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Coordinates: 51°27′15″N 0°58′23″W / 51.4541°N 0.9730°W / 51.4541; -0.9730

St Mary's Church and market
Reading is located in Berkshire

 Reading shown within Berkshire
Population borough 143,096 (2001)
Urban sub-area 232,662 (2001)
OS grid reference SU713733
Unitary authority Reading, with parts of Wokingham and West Berkshire (see Definition)
Ceremonial county Berkshire
Region South East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town Reading
Postcode district RG1, RG2, RG4, RG6, RG8, RG10, RG30, RG31
Dialling code 0118
Police Thames Valley
Fire Royal Berkshire
Ambulance South Central
EU Parliament South East England
UK Parliament Reading East
Reading West
List of places: UK • England • Berkshire

Reading (pronounced /ˈrɛdɪŋ/ ( listen) RED-ing) is a large town in England, located at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, and on both the Great Western Main Line railway and the M4 motorway, some 40 miles (64 km) west of London. For ceremonial purposes it is in the Royal County of Berkshire and has served as the county town since 1867.[1]

Reading was an important national centre in the medieval period, as the site of an important monastery with strong royal connections. Today it remains a commercial centre, with links to information technology and insurance. Reading also hosts two universities, a large student population, and is home to one of England's biggest music festivals.




St Mary's church was founded by the 9th century

The settlement was founded at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet in the 8th century 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". 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."[3][4]

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 lead by King Ethelred and his brother Alfred the Great attempted unsuccessfully to breach the Dane's 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.[5]

By the time of its 1086 Domesday Book listing, the town had grown to contain around 600 people and was a designated borough.[citation needed]

Time of the Abbey

Reading Abbey was founded in 1121

The foundation of Reading Abbey by Henry I in 1121 led to the town becoming a place of pilgrimage. Already acknowledged as a borough by this time, the relationship between the town'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.[6]

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.[7]

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 perpetuity.[8]

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.[8][9]

By 1525, Reading was the largest town in Berkshire, and tax returns show that Reading was the 10th largest town in England, 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.[7]

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.[10]

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.[11]

Reading was also the only site of significant fighting in England during the Revolution of 1688, with the second Battle of Reading.[12]

18th century

Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth

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 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.

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 m²) of land that is today the Royal Berkshire Hospital, and his name is commemorated in the town's Sidmouth Street and Addington Road.[13][14]

19th century

The Maiwand lion in Forbury Gardens, an unofficial symbol of Reading, commemorates the Battle of Maiwand in 1880

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 1844 to 1847 and was managed by Nicholaas Henneman, a Dutchman and former valet of William Henry Fox Talbot (a pioneer of photography).[15] 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)[citation needed] 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), bulbs (1807–1976, Suttons Seeds), and biscuits (1822–1977, Huntley and Palmers). 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

A trolleybus at the Three Tuns terminus, c.1966. The Three Tuns is now the terminus for the number 17 bus

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.

At the end of 1966 the Yield Hall multi-storey car park was opened, providing covered space for 522 cars.[16] It was noted that the ramps were arranged to segregate up-traffic from down-traffic, with "one-way circulation" through most of the building.[16]

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. It provides three storeys of shopping and boosted the local economy by providing 4,000 jobs. Reading has pedestrianised Broad Street.


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 (2008 est.)
- Density
Ranked 125th
3607 / km²
Ethnicity (2001 Census data): 86.82% White
5.21% Asian
4.14% Black
2.38% Mixed
0.73% Other
0.72% Chinese.
Leadership: Leader & Cabinet
Executive: Labour (council NOC)
Mayor of Reading Councillor Fred Pugh

Local government

Reading has had some degree of local government autonomy since 1253 when the local merchant guild was granted a royal charter. Over the years since then the town has been run by a borough corporation, as a county borough, and as a district of Berkshire. The Borough of Reading became a unitary authority area in 1998 when Berkshire County Council was abolished under the Banham Review, and is now responsible for all aspects of local government within the borough.[17]

The borough council has bid for city status but these bids have been unsuccessful. The application for city status is politically controversial, with some groups of residents strongly opposed, while others support the bid.[18]


Since 1887, the borough has included the former villages of Southcote and Whitley and small parts of Earley and Tilehurst.[19] By 1911, it also encompassed the Oxfordshire village of Caversham and still more of Tilehurst.[20] A small area of Mapledurham parish was added in 1977. An attempt to take over a small area of Eye & Dunsden parish in Oxfordshire was rejected because of strong local opposition in 1997.[20]

Reading's municipal boundaries are particularly old and constrained and do not include several of the town's suburbs. Proposals occasionally surface to expand the borough to include these. 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.[21] As a consequence, the debate has at times become somewhat acrimonious between the opposing sides, and little progress has been made.

