Reading, Berkshire facts for kids

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Reading
Borough of Reading
Town and Borough
From top left: Reading's historic Market Place with Town Hall and St Laurence's Church, the Maiwand Lion, the Town Centre skyline from the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading Abbey, The Oracle shopping centre and River Kennet
From top left: Reading's historic Market Place with Town Hall and St Laurence's Church, the Maiwand Lion, the Town Centre skyline from the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading Abbey, The Oracle shopping centre and River Kennet
Official logo of Reading
Coat of Arms of Reading Borough Council
Motto: A Deo et Regina
With God and Queen
Reading shown within Berkshire
Reading shown within Berkshire
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Constituent country England
Region South East England
Ceremonial county Berkshire
Historic county Berkshire
(south of River Thames)
Oxfordshire
(north of River Thames)
Admin HQ Reading
Settled 871 or earlier
Town Status 1086 or earlier
Elevation 200 ft (61 m)
Population
 • Town and Borough 232,662
 • Urban 318,014 (Ranked 20th in England and Wales)
 • Ethnicity 74.8% White (65.3% White British)
9.1% South Asian
6.7 % Black
3.9% Mixed Race
4.5% Chinese and Other Asian
0.9% Other
Demonym(s) Readingensian
Time zone GMT (UTC+0)
 • Summer (DST) BST (UTC+1)
Postal Code RG1, RG2, RG4, RG5, RG6, RG7, RG30, RG31
Area code(s) 0118
Grid Ref. SU713733
ONS code 00MC (ONS)
E06000038 (GSS)
ISO 3166-2 GB-RDG
NUTS 3 UKJ11
Website reading.gov.uk

Reading (Listeni/ˈrɛdɪŋ/ RED-ing) is a large, historically-important town in Berkshire, England, of which it is the county town. It was an important trading and ecclesiastical centre in the medieval period, as the site of Reading Abbey, one of the richest monasteries of medieval England with strong royal connections, of which the 12th century abbey gateway and significant ruins remain. The town was seriously affected by the English Civil War, with a major siege and loss of trade, and played a pivotal role in the Revolution of 1688, with that revolution's only significant military action fought on the streets of the town. The 19th century saw the coming of the Great Western Railway and the development of the town's brewing, baking and seed growing businesses. Today Reading is a major commercial centre, with involvement in information technology and insurance, and, despite its proximity to London, has a net inward commuter flow.

The first evidence for Reading as a settlement dates from the 8th century. By 1525, Reading was the largest town in Berkshire, and tax returns show that Reading was the 10th largest town in England when measured by taxable wealth. By 1611, it had a population of over 5000 and had grown rich on its trade in cloth. 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. During the 19th century, the town grew rapidly as a manufacturing centre. It is ranked the UK's top economic area for economic success and wellbeing, according to factors such as employment, health, income and skills. Reading is also a major regional retail centre serving a large area of the Thames Valley, and is home to the University of Reading. Every year it hosts the Reading Festival, one of England's biggest music festivals. Sporting teams based in Reading include Reading Football Club and the London Irish rugby union team, and over 15,000 runners annually compete in the Reading Half Marathon.

In 2015, Reading had an estimated population of 232,662, making it the largest settlement in the UK without city status. The town is represented in Parliament by two members, and has been continuously represented there since 1295. For ceremonial purposes the town is in the county of Berkshire and has served as its county town since 1867, previously sharing this status with Abingdon-on-Thames. It is in the Thames Valley at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, and on both the Great Western Main Line railway and the M4 motorway. Reading is 75 miles (121 km) east of Bristol, 25 miles (40 km) south of Oxford, 42 miles (68 km) west of London, 17 miles (27 km) north of Basingstoke, 13 miles (21 km) south-west of Maidenhead and 20 miles (32 km) east of Newbury.

