The earliest written record of Reading in Berkshire dates back to January 871 AD when the first Battle of Reading took place between the Danes and the West Saxons.
The foundation of Reading Abbey in 1121 led to the town becoming a place of pilgrimage and enhanced the town’s prosperity during the 12th to 15th Centuries.
By 1525, Reading was the largest town in Berkshire and the 10th largest town in England (based on taxable wealth). By 1611, Reading had a population of over 5,000 and had a large cloth trade. However, during the English Civil War the cloth trade declined, and the town’s economy didn’t fully recover until the 20th Century.
During the 18th Century, iron works and the brewing trade grew in Reading. Reading was also used as a marketplace for local agricultural products, benefiting from its location on major coaching routes between London, Oxford and the West country. Reading also benefited from river traffic on the Thames and Kennet.
During the 19th Century the railway arrived in Reading and the town grew rapidly as a manufacturing centre, increasing from a population of around 9,400 in 1801 to 59,000 in 1900. The town was famous for its Three Bs: beer (Simonds’ Brewery), bulbs (Suttons Seeds) and biscuits (Huntley and Palmers). Reading was also known for ‘Reading Sauce’ which was similar to Worcestershire Sauce.
Founded in 1822, Huntley and Palmers were the largest biscuit manufacturers in the world and one of the first global brands. The company was originally a small baker shop operating at 119 London Street in Reading and later grew to have the largest biscuit manufacturing facilities in the world. A blue plaque is still there today marking where the company’s humble beginnings took place. The factory itself even had its own internal railway system with steam locomotives.
In the 20th Century the town continued to expand, acquiring Caversham, Woodley, Earley and Tilehurst as part of Reading. Today Reading is the largest town in the United Kingdom, having been unsuccessful in their previous applications for city status.
In 1121 Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I and it was one of Europe’s largest and wealthiest medieval buildings. King Henry I died before the Abbey was complete and was buried in the Abbey Quarters in 1136. Once built, the Abbey became a desirable location for other royals and nobles to be buried.
The Abbey was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, on 19 April 1164. However, building work continued for almost 200 years after the original foundation until the early 1300s.
In 1538 the Abbey was dissolved and largely destroyed on the instruction of Henry VIII. The last Abbot, Hugh Cook Faringdon, was tried and convicted of high treason and hanged, drawn and quartered in front of the Abbey Church.
After the dissolution the remaining sections of the Abbey took on new uses. The Abbot’s lodgings were converted into royal accommodation until the Civil War, with Elizabeth I visiting on multiple occasions.
The Abbey Gateway was part of the Reading Ladies Boarding School, which was famously attended by Jane Austen.
In 2009, the Abbey ruins officially closed after the site was deemed unsafe. However, conservation work of the Abbey Ruins and Gateway started in February 2017 and the Abbey reopened to the public on 16th June 2018.
Image by Terry Ian Tucker, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Reading School is one of the oldest schools in England, dating back to the founding of Reading Abbey in 1125 (although some sources suggest in may have started even earlier than this date). The school was relocated to the Abbey’s Hospitium of St John and made a Grammar school by Henry VII in 1486.
The school moved to its current location in Erleigh Road in 1871, one year after the foundation stone was laid by the Prince of Wales Edward VII. The building was designed to a Gothic style, with precise symmetry, by Alfred Waterhouse, who also designed the Natural History Museum in London.
Today the main school building, chapel, South House and the building to the east of South House are all Grade II listed, with the main school building being home to several sash windows.
Reading Gaol was designed by William Bonython Moffat and George Gilbert Scott and opened in 1844. The Gaol is a significant example of Victorian prison architecture and is a Grade II listed building.
The Gaol is famous as the location where Oscar Wilde served out the latter part of his sentence, being imprisoned at the Gaol between 1895 and 1897. His experience at the Gaol led him to write The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which describes the execution of one of his fellow inmates.
The prison closed to inmates in 2014 and stopped being used. The Gaol reopened for tours for a brief period in 2016 before closing where it has since remained unused, pending it’s sale by the Ministry of Defence. Since 2018 there has been an on-going campaign to save the Gaol as an arts and heritage centre, which has been supported by the local council and the artist, Banksy.
Yeomanry House, also known as Castle Hill House, was built in the early 19th Century. The Georgian building, which has several 6 over 6 sash windows, is Grade II listed and located in the Russell Street / Castle Hill Conservation Area.
It was used as the headquarters for the Berkshire Yeomanry from the early 1900s giving it it’s new name of Yeomanry House. After WWI the site was used by various units of the Territorial Army until 1967.
In 1968 Yeomanry House became a register office, with the site hosting various weddings. In 2000, the house was used by Berkshire Family History Society along with the Council’s Registration and Bereavement service.
In 2018, the building was sold to a nursery school provider and in February 2022 planning permission was given to convert the building into a nursery and offices.
Reading Town Hall
Reading Town Hall was built over several phases. The original building, located behind the façade designed by Alfred Waterhouse, dates back to 1786. The original building was restored in 1864 in the Italianate style.
In 1875, Alfred Waterhouse added the Victorian Gothic clock tower, council chamber, Mayor’s rooms and offices, wrapping his new building around the existing town hall.
A few years later a concert hall, museum, library and a science and art school were added. Waterhouse, who was an important 19th Century architect, was approached to submit a design. However, his design was deemed too expensive, and the design competition was instead won by Thomas Lainson. The concert hall was then opened in 1882 and the last addition to the Town Hall was opened in 1897.
In 1943, an air raid destroyed the southern section of Waterhouse’s building. Temporary repairs were undertaken, and the Town Hall was officially restored between 1989 and 2000.
Today the Grade II listed building is home to Reading Museum, along with a concert hall and other spaces predominantly used for cultural purposes.
Timber Windows in Reading
Today Reading still has various period properties, including several Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian homes with timber windows. The town has 15 Conservation Areas, predominately located across the town centre and near the London Road, and over 800 listed buildings across the Borough, helping to protect the historical appearance of the Reading for future generations.
Established in 1994, we are experts in sympathetically upgrading windows and doors for Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian homes, regularly working in Conservation Areas and listed buildings.
We have experience working across numerous Reading Borough postcodes, including carrying out several jobs recently in RG1, RG10, RG31, RG4, RG6 and RG7.