Reading, a town, a district, and a hundred, in Berkshire.

Reading comprises the following parishes:

Historical Descriptions

The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales 1870

READING, a town, a district, and a hundred, in Berks. The town stands on the verge of the county, on the river Thames, on the Great Western railway, at junctions of the Southeastern and the Southwestern railway systems, immediately above the influx of the river Kennet to the Thames, 36¾ miles W by S of London. The Thames and the Kennet navigations give it extensive water-conveyance; and the several railways, with their ramification.and connexions, give it communication with all parts of the kingdom.

History.—The town is supposed, by some, to have derived its name from the word Rhyd, signifying “aford; ” by others, from the word Redin, signifying “fern.” It was known to the ancient Britons as Redyng; to the Saxons as Reding; to the Normans as Redinges; and in Camden’s time as Reddynge. It lays claim to high antiquity; it was inhabited by the Saxons before the incursions of the Danes; it appears first on record in 868 as then made the head-quarters of Ivor the Dane; it had a Saxon fort, on ground afterwards occupied by a mitred Benedictine abbey; it was taken by the Danes in 871, after the battle of Englefield; it was burnt by the Danes in 1006; it had only about 28 houses at Domesday; it acquired a great abbey in 1121, and a great new castle a few years afterwards; and, in connexion with these two edifices, it became the theatre of important national events. Church councils were held in the abbey in 1184, 1214, and 1279; and parliaments were held in it in 1191, 1213, 1241, 1384, 1389, 1440, 1451, 1452, and 1466. Henry I. resided much in the abbey. Stephen was in the castle in 1140; the Empress Maud was in it in the following year; and Henry II. got early possession of it, and soon demolished it. Henry II. was here also in 1163, at a combat between his standard-bearer and another; he was here likewise in 1175, 1177, 1184, 1185, and 1186; and he attended the parliament in the abbey in 1184, and received the keys of the Holy Sepulchre from the patriarch of Jerusalem, who had journeyed hither in 1183. John was here, to meet the barons, in 1213; and was here again in 1214 and 1216. Henry III. was here in 1226 and 1227; again, to hold Christmas, in 1238; and again, to attend the parliament, in 1241. Edward I. was here, as prince, in 1244, 1248, 1259, and 1263. Edward III. was here, at a tournament, in 1346; and here again, at the marriage of John of Gaunt to Blanche, in 1359. Richard II. was here in 1384; and again, to meet the barons, in 1389. Henry VI. was here, to attend the parliaments, in 1440, 1451, and 1452. Henry VII., as prince, was here in 1464; Henry VIII., in 1509, 1526, and 1540; Edward VI., in 1552: Mary, in 1554; Elizabeth, in 1568, 1572, 1575, 1592, 1602, and 1603; James I., in 1612; Charles I., in 1642; Charles II., in 1663; and Anne, as princess, in 1689. The town was garrisoned, in 1642, by the troops of the parliament; was precipitately abandoned by them on the approach of the royal army; was then fortified by the royalists; sustained a memorable siege in 1643, by the parliamentarian army under the Earl of Essex, with aid of entrenchments which are still traceable; and surrendered, after ten days, on terms so unfavourable as to bring the royal commander, Sir A. Ashton, to a court-martial. An alarm was raised at the town, in 1688, that the disbanded Irish soldiers of James II. were rioting in spoliation and massacre; and it produced a panic, known as “the Irish Cry, ” and commemorated in the ballad of the ” Reading Skirmish,” which tells how

Five hundred Papishes came there
To make a final end
Of all the town in time of prayer,
But God did them defend.