History

Reading may date back to the Roman occupation of Britain, possibly as a trading port for Calleva Atrebatum. However the first clear evidence for Reading as a settlement dates from the 8th century, when 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, or less probably the Celtic Rhydd-Inge, meaning Ford over the River. In late 870, an army of Danes invaded the kingdom of Wessex and set up camp at Reading. On 4 January 871, in the first Battle of Reading, 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 that account provides the earliest known written record of the existence of Reading. The Danes remained in Reading until late in 871, when they retreated to their winter quarters in London.

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: four on land belonging to the king and two on the land given to Battle Abbey. Reading Abbey was founded in 1121 by Henry I, who is buried within the Abbey grounds. As part of his endowments, he gave the abbey his lands in Reading, along with land at Cholsey. It is not known 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. 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.

Map of Redding by John Speed, 1611
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 when measured by taxable wealth. By 1611, it 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. Reading played an important role during the English Civil War. Despite its fortifications, it had a Royalist garrison imposed on it in 1642. The subsequent Siege of Reading by Parliamentary forces succeeded in April 1643. The town's cloth trade was especially badly damaged, and the town's economy did not fully recover until the 20th century. Reading played a significant role during the Revolution of 1688: the second Battle of Reading was the only substantial military action of the campaign.

View of Reading from Caversham by Joseph Farington, 1793
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. 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. In 1723, despite considerable local opposition, the Kennet Navigation opened the River Kennet to boats as far as Newbury. Opposition stopped when it became apparent that the new route benefited the town. After the opening of the Kennet and Avon Canal in 1810, one could go by barge from Reading to the Bristol Channel. From 1714, and probably earlier, the role of county town of Berkshire was shared between Reading and Abingdon.

During the 19th century, the town grew rapidly as a manufacturing centre. 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 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. The town became a county borough under the Local Government Act 1888. The town has been famous for the Three Bs of beer (1785–2010, Simonds' Brewery), bulbs (1837–1974, Suttons Seeds), and biscuits (1822–1976, Huntley and Palmers).

The town continued to expand in the 20th century, annexing Caversham across the River Thames in Oxfordshire in 1911. 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 citizens were killed or injured in the conflicts. 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. The Lower Earley development, built in 1977, was one of the largest private housing developments in Europe. It extended the urban area of Reading as far as the M4 motorway, which acts as the southern boundary of the town. Further housing developments have increased the number of modern houses and hypermarkets in the outskirts of Reading. A major town-centre shopping centre, The Oracle, opened in 1999, is named after the 17th century Oracle workhouse, which once occupied a small part of the site. It provides three storeys of shopping space and boosted the local economy by providing 4,000 jobs.

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.

Geography

'As the crow flies' Reading is 36 miles (58 km) due west of central London, 24 miles (39 km) southeast of Oxford, 70 miles (110 km) east of Bristol, and 50 miles (80 km) north of the English south coast. The centre of Reading is on a low ridge between the River Thames and River Kennet, close to their confluence, reflecting the town's history as a river port. Just above the confluence, the Kennet cuts through a narrow steep-sided gap in the hills forming the southern flank of the Thames floodplain. The absence of a floodplain on the Kennet in this defile enabled the development of wharves.

As Reading has grown, its suburbs have spread: to the west between the two rivers into the foothills of the Berkshire Downs as far as Calcot, Tilehurst and Purley; to the south and south-east on the south side of the Kennet as far as Whitley Wood, Lower Earley and Woodley; and to the north of the Thames into the Chiltern Hills as far as Caversham Heights, Emmer Green and Caversham Park Village. Outside the central area, the floors of the valleys containing the two rivers remain largely unimproved floodplain. Apart from the M4 curving to the south there is only one road across the Kennet floodplain. All other routes between the three built-up areas are in the central area, which is a cause of road congestion there.

Oracle riverside flooded 8 (871242314)
River Kennet during the 2007 floods at the riverside level of The Oracle

The floodplains adjoining Reading's two rivers are subject to occasional flooding. However, in the 2007 floods that affected much of the UK, no properties were affected by flooding from the Thames and only four properties were affected by flooding from the Kennet.

