Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
|Borough of Reading|
|Region:||South East England|
- Total (2002 est.)
3,574 / km²
|Reading Borough Council|
|Leadership:||Leader & Cabinet|
|MP, Reading East:||Jane Griffiths|
|MP, Reading West:||Martin Salter|
Reading is a town and unitary authority in Berkshire in England, at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, halfway between London and Oxford. The district has a population of over 144,000. Reading is probably the most important business centre in the south east of England outside of Greater London, with the headquarters of some major British companies and the UK offices of a number of major foreign multinationals. The name Reading is pronounced to rhyme with bedding (in IPA .
The centre of Reading is situated close to the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, reflecting the town's history as a river port. Just before the confluence, the Kennet cuts through a narrow and relatively steep sided gap in the hills forming the southern flank of the Thames flood plain. The absence of a flood plain on the Kennet in this defile enabled the development of wharves off the notoriously fickle unimproved Thames navigation.
Reading is located some 40 miles (64 km) due west of central London, and 25 miles (40 km) south east of Oxford.
Nearby towns and cities: London, Oxford
The settlement was founded at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet in the eighth century as Readingum. The name is probably from the Anglo-Saxon for "(Place of) Readda's People", or (less probably) the Celtic Rhydd-Inge, "Ford over the River". It was occupied by the Vikings in 871 but had recovered sufficiently by its 1086 Domesday Book listing to contain around 600 people and be made a designated borough. The town saw much pilgrimage in mediaeval times, see Reading Abbey, below.
By the end of the sixteenth century Reading was the largest town in Berkshire, home to over 3,000 people. The town played an important role during the English Civil War; it changed hands a number of times, and despite its fortifications the longest siege was only ten days in April 1643. Reading was also the only site of significant fighting in England during the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
In 1801, the population of Reading was about 9,400. During the nineteenth century Reading grew rapidly as a manufacturing centre. From 1832 the town returned two Members of Parliament. A town council was introduced in 1839. The railway arrived in 1841, with a second system connecting in 1849. In 1851 the population was 21,500. The town was given county borough status in 1887. By 1900 the population was 59,000 - large sections of the housing in Reading are terraced , reflecting its nineteenth century growth. The town has been famous for beer (1785-1980, India Pale Ale was invented in Reading), bulbs (1807-1976, plant), and biscuit (1822-1977) production, the "Three Bs". In the nineteenth century the town also made 'Reading Sauce'.
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 smear of 1920s semi-detached properties and the 1950s expansion that joined Woodley, Earley and Tilehurst into Reading. The Lower Earley development started in the 1970s, although part of Wokingham district, was the largest private housing development of its time in Europe. This extended the urban area of Reading right up to the M4 motorway, which acts as the southern boundary to the town. Further recent housing developments have substantially increased the number of modern commuter houses in the surrounding parts of Reading, and 'out-of-town' shopping hypermarkets.
Listed companies headquartered in Reading include BG Group and Wolseley. Other large employers in the area include information and communication technology (ICT) giants like Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Oracle as well as the finance firm the Prudential and Gillette, who market shaving products. The town also hosts two annual music festivals - Reading Festival and Womad.
Although the largest town in Berkshire over many centuries, Reading had to wait until the 1974 County change to become the official county town of Berkshire (when the much smaller town of Abingdon moved to Oxfordshire). The Borough of Reading became a unitary authority area in 1998 when Berkshire County Council was abolished, and is now responsible for all aspects of local government within the borough. The borough council has made several applications for city status, but as of 2004 these have all been rejected.
The borough limits now include the former villages of Caversham, Southcote and Whitley together with part of the village of Tilehurst, but exclude several settlements which are still part of the urban area. These settlements include Woodley, Earley and Lower Earley which form part of Wokingham unitary authority, and the remainder of Tilehurst, Calcot and Purley-On-Thames which form part of West Berkshire unitary authority. The exclusion of these areas from the borough is politically controversial, and proposals occasionally surface to include them.
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 (see below), Reading Minster has regained its importance since the destruction of the Abbey and is now the seat of the Bishop of Reading.
Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121. He was buried there, as were part of Empress Maud, Prince William the Count 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 and Henry VIII had the abbot, Hugh Cook Faringdon, hanged.
The Museum of Reading opened in 1883 in the Town Hall, parts of which date back to 1786. The museum has recently been restored and extended, and now contains galleries describing the history of Reading and its related industries, a gallery of artifacts discovered during the excavations of Silchester Roman Town, a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry and an art collection.
Reading's location in the Thames Valley to the west of London means that it has always had a significant position in the nation's transport infrastructure. As described above, the town grew up as river port at the confluence of the Thames and Kennet. Today both of these rivers remain navigable, although such navigation is exclusively leisure oriented. The locks of Caversham Lock, Blake's Lock, County Lock , Fobney Lock and Southcote Lock are also all within the borough.
Reading was also a major staging point on the old Bath Road from London to Bath and Bristol. This road still carries significant local traffic, but has now been largely replaced for long distance traffic by the M4 motorway which closely skirts the borough and serves it with three junctions (J10-J12). Within Reading the Thames is crossed by both Reading and Caversham road bridges, whilst several road bridges cross the Kennet.
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. The main route is the Great Western Main Line, which runs west from London's Paddington station before splitting in Reading with lines serving the West Country and Bristol, Bath and South Wales. Secondary lines connect Reading with London's Waterloo station, Guildford, Gatwick Airport, Birmingham, Basingstoke, Southampton and the South Coast . A railway-operated express bus service links Reading with Heathrow Airport.
Local transport is largely road based, with significant peak hour congestion in the borough. A comprehensive and frequent local bus network is operated within the borough, and a less frequent network in the surrounding area, is provided by Reading Buses.
Reading is a major shopping centre. The principal shopping area is around Broad Street, which was pedestrianised in 1995. Broad Street is anchored at its west and east ends respectively by The Oracle and Broad Street Mall enclosed shopping centres.
Reading F.C., formerly based at Elm Park, have since 1998 been in their new 24,084 capacity all-seater Madejski Stadium (named after chairman John Madejski). The football club is nicknamed the Royals (previously known as the Biscuitmen).
Reading is also a centre for Rugby Football in the area, and supports the Zurich Premiership team London Irish and three senior semi-professional clubs; Reading RFC, Redingensians RFC and Reading Abbey RFC.
Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in Reading prison 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 Paris and wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, published in 1908.
T_E_Lawrence lost the first draft of his Seven Pillars of Wisdom at Reading train station.
Three local radio stations broadcast from Reading, these are Reading 107 FM, 2-Ten FM and BBC Radio 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 in Reading.
Notable current and former residents of Reading include:
- Henry Addington (former Prime Minister; donor of land for Royal Berkshire Hospital )
- Jacqueline Bisset (actress)
- Daniel Blagrave (former Member of Parliament and regicide)
- John Blagrave (early mathematician)
- Kenneth Branagh (actor)
- Richard Burns (rally driver)
- Hugh Cook Faringdon (churchman; last Abbot of Reading Abbey)
- Ricky Gervais (comedian)
- John Kendrick (merchant and mayor)
- William Laud (former Archbishop of Canterbury)
- John Madejski (entrepreneur and philanthropist)
- Sam Mendes (director)
- Jeff Minter (computer programmer)
- Mike Oldfield (composer and artist)
- Michael Sprott (professional boxer)
- William Henry Fox Talbot (early photographer)
- Thomas Noon Talfourd (judge)
- Chris Tarrant (radio broadcaster; host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?)
- Oscar Wilde (author, poet and playwright)
- Kate Winslet (actress)
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