Reading is a market town pleasantly situated in the hundred to which it gives its name, on  2 small eminences near the river Kennet which joins the Thames a little below the town, in the high road from London to Bath. This town is first mentioned in history in the year 871 when it is described as a fortified town belonging to the Anglo Saxon kings but then in posession of the Danes.

In 1026 the town of Reading was burnt by the Danes and a convent of nuns, then exisitng under the governance of an abbess,was destroyed.

King Henry 1 laid the foundations of a magnificent abbey of flint stone on the site of the said nunnery; this great structure was completed in 1121 and was the usual residence of our kings during their frequent visits to the town; after the reformation it became for a time one of their palaces.

The town consistes of 3 considerable parishes. The principal streets are extensive well paved and lighted and the buildings in general are neat and handsome.

In Reading are several manufactories which employ the poor inhabitants such as an extensive gauze and ribbon manufactory and also manufactories of  sail cloth and sacking and of pins.

The town hall is a neat  building erected  over the free-school in the form of a parallelogram.

The river Kennet separates the town into 2 parts and in its passage forms several excellent wharfs.The river is navigable westward to Newbury and when the Kennet and Avon canal shall be fully completed a communication will then be opened by the junction of those rivers between the Severn and the Thames and between the western and various inland counties.

Text : Crosby’s Complete Pocket Gazetteer of England and Wales and Traveller’s Companion etc., (1807)Published by B Crosby and Co, Stationer’s-Court, Ludgate Street, London.

(NOTE : this was the same firm of publishers, owned by Benjamin Crosby, who bought the copyright of Northanger Abbey, then known by the title “Susan”, in 1803 for £10 but never published it. Jane Austen eventually purchased the manuscript back from them . The correspondence between them included her famous letter of April 5, 1809 which she wrote under the pseudonym of Mrs Ashton Dennis thus enabling her to end the letter with the following phrase, I AM GENTLEMEN, MAD.)

Map: Section from Berkshire by John Cary (1797)

Jane Austen References

Jane Austen and Cassandra Austen attended the Reading Ladies Boarding School situated in the former Abbey Gateway from 1785-1786

The Letters

Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 8th January, 1799

Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 24th May 1813

The Novels

Sense and Sensibility : Chapter 42