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.
Chertsey is as old as the days of the ancient Britons, and probably was one of their principal places. Soon after the conversion of the Saxons from Paganism, in 666, a Benedictine monastery was founded here by Frithwald, a petty prince of Surrey, and by him richly endowed. In the original charter it is written, “I beseech those whose names are annexed to subscribe themselves witnesses that I, Frithwald, who am the giver, together with the Abbot Erkenwald, on account of my ignorance of letters, have expressed with the sign of the Holy Cross.” It is from this pretty evident that princes in those days had somewhat of Jack Cade’s antipathy to those who could “read, write, and cast accompt,” and therefore they also “made their mark, like a simple, plain-dealing, honest man.”
The Danes, who were the general “snappers-up of unconsidered trifles,” pillaged the abbey in 1009, killed the abbot and monks, and laid the whole building desolate; but being afterwards rebuilt by Egbert, King of Kent, it became more magnificently embellished than ever, and was one of the most important monasteries in the kingdom. Henry VI. was buried here, under a sumptuous mausoleum, but the body was exhumed in 1504, by Henry VII., and conveyed with great pomp, first to Windsor, and afterwards to Westminster Abbey. It is useless to look now for any vestige, of its former grandeur; all that remains is a part of its wall, forming the boundary of an orchard, and part of an archway is still visible on the north side of the town. In the centre of the town is the church, rebuilt in 1808, but having a portion of the old chancel and tower remaining.
Even so late as the year 1814, and occasionally since, the curfew has been tolled here, from Michaelmas to Lady-day, the day of the month being indicated during the time of ringing. A handsome stone bridge of seven arches was erected, in 1786, across the Thames, connecting the counties of Surrey and Middlesex. At a house in Guildford Street, formerly distinguished as the Porch House, lived Abraham Cowley, the poet, who has perpetuated, in prose and verse, his love for this seclusion in a hundred quaint prettinesses. Beneath the window of the room in which he died (July 28th, 1667) is a tablet thus appealing to the sympathies of the passers-by, “Here the last accents flowed from Cowley’s tongue.” A pretty summer house that he built, and a seat under a sycamore tree, both mentioned in his poems, were existing till the middle of the last century.
After the excursionist has refreshed his physical energies at one of the many excellent inns that here abound, by all means let him ascend St. Anne’s Hill, about a mile out of the town, and he shall find himself, at the summit, elevated some 250 feet above the ocean level, with a glorious panorama round about him of the finest parts of the river between Richmond and Windsor.
There is a spring at the top, that summer’s heat and winter’s cold alike prove unable to dry up or freeze. The mansion on the southern slope of the hill was once the residence of Charles James Fox, the statesman, to whom a cenotaph has been erected in the church.
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The seat of her majesty the Queen, and of her ancestors from the period of the Conquest. Eton College also is within a short distance.
Hampton Court stands on the north bank of the Thames, about twelve miles from London. Numerous sovereigns have made it their temporary abode; and the last who resided here were George II. and his Queen.