Reading in Context
Reading is the largest town in Berkshire, with a population of over 300,000. Positioned along the M4 corridor, a mere 30 miles from central London and 70 miles east of Bristol, it is prime real estate for businesses wishing to avoid the high prices of the city but enjoy some of the convenience. When you pull into Reading train station you will notice two things: 1) there are many people in suits commuting into and out of London, and 2) the buildings around the train station wouldn't seem out of place in The City. Indeed, Reading is something of an economic centre, with some of the most powerful insurance and IT companies in the world. There is Microsoft, Oracle, Prudential, Pepsico, and more. More people commute into Reading than commute out.
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Reading through time
Reading has always enjoyed an influential role in history, placed as it is on the River Thames. It is the site of one of the wealthiest and most influential abbeys and monasteries in the kingdom, with close ties to the royal family. It was also the site of a major siege during the English Civil war and played a central role in the revolution in 1688.
In the late 19th century, Oscar Wilde was jailed for committing homosexual offences; hence his famous poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, written later when living in exile in France. Reading seems to have something literary in its waters, as Jane Austen attended Reading Ladies Boarding School and Thomas Hardy made reference to the town in some of his books, choosing to call it Aldbrickham.
Despite Hardy's portrayal of Reading as an industrial monolith, the town is home to more than 100 parks and play areas, as well as more than five miles of riverside paths. The famous Malwand Lion in Forbury Gardens is the most iconic landmark in the town. It commemorates the officers of the Royal Berkshire Regiment who died in the Battle of Malwand in 1880. The gardens were the site of gun emplacements in the English Civil war and military drills during the Napoleonic Wars. Nowadays, the neat lawns of the gardens tend to be overrun with an army of office workers enjoying a lunchtime picnic.
Reading to unwind
The high spot of Reading’s cultural calendar is the Reading Festival, which has been held every year since 1971. The music festival spans the August bank holiday, from Friday to Sunday, and is second only to Glastonbury in size and influence. It takes place at Little John’s Farm and started as a jazz festival in the 1950s, before evolving into the current rock festival thousands upon thousands enjoy each year. Since 1999, it has run at the same time as the Leeds festival in West Yorkshire, with top acts spanning the two sites.
All this makes Reading sound like a buzzing hub. However, in reality, Reading is a county town with rural roots. There is the Wellington Country Park with 350 acres of forest with winding nature trails with the opportunity to see fallow and red deer. You can relax by the 35-acre lake and enjoy a coffee in the café, experiencing the more relaxed side of this economic powerhouse.