"However, the process has been painfully slow and it appears that, for every two steps forwards, there are three steps backwards—mainly because of the view of South Oxfordshire district council, which is being incredibly parochial about this matter. Meanwhile, Reading borough council is adopting strategies that prioritise local traffic in Reading, obviously to the detriment of through traffic. We have now reached the point at which we desperately need direct Government intervention to break the logjam between those local authorities."
—Mr. Rob Wilson MP (Reading, East), House of Commons debate.[22]

National government

Reading has elected at least one Member of Parliament to every Parliament since 1295. Historically Reading was represented by the members for the former Parliamentary Borough of Reading, and the members for the former parliamentary constituencies of Reading, Reading North, and Reading South.

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.

Town twinning

Reading is twinned with:[23]


Reading is 41 miles (66 km) due west of central London, 30 miles (48 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 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:

  • to the west between the two rivers into the foothills of the Berkshire Downs,
  • to the south and south-east on the south side of the Kennet, and
  • to the north of the Thames into the Chiltern Hills.

Outside the central area, the floors of the valley containing the two rivers remain largely unimproved floodplain, subject to occasional flooding. In the 2007 United Kingdom Floods [25] no properties were affected by flooding from the Thames and only four properties were affected by flooding from the River Kennet.[26]

Apart from the M4 looping 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.

Reading has its own subregional catchment area, incorporating the suburban districts of Earley and Woodley and the surrounding towns of Wokingham, Bracknell, Henley-on-Thames and Twyford, plus large villages such as Pangbourne, Theale, Winnersh, Burghfield and Shiplake.


Depending on the definition adopted, neither the town nor the urban area are necessarily co-terminous with the borough.

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.[27][28][29]

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.[20]


Besides 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 borough itself is unparished, and the wards used to elect the borough councillors generally ignore the accepted suburbs and use invented ward names.

The suburbs and districts include:



Reading Abbey
St Laurence's Church

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 Central Reading Mosque is a mosque in Waylen Street close to the town centre.[30]


University of Reading War Memorial clock tower

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 six other state secondary schools and 37 state primary schools within the borough, together with a number of private and independent schools and nurseries. Some of the designated schools for pupils in the borough's catchment areas are actually in the neighbouring boroughs.[31] 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, becoming Bulmershe Court Campus. The Henley Management College, situated in Buckinghamshire and about 10 miles (16 km) from Reading, was taken over in 2008, becoming Greenlands Campus. All four campuses are still in use, although Whiteknights is by far the largest.

The more recent Thames Valley University, which also has campuses in Slough and Ealing, now runs what was previously Reading College and School of Arts and Design on two sites in east Reading.

Libraries and museums

Reading Town Hall now houses the Museum of Reading

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 Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester Roman Town), together with a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry, an art collection, and galleries relating to Huntley and Palmers.

The Museum of English Rural Life, in Redlands Road, is a museum dedicated to recording the changing face of farming and the countryside in England. It houses designated collections of national importance that span the full range of objects, archives, photographs, film and books. It is owned and run by the University of Reading.[32][33]

On the University of Reading's Whiteknights Campus can be found the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology and Cole Museum of Zoology, together with the Harris Botanic Gardens. 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 new entrance block for the Royal Berkshire Hospital

The principal National Health Service (NHS) hospital in Reading is the Royal Berkshire Hospital, founded in 1839 and much enlarged and rebuilt since. 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.[34][35]

Reading has two private hospitals, the Berkshire Independent Hospital in Coley Park and the Dunedin Hospital situated on the main A4 Bath Road.[36][37]


Reading is an important commercial centre in Southern England and is often referred to as the commercial capital of the Thames Valley. The town hosts the headquarters of British companies and the UK offices of foreign multinationals, as well as being a major retail centre.[38]


Prudential's administrative centre
The Oracle Corporation campus

Reading has a significant historical involvement in the information technology industry, largely as a result of the early presence in the town of sites of International Computers Limited and Digital. Whilst both these companies have been swallowed by other groups, their respective descendents in Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard both still have local operations. More recently Microsoft and Oracle have established multi-building campuses in the town. Other technology companies with a significant presence in the town include Agilent Technologies, Audio & Design (Recording) Ltd, Bang & Olufsen, Cisco, Comptel, Harris Corporation, Intel, Nvidia, Sage, Sagem Orga, SGI, Symantec, Symbol Technologies, Verizon Business, Virgin Media, Websense, Xansa (now Steria), and Xerox.

