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.
A bustling agricultural town and borough in West Hants, with a population of 5,221, represented by two members in the House of Commons. The Roman way from Winchester to Cirencester passed in this direction, and here the Romans fixed a station, which they called Andaseron; but when Etholred the Saxon was present at the baptism of Olans of Norway, it was called Andofera, whence we get the present name. One of the villages in the neighbourhood is yet named Winchester Street (stratum) – a proof of how little things have altered in the country parts of England for ages downwards.
The town stretches two-thirds of a mile along this highway, on the little river Anton. It has a modern town-hall on arches, a new church built in 1849, many malt-houses, and a factory for silk shag. The Old Church dates back to the conquest. There is a large trade in agricultural produce, especially about the time of Weyhill Fair. This takes place between the 10th and 15th of October, at Weyhill, 3 miles north-west of the town, when immense quantities of sheep, horses, hops, cheese, leather, &c., change hands. As many as 300,000 sheep are brought to market; and the country people take the opportunity of hiring themselves to new masters – their common practice being to change their situations annually.
This town obtained an unenviable notoriety some few years ago, in consequence of mal-practices alleged to exist in the Union, and which formed at the time the subject of official inquiry. The facts elicited during this inquiry created a deep sensation throughout the country, and produced a feeling both in and out of Parliament, the expression of which has drawn attention to the working of the poor-law system, which has resulted in an amelioration of the condition of those whom necessity has driven to take up their abode in our workhouses.
James II. slept here November 1688, where his son-in-law, Prince George of Denmark, deserted him to join the Prince of Orange, who was advancing from the West of England. “What!” said James, “Est-il-possible–gone?” This was the prince’s nickname, from his constant habit of using that phrase.
Several Roman and Saxon camps may.be found in this quarter by the persevering antiquary.
Within a short distance are Amport House, seat of the Marquis of Winchester, and Hurstbourne Priors, which belongs to the Earl of Portsmouth. The old seat of the Winchester family was that Basing House defended so gallantly for two years against the Puritan party, until Cromwell came in person and earned it by storm, when the plate, jewels, &c., were seized, and the noble pile burnt to the ground. Some few traces of it are yet visible at Old Basing near Basingstoke; a descendant of his was the Duke of Bolton, who married Polly Peachum.
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Remains of the church, chapter-house, refectory, &c., exist, all picturesquely wound with ivy or overshadowed with ash and other trees.
The station, which is close to the quay, and has a commanding position on the banks of the Southampton Water, is admirably adapted for the convenience of passengers.