Among distinguished natives of Reading have been Abbot Hugh de Reading, of the latter part of the 12th century; William of Reading, archbishop of Bordeaux of the time of Henry III.; Archbishop Land, 1573-1644, the son of a clothier, and born in a house now destroyed in Broad-street; Sir Thomas White, founder of St. John’s college, Oxford, and born in 1553; Lord Chancellor Phipps, who died in 1713; the theologians Creed, S. Johnson, who was born in 1603, and Turner, who died in 1672; Alderman Sir J. Barnard, 1685-1764; Kendrick, who died in 1624; the printer Baker, 1742-85; the first Lord Sidmouth, 1757-1844; Sir John Soane, 1753-1837, son of a bricklayer named Swan; Mr. Justice Talfourd, who died in 1854; the mathematician John Blagrave; the astrologer Joseph Blagrave; and the poet Merrick. Cromwell was here in 1644; Fairfax in 1647; and John Bunyan contracted here the disease of which he died.

Structure.—The town occupies the summits, slopes, and vale-skirts of two small eminences; is intersected by branches of the river Kennet, cutting parts of its site into small islands; comprises some spacious and well-built streets; contains many handsome houses, chiefly of red brick; and, in recent years, has undergone much improvement and extension. An unsightly stack of buildings, called the Middle-row, was taken down in 1862; and a remarkably fine thoroughfare was then opened up. The Forbury, a large open square on the NE side of the town, fronts the extant gateway of the ancient abbey; occupies the space formerly enclosed by the Abbey precinct walls; is now laid out as a pleasure garden, with a fountain and ornamental works; contains, on an elevated position, a Russian gun, presented by the Government; and commands a beautiful view over great part of Oxfordshire. Fragments of the Abbey precinct walls still exist; are 8 feet thick; consist chiefly of flint and gravel; and were formerly encased with stone. The ancient castle has completely disappeared, and is now commemorated only by the name of Castle-street. The town hall was rebuilt in 1785, and repaired and altered in 1863; includes a splendid room, 100 feet long; and contains portraits of Queen Elizabeth, Archbishop Laud, and Sir T. White. The public hall was built in 1862, at a cost of about £3,500; is in the Gothic style; and contains a room 70 feet long, 35 feet wide, and 36 feet high, and rooms for a museum, classes, and other purposes. The assize-courts and police station stand adjacent to the old Abbey gateway; were built in 1861, at a cost of more than £20,000; and are interiorly well-arranged and convenient. The county jail occupies the site of the ancient abbey; was built in 1793; is a huge castellated structure; and has capacity for 192 male and 32 female prisoners. The corn exchange and market house was built in 1854. The Oracle is an edifice of Jacobean architecture; was the wool-merchants’ and dyers’ hall, founded in 1626 by John Kendrick; took its name from the lichen Orchel or Roccella tinctoria, used in dyeing; and went into decay and dilapidation along with the decay of the trade to which it was devoted. Three bridges cross the Kennet, and onecrosses the Thames; and several transition Norman arches still stand on a branch of the Kennet, within the brick-shell of the Abbey mill.

Ecclesiastical Affairs.—Three parishes, St. Giles, St. Mary, and St. Lawrence, are both civil and ecclesiastical; and the first, in its civil character, includes the hamlet of Whitley, the second the tything of Southcot. Acres of St. G., 2,538; of St. M., 1,846; of St. L., 315. Real property of St. G., £38,814, of which £870 are in gas-works; of St. M., £42,906; of St. L., £22,862. Pop. of St. G. in 1851, 8,456; in 1861, 10,200. Houses, 2,030. The increase of pop. arose mainly from extension of railway communication. Pop. of St. M. in 1851, 9,148; in 1861, 10,940. Houses, 2, 118. The increase of pop. arose mainly from the formation of several new streets. Pop. of St. L. in 1851, 4,571; in 1861, 4,736. Houses, 878. The ecclesiastical arrangement recognises also the chapelries of Greyfriars, Christchurch, St. John, Trinity, St. Mary-Castle-street, All Saints, and St. Stephen. The livings of St. Giles, St. Mary, and St. Lawrence are vicarages, and the other livings are p. curacies, in the diocese of Oxford. Value of St. G., £522;  of St. M., £661;  of St. L., £276;  of Christchurch, £199; of St. John, £175; of Trinity, £250; of St. Mary-Castle-street, £500; of the others, not reported. Patron of St. G., St. M., St. L., and Christchurch, the Bishop of Oxford; of Greyfriars and St. Mary-Castle-street, Trustees; of St. John, the Rev. F. Trench; of Trinity, the Rev. G. Hulme; of All Saints and St. Stephen, not reported.