The financial company ING Direct has its headquarters in Reading, as does the directories company Yell Group and the natural gas major BG Group. The insurance company Prudential has an administration centre in the town, whilst PepsiCo and Holiday Inn have offices. As with most major cities, Reading also has offices of the big 4 accounting firms Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst and Young, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

These companies are distributed around Reading, including in business parks just inside or outside the borough boundary. Prudential and Yell, together with most of the accountancy companies, have their offices in central Reading. Thames Valley Business Park is home to the Microsoft and Oracle campuses, as well as BG Group and ING Direct. GreenPark Business Park is home to Symantec and Cisco, whilst the nearby Reading International Business Park is home to Verizon Business. Winnersh Triangle Business Park is home to technology companies, whilst Arlington Business Park is home to KPMG, Nvidia and PepsiCo.


Broad Street
Stretch of canal with large modern buildings and concrete walkways on either side.
The Riverside level at The Oracle
Union Street known locally as Smelly Alley

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, Slough, Tadley, Thatcham, Wallingford and Windsor. In 2007 an independent poll placed Reading as one of the top ten retail destinations in the UK.[39][40]

The principal town centre shopping area is around Broad Street, which was pedestrianised in 1995.[41] 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[citation needed] people passing through on a Saturday alone.

There are three major department stores in Reading: John Lewis Reading (formerly known as Heelas[42]), Debenhams and House of Fraser. There are also branches of chain stores, including Bhs, Boots, fcuk, H&M, Marks and Spencers, Thorntons, Next, Primark and W H Smith. The booksellers Waterstone's have two branches in Reading. Their Broad Street branch is of interest, as it is a conversion of a nonconformist chapel dating from 1707.[43]

Besides the two major shopping malls, Reading has three smaller shopping arcades, the Bristol and 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,[44][45] due to the former presence of many open-fronted fishmongers and butchers. The occupancy has shifted towards major retail chains, although a few of independent shops, including a fishmonger and butcher remain.[46]

Unlike many English cities, Reading has no indoor market hall. There is a street market at Hosier Street in the town centre, open from Wednesday to Saturday, with 60 stalls selling a mixture of food, flowers and plants, cultural goods, and household goods. A farmers' market operates on two Saturdays a month at the cattle market.[47][48]

Other than the markets, Marks and Spencers, a few small supermarket branches, and a few speciality shops, food retail has largely deserted the town centre. Large branches of Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Morrisons, Iceland and Waitrose supermarket chains can be found in suburban and edge of town locations.


The wind turbine at GreenPark produces enough green electricity for around 1000 homes

Mains water and sewerage services are supplied by Thames Water Utilities Limited, 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.[49][50][51]

The 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 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 homes.[52]

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.

Mobile phone service is available throughout the town, from all the UK licensed network operators and using the GSM and UMTS standards.


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.

River transport

Canal passing under an arched bridge. To the left are buildings. On the right is a sign saying Welcome to the Kennet and Avon Canal.
High Bridge on the River Kennet

The town grew up as a river port at the confluence of the Thames and Kennet. Both of these rivers are navigable, and the locks of Caversham Lock, Blake's 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.

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 around two hours in each direction and calling at the riverside villages of Sonning and Shiplake. Thames River Cruises operate 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.[53][54]

Road transport

Reading Bridge on the River Thames

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,J11,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 waiting to be formally abandoned.[55]

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 A33 relief road, which runs past the Madejski Stadium and Green Park Business complex. National Express Coaches run out of Calcot, just off the M4 at junction 12.

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.[56]

Rail transport

Reading station buildings. The original GWR building is now a pub (The Three Guineas): the main facilities are in the newer building to the right.

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.[57]

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. Inter-city 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.

Other stations in the Reading area are Reading West, Tilehurst and Earley, but all serve local trains only. A new Reading GreenPark railway station is planned.

