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Bradshaw’s Guide

Reading

Caversham, near Reading, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress

Reading is situated on two small eminences, whose gentle declivities fall into a pleasant vale, through which the branches of the Kennet flow till they unite with the Thames at the extremity of the town. The surrounding country is agreeably diversified with an intermixture of hill and dale, wood and water, enlivened with a number of elegant seats. In the Forbury some pleasure grounds have been laid out: a band usually plays there in the summer months. The old abbey ruins have been excavated, and are open to the public. The abbey gateway has also been restored by G. G. Scott, Esq., at a cost of £500. Next to it has been built a ponderous County Court at a great expense.

This old town is in a fertile and well-watered part of Berkshire, at the junction of the Thames and Kennet. It returns two members to parliament, and has a population of 25,045. The manor belongs to the corporation. A large and important mitred abbey, founded by Henry I. in 1125, to atone for putting out his brother Robert Curthose’s eyes frequently attracted the court here down to 1540, when that vigorous defender of the faith, Henry VIII., hung the last abbot for refusing to account for his stewardship. Henry I. was buried in it. A Norman gate and part of the outer flint walls (8 feet thick) are left. The latter took in a circuit of half a mile. Reading was inhabited by the Saxons many years before the invasion of the Danes; and it appears that it had two castles, one of which probably stood on the spot where the abbey was founded. In 1263 Henry III. held a parliament here, and another was adjourned hither in 1453. Some old gable buildings and ancient looking streets are yet seen at Reading; but a handsome new town has sprung up round Eldon Road and Square, Queen’s Road, &c., on the south-east side of the Kennet. St. Lawrence’s church, near the Forbury, has a chequered flint tower, and remnants of antiquity, with a monument to Dr. Valpy. St. Mary’s, in St. Mary’s Butts, was first built in the 12th century, but rebuilt in 1550 with materials from the abbey. Bishop Lloyd was vicar hero; as was also the present Dean Millman. There was a nunnery attached to it. St. Giles’s, in Bridge Street, has been lately restored. It suffered in the long siege of 1.042, when Colonel Ashton held the town against Essex. A line new church has been built at a cost of £7,000, at Whitley, from the designs of Mr. Woodgeare; it is at present the finest church in the town. St. James’s (Roman Catholic) is one of Pugin’s first attempts, and is of the Norman style. It lies at the rear of the Forbury Gardens, and is built on part of the site occupied by the old abbey.

The Town Hall was built 1785, and contains various portraits, among which are those of Queen Elizabeth, Sir T. White, a native, and the founder of St. John’s College, Oxford, and that strange compound of intellectual vigour, superstition, and bigoted meanness. Archbishop Laud, born at Reading, 1573. He, in common with Merrick, the poet, Addington, the premier, and Lord Chancellor Phipps, all Reading men, was educated in the Grammar School, formerly held beneath the Town Hall, originally founded I486. Laud bequeathed property worth about £500 a year to his native town. Henry VII ‘s charter, with his illuminated portrait, is kept in the Town Hall. A portrait of the late Mr. Justice Talfourd has recently been presented by his widow.

A new cattle market has been built close to the railway station. Great quantities of malt, flour, and timber are sent hence to London. There are a large iron foundry at Katesgrove, the manufactory for Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits, and a model gaol; also several good schools. The old Abbey of the Grey Friars, in Friar Street, formerly used as a borough lock-up, is fast being converted from a den of thieves into a noble church, from designs by Messrs. Poulton and Woodman.

Numerous excursions may be made from this town, as there is scarcely a corner of Berkshire which does not deserve a visit; it is full of beech woods, and beautiful country lanes and alleys. The Kennet, Thames, &c., are bordered by luxuriant pasture, and the healthy downs on the west offer a panorama of delightful prospects. To the west of Reading are the Chiltern Hills, which, like the others, are covered with sheep walks. Maiden Early (2 miles) was the seat of Lord Stowell. Sonning-Holme Park, the seat of Robt. Palmer, Esq. The walk by the river is beautiful; good fishing and boating. Sonning “Reach” is one of the best courses on the Thames. The church has been restored. Mapledurham (M. M. Blount, Esq.) ought to be visited by lovers of the picturesque; there is good fishing. Bear Wood, J. Walter, Esq., M.P., the proprietor of the Times newspaper. Billingbear is the seat of Lord Braybrooke, editor of “Pepys’ Memoirs.” Wokingham (6 miles) on the Roman road to Silchester, has an old church, and is within the bounds of Windsor Forest. Towards Windsor is Binfield and its beech woods, in which Pope used to ramble. Grundy cheese (like Stilton) is made here. At Silchester, just over the Hampshire side, are pieces of the Avails of a Roman city, the Calleva Attrebatum. Englefield, the Saxon Englafelda, where the Danes were once defeated, has one of those large parks, so common in Berkshire and an epitaph by Dryden on the defender of Basing House. On the Oxfordshire side of the Thames is Caversham, W. Crawshay, Esq., which has been rebuilt two or three times since it was visited by Elizabeth and Charles I.

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