1947. It took over the Bulmershe teacher training college in 1982, creating its Bulmershe Court Campus. All three campuses are still in use, although Whiteknights is by far the largest.
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 Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester Roman Town), together with a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry, an art collection, and galleries relating to Huntley & Palmers
The University of Reading runs the Museum of English Rural Life, the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, the Cole Museum of Zoology, and the Harris Garden. 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 principal National Health Service (NHS) hospital in Reading is the Royal Berkshire Hospital, originally founded in 1839 but much enlarged and rebuilt since. Until recently there was a second major NHS general hospital, the Battle Hospital, but this closed in 2005 with the patients and most staff moved to the Royal Berkshire Hospital. Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust runs a NHS hospital, Prospect Park Hospital, that specialises in the provision of care for people with mental health and learning disabilities.
Reading town centre is a major shopping centre. The primary catchment area for the town centre (the area for which the centre attracts the largest single flow of generated expenditure) for non-bulky comparison goods extends as far as Goring-on-Thames, Henley-on-Thames, Pangbourne and Wokingham. The secondary catchment area (the area where the centre attracts 10% or more of generated expenditure) also includes Ascot, Bracknell, Camberley, Didcot, Farnborough, Fleet, High Wycombe, Maidenhead, Newbury, Tadley, Thatcham, Wallingford and Windsor. In 2007 an independent poll placed Reading as one of the top ten retail destinations in the UK.
The principal town centre 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. The Oracle shopping centre regularly attracts over 250,000 people passing through on a Saturday alone. It plays host to a number of major retailers which had previously not been present in the town.
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, Bhs, H&M, Primark and UNIQLO. The booksellers Waterstone's have two branches in Reading. Their Broad Street branch is of particular interest, as it is a remarkable conversion of a nonconformist chapel dating from 1707.
Besides the two major shopping malls, Reading has three smaller shopping arcades, the Bristol & West Arcade, Harris Arcade and The Walk, which contain smaller specialist stores. An older form of retail facility is represented by Union Street, popularly known as Smelly Alley, a narrow pedestrianised alley lined on both sides by small independent stores, including open fronted fishmongers and greengrocers.
Other than Marks and Spencers, two small branches of Sainsbury's, a new Somerfield and a few speciality shops such as those in Union Street, food retail has largely deserted the town centre. Large branches of Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Morrisons and Waitrose supermarket chains, with their associated car parks, can be found in suburban and edge of town locations.
Mains water and sewerage services are supplied by Thames Water plc, a private sector water supply company. Water abstraction and disposal is regulated by the Environment Agency. Reading's water supply is largely derived from underground aquifers, and as a consequence the water is hard.
As with the rest of the Britain, the choice of commercial energy supplier for electricity and gas is at the consumer's choice. Southern Electric runs the local electricity distribution network, while Scotia Gas Networks runs the gas distribution network. One notable part of the local energy infrastructure is the presence of a 2 megawatt (peak) Enercon wind turbine at GreenPark, which is wired to the local sub-grid. It was constructed in November 2005 just outside the borders of the borough in the civil parish of Shinfield and is owned by Ecotricity. This turbine can be seen from a large part of Reading, as well as from near junction 11 of the M4. The turbine has the potential to produce 3.5 million units of electricity a year, enough to power over a thousand local homes.
BT provides fixed-line telephone coverage throughout the town, and ADSL broadband internet connection to most areas. Parts of Reading are cabled by Virgin Media, supplying cable television, telephone and broadband internet connections. The dialling code for fixed-line telephones is 0118.
The town grew up as a river port at the confluence of the Thames and Kennet. Both of these rivers remain navigable, and the locks of Caversham Lock, Blake's Lock, Yale Lock, County Lock, Fobney Lock and Southcote Lock are all within the borough. Today navigation is exclusively leisure oriented, with private and hire boats dominating traffic.
Several scheduled boat services operate on the Thames, operating from wharves on the Reading side of the river near Caversham Bridge. Salters Steamers operate a summer daily service from just downstream of the bridge to Henley-on-Thames, taking somewhat over two hours in each direction and calling at the riverside villages of Sonning and Shiplake. Thames River Cruises operate several different trips from just upstream of the bridge, including a service on summer weekends and bank holidays to Mapledurham, taking 45 minutes in each direction and allowing two hours ashore for visits to Mapledurham Watermill and Mapledurham House.
