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The First Council

The Dissolution of Reading Abbey in 1539 left a power vacuum in the town. So in 1542 Henry VIII granted the first charter specifically to set up the Merchant Gild as a Corporation to run Reading. They could hold property, run the market, issue warrants and have a jail.




Charles I portrait initial 1638(left) Charles I’s portrait initial on the 1638 charter (R/IC1/10)



Subsequent charters amplified the Corporation’s powers. Elizabeth I’s charter of 1560 allowed the Corporation to buy land, make byelaws, run the Grammar School and repair the town’s bridges. This charter also granted the Abbey’s estates to the Corporation, and for the first time defined the town boundaries.

 
(right) 'Perticuler orders' for smiths and barbers: from the ordinances
of the cutlers and bellfounders company c1555 (R/AG1/2)Ordinances 1555
 

Charles I’s charter of 1638 granted Reading its own criminal court of quarter sessions and a coroner. It also allowed the Corporation to levy rates and oversee pub licensing, as well as providing the first planning regulations with fines for building roofs of thatch or subdividing dwellings.

This charter also provided for the Corporation’s management of the town’s charities. Some of these charities were substantial. John Kendrick, a wealthy cloth trader, had bequeathed money in 1624 for the Oracle workhouse for clothworking as well as money for education that survives today as Kendrick School.


Plan of the Oracle workhouse 1807 (R/578)
 

Oracle plan 1807

 

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There are two mentions of Reading in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The first is in 870, when King Alfred fought the Danes who were camped there. Reading is mentioned again in 1006 as a town that the Danes burnt. It is probable that the name Reading c...

Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121. The Abbey immediately acquired not just the town but enormous privileges to hold courts and fairs and control trade. The Burial of Henry I, by Stephen Reid 1916 (reproduced by permission of The...

By 1835 Reading had changed from being a town of plaster and thatch to being a town of brick and tile. But the old Corporation remained a body concerned more with managing assets and trade than providing services to the general population. What...

Reading’s population increased to around 60,000 after the Borough boundaries were extended in 1887. Because of its size Reading became a County Borough under the Local Government Act 1889, independent of but with the same powers as the new B...

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