Air transport

RailAir coaches in Reading awaiting their departure to Heathrow Airport

There have been two airfields in Reading, one at Coley Park and one at Woodley, but these have both closed. Today Reading is within reach of several international airports.

The nearest airport is London Heathrow, which is 25 miles (40 km) 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 60 miles (97 km) away by road and is served by direct trains from Reading. London Luton is also 60 miles (97 km) away by road, whilst London Stansted is 90 miles (140 km) away; both can be reached by rail by changing stations in central London. The airport at London City can also be reached by a combination of rail services.

Away from London, Southampton Airport and Birmingham Airport are both served by direct trains from Reading and can be faster to reach than the more distant of the London airports. Southampton is 45 miles (72 km) away by road, whilst Birmingham is 92 miles (148 km) distant.

Local public transport

A bus running on Reading Buses route number 17

Local public transport is largely road-based, and can be 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:


The Town Hall, Reading


The NME/Radio 1 tent at the 2005 Reading Festival

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. Since 1999, Reading has been twinned with a simultaneous festival in Leeds, with the same acts appearing at both festivals on different days. In 2005, the main festival spawned the Reading Fringe Festival. Set up by a group of musicians, promoters, film-makers and artists, and now in its 6th year, to help showcase acts and performers in the towns venues in the runnup to the main festival.

For some twenty years up until 2006, Reading was also known for its WOMAD festival. However the event eventually outgrew its Rivermead site. As of 2007, amid much controversy,[61] the event relocated to Wiltshire in the form of Womad Charlton Park.[61][62][63] The Head of Culture, Chris Smith - tasked with keeping WOMAD in Reading - was on holiday at the time of the announcement that WOMAD was to move. He later took a senior job with WOMAD.[64]

Perhaps the most notable home-grown artist is Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells fame. Slowdive, The Cooper Temple Clause, Stuart Price, Morning Runner, My Luminaries, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, OK Tokyo, Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip, Pete & The Pirates, SixNationState, Pure Reason Revolution, Exit Ten, Sylosis, The Arusha Accord, Bennet and Mr Fogg have had some degree of success. David Byron, first and most famous singer of hard rock band Uriah Heep lived his last years in Reading before he died in 1985. The Chemical Brothers attended Reading Blue Coat school. Lead singer of 'odd-pop' group The Hoosiers Irwin Sparkes is from Woodley. He supports Reading FC and in the music video for The Hoosiers' song 'Goodbye Mr. A', he can be seen playing as the team on a football game.

Reading plays host to semi-professional and amateur choirs and choral societies. Reading Festival Chorus has 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 has several orchestras. The long-established Reading Symphony Orchestra (RSO)[65] is one of the town's amateur orchestras, led by a professional conductor and leader. It presents four main concerts a year, and is often engaged to work in collaboration with other musical organisations and for private functions. The Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra (APO),[66] founded in 2002 and named after Richard Aldworth, the founder of Reading Blue Coat School, rehearses and plays most of its concerts at the school. APO's remit is to be as innovative as possible, giving 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' and education projects, and championing the music of talented young composers. Reading Youth Orchestra (RYO) provides an opportunity for younger musicians.


Reading theatre venues include The Hexagon and 21 South Street, which are professional venues supported by Reading Borough Council. The Hexagon is a multi-purpose venue in the heart of Reading that provides rock, pop, comedy, classical music and dance as well as theatre. Recent performances have included Reel Big Fish and their mix of ska-punk as well as comedy from Russell Howard.[67] South Street presents performing arts from both the professional and community sectors, including fringe theatre, comedy, music, dance and live literature.[68]

Amateur theatre venues in Reading include Progress Theatre,[69] a self-governing, self-funding theatre group and registered charity founded in 1947 that operates and maintains its own 97-seat theatre.[70] 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.[71]

Golden Globe and Oscar Awards winning actress Kate Winslet was born and raised in Reading. Her husband, award winning director Sam Mendes was also born, though not raised in Reading.


Reading has a history of grassroots arts movements. 21 South Street, previously an unemployment (dole) office, was temporarily occupied by artists in the late 1980s, and this action eventually led to its becoming a Council run Art Centre. Similarly, an occupation of the condemned former Huntley and Palmer's building in 1989 took place by a collective of artists, calling it the Biscuit Base, in an attempt to put pressure on Reading Borough Council to provide more art space. This action did not secure it as art space, but did eventually lead to it being recognised by the council as a historic building. The facade was reprieved from demolition and converted to housing. in 1990, participants in the failed Biscuit Base action occupied a former temperance house in Silver Street which became the town's independent art centre The Rising Sun.[72]


Reading has two local newspapers.