Reading was a major staging point on the old Bath Road (A4) from London to Bath and Bristol. This road still carries local traffic, but has now been replaced for long distance traffic by the M4 motorway, which closely skirts the borough and serves it with three junctions (J10–J12).
Within Reading there is the Inner Distribution road (IDR), a ring road for local traffic movements. The council has put forward a plan to make the IDR one-way. This has proved highly controversial and the plan is now (July 2008) waiting to be formally abandoned.
The A329(M), A33 and A4 national routes link the town with junctions 10, 11 and 12 of the M4 motorway respectively. The IDR is linked with the M4 by the recently constructed A33 relief road, which runs past the Madejski stadium and Green Park Business complex.
The Thames is crossed by both Reading and Caversham road bridges, while several road bridges cross the Kennet. There has long been a desire to construct a third bridge across the Thames, to the east of the existing bridges. Some people believe that this will remove one of the town's bottlenecks and ease traffic congestion. Others believe that it will induce more traffic, move bottle necks and open up swathes of South Oxfordshire to unwanted development. However, the proximity of the county border means that any such route will have to pass through South Oxfordshire, and this development has so far been blocked by its residents and politicians.
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. Plans have been agreed to rebuild Reading station, with grade separation of some conflicting traffic flows and extra platforms, to relieve severe congestion at this station.
Railway lines link Reading to both Paddington and Waterloo stations in London. The route to Paddington offers both non-stop (taking around 30 minutes) and stopping services, whilst that to Waterloo offers only a stopping service. Long distance services also link Reading to Swindon, Bristol, Cardiff and South Wales, Exeter, Plymouth and South West England, Birmingham and the North of England, and Southampton and Bournemouth. Local services link Reading to Oxford, Newbury, Basingstoke, Guildford and Gatwick Airport.
The nearest airport is London Heathrow, which is away by road. An express bus service named RailAir links Reading with Heathrow, or the airport can be accessed by changing at Hayes and Harlington railway station from the local rail service to Paddington to the Heathrow Connect rail service.
London Gatwick is away by road and is served by direct trains from Reading. London Luton is also away by road, whilst London Stansted is away; both can be reached by rail by changing stations in central London. The airport at London City, principally used by short-haul business travellers to and from London's financial district, can also be reached by a combination of rail services.
Southampton Airport also provides services to short haul destinations. It is away by road and served by direct rail services.
Local public transport is largely road-based, and can be affected by the 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. Other bus operators include:
In 2005 the Reading Fringe Festival was launched, striving to prove that Reading was "a hotbed of talent" worthy of city status. Local arts organisations, groups and individuals promote themselves at venues throughout the town in the run-up to Reading Festival.
Every year Reading hosts the Reading Festival, which has been running since 1971. It is considered as the largest UK music festival after Glastonbury. While WOMAD found a home in the town in 1990, it has been announced that after 17 years WOMAD Reading is to find a new location, having outgrown the Rivermead site. Internationally, it is perhaps for these two events that the town is best known.
The town has had mixed fortunes in creating home-grown artists over the years. Perhaps most notable is Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells fame. More recently, Slowdive, The Cooper Temple Clause, Stuart Price, Morning Runner, My Luminaries, Laura Marling, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip, Pete & The Pirates, SixNationState, Pure Reason Revolution, Exit Ten, Bennet and Mr Fogg have had some degree of success. David Byron, first and most famous singer of heavy metal band Uriah Heep lived his last years in Reading before he died in 1985.
Reading plays host to semi-professional and amateur choirs and choral societies. Reading Festival Chorus has just celebrated its 60th anniversary. RFC sings a diverse music programme, with works like Mozart's Requiem, Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man in 2005 to Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and a summer programme of English and American Folk songs by Tippett and Aaron Copland.
Reading also has orchestras including the long-established Reading Symphony Orchestra (RSO) and Reading Youth Orchestra (RYO). The Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra (APO), named after Richard Aldworth, the founder of Reading Blue Coat School (where it rehearses and plays most of its concerts), was formed relatively recently, in 2002. APO's remit is to be as innovative as possible, giving more local people the chance to play by rehearsing exclusively at weekends, attracting a wider audience to classical music (especially younger people) through its 'Concert Virgin Scheme' & education projects, and championing the music of talented young composers.