Depending on the definition adopted, neither the town nor the urban area are necessarily coterminous with the borough. Historically, the town of Reading was smaller than the borough. 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. Today, as well as the town centre Reading comprises a number of suburbs and other districts, both within the borough itself and within the surrounding urban area. The names and location of these suburbs are in general usage but, except where some of the outer suburbs correspond to civil parishes, there are no formally defined boundaries. The Reading town 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 and Tilehurst. The Reading urban area (officially Reading/Wokingham) additionally includes Winnersh, Wokingham and Crowthorne with an overall population of around 320,000 inhabitants.

Like the rest of the United Kingdom, Reading has a maritime climate, with limited seasonal temperature ranges and generally moderate rainfall throughout the year. The nearest official Met Office weather station is located at the Reading University Atmospheric Observatory on the Whiteknights Campus, which has recorded atmospheric measurements and meteorological observations since 1970. The local absolute maximum temperature of 36.4 °C (97.5 °F) was recorded in August 2003 and the local absolute minimum temperature of −14.5 °C (5.9 °F) was recorded in January 1982.

Demography

Population growth of the Borough of Reading
Year Population Year Population Year Population
1801 10,792 1871 39,497 1941 103,518
1821 14,547 1891 63,085 1961 125,177
1841 21,103 1911 84,354 1981 130,888
1861 31,658 1931 95,369 2001 143,124
Source: A Vision of Britain through Time.

The borough has a population of and a population density of [convert: needs a number] (2005 est.), while the Office for National Statistics' definition of the urban sub-division/ town of Reading is significantly larger at 232,662 people in an area of 51.14 square kilometres (19.75 sq mi). This urban subdivision is itself a component of the Reading/Wokingham Urban Area with a population of 318,014 (2011 census), and is the most populous town in the United Kingdom not to have city status.

According to the 2011 census, 74.8% of the population were described as White (65.3% White British), 9.1% as South Asian, 6.7% as Black, 3.9% Mixed Race, 4.5% as Chinese and 0.9% as other ethnic group. In 2010 it was reported that Reading has 150 different spoken languages within its population. Reading has a large Polish community, which dates back over 30 years, and in October 2006 the Reading Chronicle printed 5,000 copies of a Polish edition called the Kronika Reading.

Culture

Reading Festival 2007, bird's eye view 2
Aerial view of Reading Festival 2007

Every year Reading hosts the Reading Festival, which has been running since 1971. The festival takes place on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend and is the largest of its kind in the UK aside from the Glastonbury Festival. For some twenty years until 2006, Reading was also known for its WOMAD Festival until it moved to Charlton Park in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. The Reading Beer Festival was first held in 1994 and has now grown to one of the largest beer festivals in the UK. It is held at King's Meadow for the five days immediately preceding the May Day bank holiday every year. Reading also holds Reading Pride, an annual LGBTA festival in Kings Meadow.

The Frank Matcham-designed Royal County Theatre, built in 1895, was located on the south side of Friar Street. It burned down in 1937. Within the town hall is a 700-seat concert hall that houses a Father Willis organ. Reading theatre venues include The Hexagon and South Street Arts Centre. 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.

The demonym for a person from Reading is Readingensian, giving the name of the local rugby team Redingensians, based in Sonning, and of former members of Reading School. An alternative demonym is Readingite.

Cultural references

Reading Abbey Inner Gatehouse, The Forbury - geograph.org.uk - 397564
The Abbey Gateway, where Jane Austen went to school

Jane Austen attended Reading Ladies Boarding School, based in the Abbey Gateway, in 1784–86.

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. The fictional Belford Regis of her eponymous novel, first published in 1835, is largely based on Reading. Described with topographical accuracy, it is still possible to follow the steps of the novel's characters in present-day Reading.

Reading also appears in the works of Thomas Hardy where it is called 'Aldbrickham'. It features most heavily in his final novel, Jude the Obscure, as the temporary home of Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead.

Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in Reading Gaol from 1895–97. While there, he wrote his letter De Profundis. After his release, he lived in exile in France and wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, based on his experience of the execution of Charles Wooldridge, carried out in Reading Gaol whilst he was imprisoned there.

Ricky Gervais, who is from Reading, made the film Cemetery Junction, which, although filmed elsewhere in the UK, is set in 1970s Reading and is named after a busy junction in East Reading.

Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crimes Division novels, The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear are also placed in Reading, Berkshire.

BBC Two Sitcom Beautiful People based on the memoirs of Simon Doonan is set in Reading in the late 1990s.

Landmarks

Forbury Gardens, Reading
The Maiwand Lion in Forbury Gardens

The Maiwand Lion in Forbury Gardens, an unofficial symbol of Reading, commemorates the 328 officers of the Royal Berkshire Regiment who died in the Battle of Maiwand in 1880. The Blade, a fourteen-storey building completed in 2009, is 128 m (420 ft) tall and can be seen from the surrounding area. Jacksons Corner with its prominent sign, former home of Jacksons department store, occupies the corner of Kings Road and High Street, just south of the Market Place.

Reading has five Grade I listed buildings, 22 Grade II* and 853 Grade II buildings, in a wide variety of architectural styles that range from the medieval to the 21st century. The Grade I listed buildings are Reading Abbey, the Abbey Gateway, Greyfriars Church, St Laurence's Church, and Reading Minster.

Media

Reading has a local newspaper, the Reading Chronicle, published on Thursdays. The town's other local newspaper, the Reading Post, ceased publication on paper in December 2014, in order transition to an online only format under the title getreading. An online magazine, Alt Reading, publishes articles focusing on arts, entertainment and culture in Reading. A local publishing company, the Two Rivers Press, has published over 70 book titles, many on the topic of local history and art.

Three local radio stations broadcast from Reading: BBC Radio Berkshire, Jack FM Berkshire and Heart Thames Valley. Other local radio stations, such as London's 95.8 Capital FM, Basingstoke's The Breeze and East Berkshire's Time 106.6, can also be received. Local television news programmes are the BBC's South Today and ITV's Meridian Tonight.

Transport

FrysIsland01
The River Thames from Caversham Bridge looking eastwards

Reading's location in the Thames Valley to the west of London has made the town an important location in the nation's transport system.

The town grew up as a river port at the confluence of the Thames and the Kennet. Both of these rivers are navigable, and Caversham Lock, Blake's Lock, County Lock, Fobney Lock and Southcote Lock are all within the borough. Today, navigation is exclusively for purposes of leisure: private and hire boats dominate traffic, while scheduled boat services operate on the Thames from wharves on the Reading side of the river near Caversham Bridge.

Reading was a major staging point on the old Bath Road (A4) from London to Avonmouth, near 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. Other main roads serving Reading include the A33, A327, A329, A4074 and A4155. Within Reading there is the Inner Distribution Road (IDR), a ring road for local traffic. The IDR is linked with the M4 by the A33 relief road. National Express Coaches run out of Reading Coachway, at Junction 12 of the M4. The Thames is crossed by both Reading and Caversham road bridges, while several road bridges cross the Kennet, the oldest surviving one of which is High Bridge.

Reading railway station aerial, August 2014
Aerial view of Reading station in August 2014

Reading is a major junction point of the National Rail system, and hence Reading station is a major transfer point and terminus. In a project that finished in 2015, Reading station was redeveloped at a cost of £850m, 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. Other stations in the Reading area are Reading West, Tilehurst and Earley. Green Park railway station is planned on the Reading to Basingstoke Line to serve Green Park Business Park.

There have been two airfields in or near Reading, one at Coley Park and one at Woodley, but they have both closed. The nearest airport is London Heathrow, 25 miles (40 km) away by road. An express bus service named RailAir links Reading with Heathrow, or the airport can be accessed by rail by taking the Paddington train and changing to the Heathrow Connect rail service at Hayes and Harlington railway station.

