Reading as a Town

Reading: A History, Joan Dils, Carnegie Publishing, 2019.

In the 21st century, Reading proudly claims the title of the largest town in England, known for offering an excellent ‘work-life balance.’ However, back in the fifth century, it was a small and hardly noticeable settlement. How did Reading evolve from these modest beginnings to become the biggest and wealthiest town in Berkshire?

In this well-written and beautifully crafted book, esteemed local historian Joan Dils explores the history of Reading. The town’s strategic location attracted Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans, and influential individuals over the past 1000 years. In 1121, King Henry I founded an abbey that transformed the town’s fortunes, making it one of the wealthiest in England. Over the centuries, Reading prospered, with its industries benefiting from its strategic location and a constant influx of talented individuals.

During the 20th century, Reading transitioned from traditional industries like biscuits, brick-making, brewing, and seeds to become a hub for the knowledge economy, a vibrant university town, and a major transportation centre. This remarkable book is a must-read for anyone interested in the fascinating and extensive history of Reading.

The Story of Reading, Daphne Phillips, Countryside Books, 1999.

Published in 1980, this book quickly gained acclaim and is now considered the standard modern history of Greater Reading, encompassing areas like Caversham, Tilehurst, Calcot, Earley, and Woodley. The third edition, revised, expanded, and updated by the author, chronicles Reading’s growth until 1999.

Home to over 200,000 people in the year of publication, Reading has a rich history dominated by a significant abbey in the Middle Ages, flourishing in the production of woollen cloth. The Victorian era brought railways and industrial development, establishing Reading as one of England’s key centres for commerce and communications. Today, with new industries and technologies, this growth continues into the 21st century.

Daphne Phillips, a Reference Librarian for Reading and Local Studies Librarian for Berkshire until her retirement, lived in Reading for over 60 years until her death in 2023. Her authoritative and vibrant book serves as an invaluable source of information and enjoyment for both residents and visitors alike.