Amateur theatre venues in Reading include Progress Theatre, a self-governing, self-funding theatre group and registered charity founded in 1947 that operates and maintains its own 97-seat theatre. Progress Theatre produces a yearly open air Shakespeare production in the Reading Abbey Ruins that has come to represent a highlight of Reading's cultural calendar. Reading also has Bohemian Night, a weekly Open Mike event that many ameuters perform at.
Three local radio stations broadcast from Reading: BBC Radio Berkshire, Reading 107 FM and 2-Ten FM. 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.
Reading is a centre for rugby union football in the area, with the Guinness Premiership team London Irish as tenants at the Madejski Stadium. Reading is also home to another three senior semi-professional rugby clubs; Reading Abbey R.F.C., Redingensians R.F.C. and Reading R.F.C.. The town plays host to a number of other football variants, such as Gaelic football's St. Anthony's GAA, Australian rules football team Reading Kangaroos, and American football team Reading Renegades. The sport of field hockey is represented by Reading Hockey Club.
The Reading Half Marathon is held on the streets of Reading in March of each year, with as many as 13,000 competitors from elite to fun runners.
The Reading Rockets, are a basketball club that play in the English Basketball League. The Rockets were formed in 1997 by the owner Gary Johnson. Now firmly established within the EBL Division 1 the Rockets won the National Cup in 2004/05, reached EBL Championship Final in 2005, were National Cup Finalists in 2006. In 2007 the Rockets won the Final of the National Trophy, and retained the title in 2008.
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 27 km (17 miles) to the east of Reading, provides a full international competition venue and will host the rowing events of the 2012 Summer Olympics. There are also several sailing lakes to the south and southwest of the town, the largest being Theale Lake close to junction 12 of the M4. These lakes are also popular with water-skiing and jet-skiing enthusiasts.
Britain's first-ever triathlon was held just outside Reading at Kirtons's Farm in Pingewood in June 1983. The Reading International Triathlon was revived by Banana Leisure in 1994 and 1995. Thames Valley Triathletes, based in the town, is Britain's oldest triathlon club, with origins in the 1984 event at nearby Heckfield. The British Triathlon Association was also formed at the town's former "Mall" health club in 1982.
Reading's Palmer Park was also the host of the UK's first-ever outdoor Aerobics display; pre-dating the more famous Hyde Park (London) event by a year.
The town is home to the Reading Racers Speedway team. The sport came to Reading in 1968 at Tilehurst Stadium but this closed and the site was redeveloped. The team took a year off whilst the current venue was built. This venue is also due to close at the end of 2008 and another year off is anticipated as another new venue is built. The history of Reading Racer has recently (2008) been set out in a book by Arnie Gibbons.
Jane Austen attended Reading Ladies Boarding School, based in the Abbey Gateway, in 1784-86.
Thomas Noon Talfourd, the judge and dramatist was born in Reading and later became MP for the town.
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. His great-granddaughter Monica Dickens died in Reading in 1992.
Jerome K. Jerome did not warm to the town on his famous journey up the Thames in Three Men in a Boat (1888): "The river is dirty and dismal here. One does not linger in the neighbourhood of Reading". He does, however, recognise the historical significance of Reading in local history.
Jasper Fforde set his series of Jack Spratt novels in this town.
A Reading edition of Monopoly is available (see Localized versions of the Monopoly game). Perhaps surprisingly, given its size and status in the South East, Reading is not yet officially a city, having missed out during the millennium celebrations when the Queen instead granted Brighton & Hove city status in 2000.
The interview show As It Happens, which airs on CBC Radio One in Canada, is notable for its mention of Reading. Frequently, after concluding an interview with someone in the UK, the host will describe the individual in relation to how far they live from Reading. For example, one might hear "That was professional bagpiper William J. Tweed from Biggleswade, which is about 81 miles north of Reading."
The roadside chain of restaurants Little Chef began in the town back in 1958. Its first branch was a small eleven-seater venue.
When Ricky Gervais (who comes from Reading) used to perform a stand-up comedy segment on the British TV show The 11 O'Clock Show, he would often (comically) describe the residents of the Reading suburb Whitley as the lowest members of society. This turned Whitley into a household name for the duration of the series.
In a 2007 poll by Readers Digest, Reading was named the worst place to live for families