Today local public transport is largely by road, which is often affected by peak hour congestion in the borough. A 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 First, Arriva South East, Stagecoach and Thames Travel. ReadiBus provides an on-demand transport service for people with restricted mobility in the area.

The OYBike bicycle sharing system operates in Reading, with approximately 15 bicycles and with docking stations at Reading station, Holiday Inn (Basingstoke Road) and Green Park. In March 2011, Reading Borough Council approved a larger scheme similar to Santander Cycles in London, with 1,000 bicycles available at up to 150 docking stations across Reading.

Religion

Reading Minster, church tower
St Mary's Church tower, chequered with flint and ashlar

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 his daughter 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. Today all that remains of the abbey are the inner rubble cores of the walls of many of the major buildings of the abbey, together with a much restored inner gateway and the intact hospitium.

The mediaeval borough of Reading was served by three parish churches: Reading Minster, St Giles' Church, and St Laurence's Church. All are still in use by the Church of England. The Franciscan friars built a friary in the town in 1311. After the friars were expelled in 1538, the building was used as a hospital, a poorhouse, and a jail, before being restored as the Church of England parish church of Greyfriars Church in 1863.

The Bishop of Reading is a suffragan bishop within the Church of England's Diocese of Oxford. The bishop is based in Reading, and is responsible for the archdeaconry of Berkshire. There are a total of 18 Church of England parish churches in Reading.

St Laurence's Church, Reading 1
Reading Town Hall and St Laurence's Church tower from the Market Place

St James's Church was built on a portion of the site of the abbey between 1837–40, 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. There are now a total of 8 Roman Catholic parish churches in Reading.

Reading has had an organised Jewish community since 1886. At least one Jewish family living in the area has been traced back as far as 1842. The group grew to 13 families, who in 1886 declared themselves a community and commenced building a synagogue. On 31 October 1900, Reading Hebrew Congregation officially opened in a solemn public ceremony, packed to capacity with dignitaries, led by the Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler. Reading Hebrew Congregation, which still stands on its original site at the junction of Goldsmid Road and Clifton Street near the town centre, is a Grade 2-listed historical structure, built to a traditional design in the Moorish style. The community is affiliated with the Orthodox United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. It continues to serve the community. In 2015, the Jewish Community of Berkshire (JCoB) was formed in order to continue such communal functions such as Jewish education for children (cheder) and Rabbinic Services for the region after Reading Hebrew Congregation downsized its workforce. JCoB now serves as the center of activity for younger Jews in the region. Reading also has a Liberal Jewish community which convenes in the Reading Quaker Meeting House an active Jewish Society for students at the university, as well as being served by a Reform Jewish community which convenes in nearby Maidenhead Synagogue.

There is presently one mosque, the Central Reading Mosque on Waylen Street. The £3–4m Abu Bakr Islamic Centre, on Oxford Road in West Reading, was granted planning permission in 2002. The community-funded project began construction in 2006, but, as of July 2008, had no estimated completion date. A second Islamic centre in eastern Reading has also been granted planning permission. This £4m project has garnered some controversy.

Reading also has places of worship of other religions, the Shantideva Mahayana Buddhist centre, a Hindu temple, a Sikh gurdwara, a Salvation Army citadel, a Quaker meeting house, and a Christadelphian Hall.

Town twinning

See also: List of twin towns and sister cities in the United Kingdom

Reading is twinned with:

  • Germany Düsseldorf, Germany (since 1947, officially since 1988)
  • Republic of Ireland Clonmel, Ireland (since 1994
  • Nicaragua San Francisco Libre, Nicaragua (since 1994)
  • Barbados Speightstown, Barbados (since 2003)

Reading is also a sister city of:

  • Sri Lanka Beruwala, Sri Lanka (since 2004)
  • United States Reading, Pennsylvania

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