Three local radio stations broadcast from Reading: BBC Radio Berkshire, Reading 107 FM and Heart 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.

Local television news programmes are the BBC's South Today and ITV's Meridian Tonight.

The local Blah Blah magazine[73] provides free monthly arts and entertainment listings.


The Reading Half Marathon climbing Russell Street in West Reading in 2004
The Madejski Stadium, during a game against Swansea in 2008

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.

Reading is the home of Reading Football Club, an association football club nicknamed The Royals, who were formed in 1871. Formerly based at Elm Park, the club plays at the 24,500 capacity Madejski Stadium in the south of the town near the M4 motorway. The stadium is named after chairman John Madejski, who has owned the club since 1991. Reading FC won promotion to the top flight for the first time in 2006 as Football League Championship champions with a national record of 106 points. They finished eighth in their first season as a top division club (just missing out on a UEFA Cup place) but were relegated the following season. The club's current manager is Brian McDermott.

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 hosts several other football variants, such as Gaelic football's St. Anthony's GAA, Australian rules football team Reading Kangaroos, and American football team Berkshire Renegades.

The sport of field hockey is represented by Reading Hockey Club, who play in the Men's Premier Division and the Women's Division One of English Hockey League. The Reading Rockets are a basketball club that play in the English Basketball League.

Like many Thames-side towns, Reading has 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 (home of Burghfield Sailing Club) close to junction 12 of the M4. These lakes are also popular with water-skiing and jet-skiing enthusiasts.

From 1984 to 1994, The Hexagon theatre was home to snooker's Grand Prix tournament, one of the sport's 'big four' Grand Slam events.

Britain's first-ever triathlon was held 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 also hosted the UK's first-ever outdoor Aerobics display; pre-dating the more famous Hyde Park (London) event by a year.

Reading-born Richard Burns became the first Englishman to win the World Rally Championship, in 2001.[citation needed]

The town is home to Reading Greyhound Racing and there is a velodrome at Palmer Park where many of Britain's junior champions train and race.

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.[citation needed]


Reading Gaol, one time home to Oscar Wilde
The Abbey Gateway, where Jane Austen went to school

Reading's best known literary connection is with Oscar Wilde, who was imprisoned in Reading Gaol 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 France and wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, based on his experience of an execution carried out in Reading Gaol whilst he was imprisoned there. This was first published in 1898 under the pseudonym C.3.3, Wilde's erstwhile cell number.

Several authors have written about Reading. Thomas Hardy painted a rather disparaging picture of the town, lightly disguised as Aldbrickham, in his 1895 novel Jude the Obscure. Jerome K. Jerome also did not warm to the town on his famous journey up the Thames in Three Men in a Boat (1888). He does, however, recognise the historical significance of Reading. Jasper Fforde set his series of Jack Spratt literary crime novels in this town. The comic novel A Melon for Ecstasy by John Fortune and John Wells is set in and around Reading.

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

T. E. Lawrence lost the first draft of his Seven Pillars of Wisdom at Reading railway station. Charles Dickens was asked to stand as MP for Reading, but declined. He became president of the Reading Athenaeum. In his novel Bleak House, Esther Summerson goes to school in Reading. His great-granddaughter Monica Dickens died in Reading in 1992.


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 and 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."

In 1974, the BBC filmed The Family in Reading. The show, considered to one of the first reality television shows, followed the lives of the Wilkins family.[74]

The roadside chain of restaurants Little Chef began in the town back in 1958. Its first branch was a small eleven-seater venue.[75]

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. His upcoming film Cemetery Junction will be based in 1970s Reading and is named after a busy junction in East Reading.

Reading in Pennsylvania and Reading in Massachusetts are both named after Reading.

