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Reading, England

Reading is a large town on the River Thames, halfway between London and Oxford. Population 143,000 (1996), 203,000 (estimate). It was one of the county towns of Berkshire. Its name is pronounced to rhyme with bedding.

The settlement was founded at the confluence of the Thames and the Kennet in the 8th century as Readingum. The name is most likely from the Anglo-Saxon for "(Place of) Readda's People", or (less probably) the Celtic Rhydd-Inge, "Ford over the River". It was occupied by the Vikings in 871 but had recovered sufficiently by its 1086 listing to contain around 600 people and be made a designated borough.

Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121. He was buried there as were part of Empress Maud, Prince William the Count of Poitiers, Princess Constance of York, and Princess Isabella of Cornwall among others. The abbey was one of the pilgrimage centres of medieval England, it held over 230 relics including the hand of St. James. The abbey was largely destoyed in 1538 during the dissolution and Henry VIII had the abbot, Hugh Cook Faringdon, hanged.

By the end of the 16th century it was the largest town in Berkshire, home to over 3,000 people. The town played an important role during the English Civil War, it changed hands a number of times, and despite its fortifications the longest siege was only ten days in April 1643. Reading was also the only site of significant fighting in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

In 1801, the population of Reading was about 9,400. During the 19th century Reading grew rapidly as a manufacturing centre - in 1851 the population was 21,500 and by 1900 it was 59,000 - large sections of the housing in Reading are terraced, reflecting its 19th-century growth. From 1832 the town returned two MPs. A town council was introduced in 1839. The railway arrived in 1841, with a second system connecting in 1849. The town was given city borough status in 1887. The town was been famous for beer (1785-1980, India Pale Ale was invented in Reading), bulbs (1807-1976, plant), or biscuit (1822-1977) production, the "Three Bs". In the 19th century the town also made 'Reading Sauce'.

The town continued to expand in the 20th century, this can be seen in the smear of 1920s semi-detatched properties and the 1950s expansion that joined Woodley, Earley and Tilehurst into Reading. Large employers in the area now include Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Oracle as well as the Prudential and Gillette.

The University of Reading[?] was established in 1892, affiliated to Oxford University. It was chartered as an independent university in 1926.

The town and surrounding area was formerly a district of Berkshire, but became a unitary authority area in 1998. The council has made several applications for city status, but so far these have all been rejected.

Reading F.C., formerly based at Elm Park, have since 1998 been in their new 24,200 capacity all-seater Madejski Stadium. They are nicknamed the Royals (previously known as the Biscuitmen).

Oscar Wilde wrote "The Ballad of Reading Gaol"; he was imprisoned there from 1895 to 1897. The former prison is now used as a remand centre.

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