The settlement of Reading had its origins in Saxon times, being founded by a Saxon leader named Reada in the 6th century. The town was initially known as Reada ingas, which means “the people of Reada.” St Marys Butts is believed to have been the location of the early settlement. The town’s proximity to the rivers made it ideal for trading, and it quickly became well-known as a market town. Due to its location, Reading was ideally situated for transporting goods to and from London and the Thames Valley by the river.
The mention of Reading dates back to 871 when the Danes took control of the area and constructed a fort in the east, which consisted of a rampart dividing the Thames and Kennet rivers. Subsequent references to Reading include the incident when the Danes set it ablaze in 1006. During the period of the Domesday Book in 1086, the population of Reading was estimated to be around 600. If you’re interested to learn more about Reading, it is a good idea to spend some time there. You can get affordable short-term accommodation in hotels or apartments in Reading, which should allow you the freedom to explore the town fully.
Reading During the Middle Ages
During the Norman period, a castle was constructed in Reading, initially made from wood but later replaced with stone. However, in 1152, the king ordered the castle’s demolition due to concern that it could be captured by opposing forces. Additionally, the king granted Battle Abbey in Sussex a piece of land located west of Reading as well as the rental income from 29 houses in the town. Although The land was eventually transferred to Reading Abbey, the name “Battle Lane” endured for many years and remains linked to Battle Hospital today.
During the Middle Ages, Reading thrived as a result of its location on the main route connecting London to the western regions of England. As it took a few days to travel from London to Bristol and other western towns during this period, Reading became a popular stopover destination for weary travelers. The town also gained from the establishment of the Abbey that was erected by Henry I between 1121 and 1125. The Abbey attracted numerous pilgrims, who contributed to the local economy by spending their money in the town. Occasionally, the king also visited the Abbey, accompanied by his extensive retinue of guards and servants, all of whom were potential contributors to Reading’s economy.
Cloth production served as the backbone of Reading’s economy, with wool sourced from the local Berkshire flocks transported by boat to the town. Once the wool was woven, it underwent the fulling process by being subjected to pounding in a clay and water mixture to clean and thicken it. The use of Wooden hammers powered by watermills was widespread in Reading, where many fullers worked alongside weavers, dyers, and tailors.
There existed a significant number of vintners in the town catering to the wine demands of the upper class. Additionally, the leather industry was quite prominent, with tanned leather being utilized in creating a variety of products such as shoes, hats, bottles, and saddles. Boatbuilding was also a crucial trade, while several skilled goldsmiths plied their trade in Reading. Other important professions included carpenters, blacksmiths, stonemasons, butchers, bakers, and millers.
Prior to 1125, Reading was under the ownership of the king, who collected rent from the town’s houses and fields, along with tolls from the market and other dues. Upon building the abbey, the king handed over the town’s ownership to the abbot, who then took over the authority previously held by the king. The abbot assumed the role of the ruler of the town, appointing bailiffs to carry out its daily operations.