St. Giles’ church sustained much injury from the artillery in the siege of 1643; was restored both afterwards and recently; and consists of nave, aisles, chancel, and porch, with tower and slender spire. St. Mary’s church occupies the site of a nunnery founded by Elfrida; was rebuilt in 1551, with materials from the ruins of the ancient abbey; underwent recent restoration and partial re-construction; has a chequered tower of flint and ashlar 90 feet high; has also a six-light E window, with fine stained glass, inserted in 1865; and contains a monument to W. Kendrick. St. Lawrence’s church was rebuilt in 1434; has later English windows, a restored early English chancel, and a large flint tower 189 feet high; and was restored in 1867, at a cost of about £2,500. Grey-friars’ church was the church of an ancient monastery:came to be used, for many years, as the town bridewell: was partly restored, partly rebuilt, as a church, in 1863; and consists of nave, aisles, and transepts, with an E campanile. Christchurch consists of nave, N aisle, N transept, and chancel, with N W tower. Trinity church was built in 1826; and St. John’s church in 1837. St. Mary’s church was built in 1799 as a dissenting chapel; went into connexion with the Church of England in 1836; and has a Corinthian portico, surmounted by a bell-tower. All Saints’ church was built in 1866, at a cost of £9,000; is in the early decorated style, cruciform, and somewhat French; and has a tower with octagonal spire, 155 feet high. St. Stephen’s church was built in 1865, at a cost of £2,800; and the church of St. Mary-the-Virgin-in 1867, at a cost of about £2,000. There are three Independent chapels, two Baptist, one Quakers’, one Wesleyan, one Primitive Methodist, and one U. Free Methodist, a meeting-room for Brethren, and a chapel for Roman Catholics; and the last was built in 1840, at the expense of J. Wheble, Esq., and is in the Saxon or early Norman style. The public cemetery was opened in 1842; comprises 6 acres for Churchmen, and 4 for Dissenters; and contains two chapels.

The Benedictine abbey, founded by Henry I., stood on an eminence overlooking the Kennet; was endowed with munch land, and with the privilege of coining; had the rank of a mitred abbey, giving its abbot a seat in parliament; was the burial-place of Henry I., his queens, the empress Maud, the eldest son of Henry I., and Reginald Earl of Cornwall; occupied a walled precinct about ½ a mile in circuit; suffered damage from the artillery of the siege of 1643, and subsequent demolition by the parliamentarian army; and was afterwards used freely as a quarry for other buildings. Portions of its great hall. of its church, and of its lavatory still remain; but have been so stripped of their exterior stones as to look more like rocks than masonry. The nave of the church measured 215 feet by 92; the transept, 196 feet by 56; the choir, 98 feet by 34; the Lady chapel, 102 feet by 55; and the entire pile was 420 feet long. The chapter-house measured 84 feet by 42; and the refectory, 72 feet by 42. The great gateway still stands; was built in 1220-30; is a large circular arch, in a massive square tower; and was restored in 1861. A Minorite friary was founded in 1233; and is still represented by walls of its church, with the skeleton of a fine decorated W window. A Franciscan friary stood on a spot now occupied by a Baptist chapel. A lepers’ hospital was founded, in 1134, by Abbot Aucherius; and a pilgrims’ hospital, in 1180, by Abbot Hughde Reading.

