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The Reformed Corporation

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 additional local services there were since 1638 - paving, lighting, the watch, water and gas - had been provided either by special bodies set up by Parliament or by private companies.

Town Hall 1860

Photograph of the original 1786 Town Hall building circa 1860
(reproduced by permission of Reading Library Service)
 


The Municipal Corporations Act 1835 reformed England’s ‘rotten boroughs’ and gave the power of electing a new Council to a significant number of Reading’s 17,000 inhabitants. Although the only direct new power given to the Corporation was to establish a Borough Police Force, during the next 50 years it also became the Local Board of Health with powers over sewerage and drainage (1850); set up a fire brigade (1862); and opened a library and museum (1882). After the Education Act 1870 the Borough also established the Reading School Board to manage elementary school provision across the Borough.

Town Hall 1880

Photograph of Alfred Waterhouse’s extension to the Town Hall circa 1880
(reproduced by permission of Reading Library Service)
 

 

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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...

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 war...

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...

The town still provides glimpses of the Council’s previous incarnations. There are the Abbey Ruins of its long departed landlord; High Bridge restored in 1787 by a Corporation keen to see trade flourish; the expression of Victorian civic pri...

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