In a 2007 poll by Readers Digest, Reading was named the worst place to live for families.[76]

It was reported that Reading has 127 different spoken languages within its population, and therefore (for its population size) unrivalled in the world with regards to number of languages spoken in one town.[77]

See also


  1. ^ Summer assizes were moved from Abingdon in 1867, effectively making Reading the county town. However, the Home Office informed the county's court of quarter sessions that in moving the court they had acted ultra vires, and that they were required to petition the privy council to make the change. The petition was duly submitted and the change was officially approved with effect from the summer of 1869. "Berkshire Quarter Sessions". Jackson's Oxford Journal. 4 July 1868. 
  2. ^ Cameron, Kenneth (1961). English Place Names. Taylor & Francis. p. 64. 
  3. ^ Cameron,K., (1961) English Place-names, Batsford, p. 64.
  4. ^ Transactions of the Historical Society of Berks. County, By Historical Society of Berks. County, Published by The Society, 1910: v.2 (1905-10) p. 164
  5. ^ Phillips, Daphne (1980). The Story of Reading. Countryside Books. pp. 14–15. ISBN 0-905392-07-8. 
  6. ^ Slade, Cecil (2001). The Town of Reading and its Abbey. MRM Associates Ltd. pp. 1–16. ISBN 0-9517719-4-9. 
  7. ^ a b Hylton, Stuart (2007). A History of Reading. Philimore & Co Ltd. pp. 34–38. ISBN 978-1-86077-458-4. 
  8. ^ a b Slade, Cecil (2001). The Town of Reading and its Abbey. MRM Associates Ltd. pp. 17–25. ISBN 0-9517719-4-9. 
  9. ^ The staff of the Trust for Wessex Archeology and Reading Museum and Art Gallery (1983). Reading Abbey Rediscovered, a summary of the Abbey's history and recent archaeological excavations. Trust for Wessex Archeology. 
  10. ^ Hylton, Stuart (2007). A History of Reading. Philimore & Co Ltd. pp. 51–52. ISBN 978-1-86077-458-4. 
  11. ^ Ford, David Nash. "The Siege of Reading". Royal Berkshire History. Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved 2009-04-27. 
  12. ^ Ford, David Nash. "The Battle of Broad Street". Royal Berkshire History. Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved 2009-04-27. 
  13. ^ Ford, David Nash. "Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth (1757-1844)". Royal Berkshire History. Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  14. ^ "Royal Berkshire Hospital". Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  15. ^ "Fox-Talbot, William Henry (1800–77), pioneering photographer". Reading Borough Libraries. Retrieved 2007-05-21. 
  16. ^ a b "News and views: Parking in Reading". Autocar 125 (nbr 3697): page 1341. date 23 December 1966. 
  17. ^ Berkshire (Structural Change) Order 1996.
  18. ^ "Mayor head-to-head over city status plans". Reading Evening Post. 2001-09-25. Retrieved 2009-04-27. 
  19. ^ Phillips, Daphne (1980). The Story of Reading. Newbury: Countryside Books. 
  20. ^ a b c Dils, Joan (ed.) (1998). An Historical Atlas of Berkshire. Reading: Berkshire Record Society. 
  21. ^ "Third Thames bridge". South Oxfordshire District Council.;jsessionid=acqbaXTYT-gh. Retrieved 3 August 2006. 
  22. ^ "Transport (Greater Reading), 11 January 2006". Hansard. Retrieved 3 August 2006. 
  23. ^ "Town twinning". Reading Borough Council (2000-2006). Retrieved February 6, 2006. 
  24. ^ "Twin Towns". Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  25. ^ Reading Borough Council Flooding 2007 Floods - pictures
  26. ^ Reading Borough Council July 2007 Flooding
  27. ^ "Table KS01 Usual resident population". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 2006-07-06. 
  28. ^ "Population overview". Retrieved 2006-07-06. 
  29. ^ "Largest Towns without City Status". Retrieved 2009-04-27. 
  30. ^ "Central Jamme Mosque, Reading". Bangladesh Association Greater Reading. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  31. ^ "List of schools". Reading Borough Council (2000-2006). Retrieved February 23, 2006. 
  32. ^ "Doors set to open on rural museum". BBC. 2005-06-30. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  33. ^ "About the Museum of English Rural Life". University of Reading. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  34. ^ "Book Launch: Battle Hospital History". Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust. Retrieved April 25, 2007. 
  35. ^ "Welcome to Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust". Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust. Retrieved April 25, 2007. 
  36. ^ "Capio Reading Private Hospital". Capio Healthcare UK. Retrieved April 25, 2007. 
  37. ^ "Dunedin Hospital". Classic Hospitals. Retrieved April 25, 2007. 
