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The History of Reading

by Crista Sanderson, Nov 2018

Reading in Berkshire is one of the largest urban areas in the UK without city status, with a population of 318,014. It also has a very long and fascinating history.

Reading has been speculated to date back to the Romans, however the first piece of real evidence suggests Reading existed as a settlement in the 8th century. It was called Readingum, probably from the Anglo-Saxon tribe of Readingas.

After the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror gave the land to his foundation of Battle Abbey. It was listed officially as a borough at the time.

During the Black Death in the 14th century, it can be estimated that Reading was hit quite hard, as nearby Henley lost 60% of its population.

The Abbey was destroyed during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. The final abbot, Hugh Cook Faringdon, was tried for high treason and hung, drawn and quartered.

In 1525, Reading was the largest town in Berkshire and the 10th largest town in England in terms of taxable wealth.

By 1611, the town with a population of 5000 made its wealth mainly from the cloth trade, however during the English civil war, the Royalist forces garrisoned it in 1642. Parliamentary forces besieged Reading in April of 1643. This severely damaged the economy of the town and it did not fully recover until the 20th century.

Reading would go on to host the only substantial battle of the Revolution of 1688: the Second Battle of Reading.

In the 18th century, Reading became an important iron-works and brewing town and into the 19th century, the south-eastern town became a major centre for manufacturing. It was known for the 3 B’s (Beer, Bulbs and Biscuits).

The 20th century saw Reading annex Caversham. It also managed to avoid most of the damage left by both world wars. The only significant Luftwaffe air raid saw 41 deaths and 100 injuries.

The Lower Earley development of 1977 was one of the largest private housing projects in Europe.

Reading has bid for city status three times in the 21st century: in 2000, 2002 and 2012. However, these bids were all rejected. However, its lack of city status does not stop Reading being a thoroughly interesting and enriched cultural centre of the country.