Friday, 31 July 2009

Reading /Readingum: Place in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Series



Reading (pronounced /ˈrɛdɪŋ/ ( listen) (RED-ing)) is a large town in England, located at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, midway between London and Swindon off the M4 motorway. It is one of the contenders for the title of the largest town in England, and is the largest settlement in the home counties in terms of population. For ceremonial purposes it is in the Royal County of Berkshire and has served as the county town since 1867. It is also home to one of England's biggest music festivals.
Reading was an important national centre in the medieval period, as the site of an important monastery with strong royal connections, but suffered economic damage during the 17th century from which it took a long time to recover. Today it is again an important commercial centre, with strong links to information technology and insurance. It is also a university town, with two universities and a large student population.
History
Beginnings

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, 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."
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.
By the time of its 1086 Domesday Book listing, the town had grown to contain around 600 people and be made a designated borough.

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.

During the Black Death in the 14th century the ruling elite fled from London to Reading, effectively using Reading as the capital while London was gripped by the Plague.
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. The dissolution of the Abbey in 1538 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.

17th century

Sir John Kendrick

By the end of the 16th century, Reading was the largest town in Berkshire, home to over 3,000 people. Reading had grown rich on its trade in cloth, as instanced by the fortune made by local merchant John Kendrick.
The town played an important role during the English Civil War; it changed hands a number of times. Despite its fortifications, it had a Royalist garrison imposed on it in 1642. The subsequent Siege of Reading by the Parliamentary forces succeeded in April 1643. However, the taxes levied on the town by the garrison badly damaged its cloth trade, and it did not recover.
Reading was also the only site of significant fighting in England during the Revolution of 1688, with the second Battle of Reading.

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.


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, Reading grew rapidly as a manufacturing centre. Reading maintained its representation by two Members of Parliament with the Reform Act 1832, and the borough was one of the ones reformed as a municipal borough by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. In 1836 the Reading Borough Police were founded. The Great Western Railway arrived in 1841, followed by the South Eastern Railway, in 1849, and the London and South Western Railway, in 1856. The Reading Establishment, an early commercial photographic studio, operated in Reading from 1844 to 1847 and was managed by Nicholaas Henneman, a Dutchman and former valet of William Henry Fox Talbot (a pioneer of photography). Many of the images for The Pencil of Nature by Fox Talbot, the first book to be illustrated with photographic prints, were printed in Reading.
In 1851 the population was 21,500. The town became the County Town (superseding Abingdon) in 1867 and became a county borough under the Local Government Act 1888. By 1900, the population was 59,000 — large sections of the housing in Reading are terraced, reflecting its 19th century growth. The town has been famous for the "Three Bs" of beer (from 1785 dominated by the Simonds' Brewery — India Pale Ale was invented in Reading), bulbs (1807–1976, Suttons Seeds), and biscuits (1822–1977, Huntley & Palmers). In the 19th century the town also made 'Reading Sauce', described as a sharp sauce flavoured with onions, spices, and herbs, very much like Worcestershire Sauce.


20th and 21st centuries

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. It was noted that the ramps were arranged to segregate up-traffic from down-traffic, with "one-way circulation" through most of the building.
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 also made itself more appealing to tourists by pedestrianising Broad Street.

Geography

Uffington White Horse part of the Berkshire Downs

Reading is 41 miles (66 km) due west of central London, 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Oxford and 40 miles (64 km) east of Swindon. The centre of Reading is on a low ridge between the Rivers Thames and Kennet close to their confluence, reflecting the town's history as a river port. Just before the confluence, the Kennet cuts through a narrow steep-sided gap in the hills forming the southern flank of the Thames flood plain. The absence of a floodplain on the Kennet in this defile enabled the development of wharves.
River Kennet

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.






Chiltern Hills


However outside the central area, the floors of the valley containing the two rivers remain largely unimproved floodplain, subject to occasional flooding. Apart from one road across the Kennet floodplain, and the M4 looping to the south, the only routes between the three built-up areas are in the central area, creating road congestion there.
Reading has its own subregional catchment area, incorporating the 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.

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