  38. ^ "Vision for Reading Chamber of Commerce". Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  39. ^ "Retail & Leisure Study of Reading - Volume 1 – Chapters 1 to 3" (PDF). Reading Borough Council. 2005. Retrieved 2008-06-13. 
  40. ^ "Battle to stay top of shops". Reading Evening Post. 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  41. ^ "Regional Focus on Reading". Career Planner. BCL Legal. Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  42. ^ "The history of John Lewis Reading". Retrieved 2009-04-28. 
  43. ^ "Images of England - Congretional Church, Broad Street, Reading". English Heritage. Retrieved 2007-12-24. 
  44. ^ Sowan, Adam. "Abbatoirs Road to Zinzan Street". Two Rivers Press. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  45. ^ "Holland & Barrett Smelly Alley - Reading". Thames Valley Vegans And Vegetarians. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  46. ^ "Reading Planning Document". Reading Borough Council. pp. 13. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 
  47. ^ "Reading Market". Town & Country Markets. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
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  49. ^ "Water and sewerage operators". Water UK. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  50. ^ "Water Resources". Environment Agency. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  51. ^ "Water Quality". Environment Agency. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  52. ^ "Green Park, Reading". Ecotricity. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  53. ^ "Reading to Henley Service". Salters Steamers. Retrieved April 30, 2007. 
  54. ^ "Boat service from Reading to Mapledurham". Thames River Cruises. Retrieved April 29, 2007. 
  55. ^ "Transport Commission Report 1st July 2008". Reading Borough Council. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  56. ^ "Local Transport Plan 2006-2011, chapter 6, figure 6.7". Reading Borough Council. Retrieved 9 August 2006. 
  57. ^ "Reading Remodelling". Network Rail. Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  58. ^ "Fleet Buzz Service 72". Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  59. ^ "Stokenchurch - Reading". Buckinghamshire County Council. Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  60. ^ Courtney Coaches - Route 190 timetable
  61. ^ a b "battle to keep womad revealed". Reading Evening Post. Retrieved October 3, 2006. 
  62. ^ "WOMAD in Reading". Guardian Unlimited - Arts.,,765215,00.html. Retrieved July 6, 2006. 
  63. ^ "Womad venue change after 17 years". BBC News. 2006-10-03. Retrieved October 20, 2006. 
  64. ^ "WOMAD Abu Dhabi". Reading Evening Post. Retrieved October 21, 2009. 
  65. ^
  66. ^
  67. ^ "The Hexagon, Reading Arts". 
  68. ^ "21 South Street, Reading Arts". Retrieved 14 March 2007. 
  69. ^ "Progress Theatre homepage". Retrieved 15 March 2007. 
  70. ^ "Progress Theatre, Reading Arts". Retrieved 14 March 2007. 
  71. ^ "Progress Theatre Open Air Shakespeare". Retrieved 14 March 2007. 
  72. ^
  73. ^ Blah Blah magazine on MySpace
  74. ^ "When reality TV was in the real world". Telegraph, UK. Retrieved July 12, 2006. 
  75. ^ "Little Chef, A65 near Clapham, Lancs.". Guardian Unlimited, UK.,,1449073,00.html. Retrieved August 9, 2006. 
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  77. ^ "The Town With 127 Tongues.". The Sun. 2010-02-09. Retrieved February 9, 2010. 

External links

Simple English


Reading shown within the United Kingdom
Population borough 143,096 (2001)
Urban sub-area 232,662 (2001)
OS grid reference SU713733
Unitary authority Reading Borough
Wokingham Borough
West Berkshire
Ceremonial county Berkshire
Region South East
Constituent country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town READING
Postcode district RG1, RG2, RG4, RG6, RG8, RG10, RG11, RG30, RG31
Dialling code 0118
Ambulance South Central
UK Parliament Reading East
Reading West
European Parliament South East England
List of places: UKEnglandBerkshire
Coordinates: 51°27′15″N 0°58′23″W / 51.4541°N 0.973°W / 51.4541; -0.973

Reading (pronounced: "Redding") is a large town in Berkshire in the United Kingdom, home to about 230,000 people. Reading is found in southern England, between London and Bristol. The River Thames goes through the town. Reading replaced Abingdon as the county town of Berkshire in 1867.

TV presenter Chris Tarrant (Who wants to be a Millionare) and comedian Ricky Gervais are from Reading, and also the famous actress Kate Winslet, who even has a road named after her. Musician Mike Oldfield is also from Reading. Reading has two universities and is famous for its rock festival. Reading is home to Premiership football and rugby teams.

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