Schools and Institutions.—The grammar-school was founded in 1486; is held in the lower part of the town hall building; has £52 a year from endowment, and two scholarships of £100 each at St. John’s college, Oxford; and had the martyr Palmer as a master, and Archbishop Land, the mathematician Blagrave, the poet Merrick, and the local historian Coates as pupils. The boys’ blue-coat school has £965 a year from endowment; the girls’ green-coat school, £132; Neal’s school, £11; and Simeon’s Sunday school, £121. There are four national schools, two Church schools, two British schools, a school of industry, a ragged school, a Roman Catholic school, and five infant schools. There are also a literary institution, an athenæum, a freemasons’ lodge, a county hospital, a dispensary, a homœopathic dispensary, a maternal society, a farmers’ club, nine suites of alms-houses, and a number of philanthropic and religions institutions. The county hospital stands on London-road, and has a fine Ionic portico. The total of endowed charities is about £3,816.

Trade.—The town has a head post-office in Broad-street, a receiving post-office in London-street, two railway stations with telegraph, three banking offices, and six chief inns; is a seat of assizes, sessions, and county courts, and a polling-place; and publishes three weekly newspapers. Markets for fat cattle are held on Mondays; for stock cattle, on Saturdays; for corn, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Fairs for cattle are held on 1 May and 25 July; for cheese and cattle, on 25 Sept.; for hops, on 21 Oct.; for general objects, on 2 Feb. Races are held, in the King’s meadow, in August. The trade in corn, flour, and cattle is very extensive; a manufactory of biscuits, known throughout the kingdom as Reading biscuits, employs constantly about 700 hands; a suite of iron-works employs more than 400 men; a nursery and seed establishment cultivates upwards of 1,000 acres of land, in the growth of, its seeds and seedlings; and there are establishments for malting, brewing, boat-building, and the making of mill-engines, portable engines, agricultural implements, brushes, mats, sacks, cordage, broom-handles, and other articles.

The Borough.—Reading is a borough by prescription;was first chartered by Edward III.; has sent two members to parliament since the time of Edward I.; and, under the new municipal act, is divided into three wards, and governed by a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors. The police force, in 1864, comprised 32 men, at an annual cost of £2,260. The crimes committed in 1864 were 60; the persons apprehended, 45; the known depredators and suspected persons at large, 344; the houses of bad character, 46. The corporation income amounts to about £3,688, and is derived partly from manor rents. Electors in 1833, 1,001; in 1863, 1,647. The borough limits are the same municipally as parliamentarily; and comprise all the three civil parishes, except Whitley hamlet and Southcot tything. Real property in 1860, £98,052. Amount of property and income tax charged in 1863, £9,526. Pop. in 1851, 21,456; in 1861, 25,045. Houses, 4,859.

The District.—The poor-law district comprehends the three parishes; and is divided into three sub-districts, respectively conterminate with their respective parishes. Acres, 4,699. Poor-rates in 1863, £11,762. Pop. in 1851, 22,175; in 1861, 25,876. Houses, 5,026. Marriages in 1863, 297; births, 940, of which 60 were illegitimate; deaths, 608, of which 214 were at ages under 5 years, and 17 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 2, 541; births, 7, 512; deaths, 5,210. The places of worship, in 1851, were 7 of the Church of England, with 5,457 sittings; 3 of Independents, with 1,715s.; 3 of Baptists, with 820 s.; 1 of Quakers, with 414 s.; 3 of Wesleyans, with 689 s.; 1 of Primitive Methodists, with 420 s.; 1 undefined, with 100 s.; 1 of Latter Day Saints, with 100 s.; and 1 of Roman Catholics, with 262s. The schools were 19 public day schools, with 2,161scholars; 61 private day schools, with 1,190 s.; and 14 Sunday schools, with 2,324 s. There are two work-houses, in respectively Coley-street and Friar-street; and, at the census of 1861, they had 88 and 81 inmates. The hundred excludes the borough; and contains Beenham-Vallence parish, five other parishes, and parts of four others. Acres, 46, 624. Pop. in 1851, 12, 119; in 1861, 9, 912. Houses, 2, 114.

Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales [Wilson, John M]. A. Fullarton & Co. N. d. c. [1870-72].

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