Reading is a large town and unitary authority area in the ceremonial county of Berkshire, England of which it is the county town. It was an important centre in the medieval period, as the site of Reading Abbey, a monastery with strong royal connections. The town was seriously affected by the English Civil War, with a major siege and loss of trade, and played a pivotal role in the Revolution of 1688, with that revolution's only significant military action fought on the streets of the town. The 19th century saw the coming of the Great Western Railway and the development of the town's brewing, baking and seed growing businesses. Today Reading is a commercial centre, with involvement in information technology and insurance, and, despite its proximity to London, has a net inward commuter flow.
The first evidence for Reading as a settlement dates from the 8th century. By 1525, Reading was the largest town in Berkshire, and tax returns show that Reading was the 10th largest town in England when measured by taxable wealth. By 1611, it had a population of over 5000 and had grown rich on its trade in cloth. The 18th century saw the beginning of a major iron works in the town and the growth of the brewing trade for which Reading was to become famous. During the 19th century, the town grew rapidly as a manufacturing centre. It is ranked the UK's top economic area for economic success and wellbeing, according to factors such as employment, health, income and skills. Reading is also a retail centre serving a large area of the Thames Valley, and is home to the University of Reading. Every year it hosts the Reading Festival, one of England's biggest music festivals. Sporting teams based in Reading include Reading Football Club and the London Irish rugby union team, and over 15,000 runners annually compete in the Reading Half Marathon.
The Borough of Reading has a population of 160,825 whereas the town of Reading has a total population of 232,662. This figure currently makes Reading the largest settlement in the UK without city status. Despite this, Reading functions like, and has the appearance and character of a major city and is often mistaken as such by visitors. The town forms the largest part of the Reading/Wokingham Urban Area which had a population of 318,014 . This population was originally higher until Bracknell was transferred to the Greater London Urban Area. The town is currently represented in the UK parliament by two members, and has been continuously represented there since 1295. For ceremonial purposes the town is in the county of Berkshire and has served as its county town since 1867, previously sharing this status with Abingdon-on-Thames. It is located in the Thames Valley at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, and on both the Great Western Main Line railway and the M4 motorway. By the national road network, Reading is located 39 miles east from Swindon, 25 miles south from Oxford, 42 miles west of London, 17 miles north of Basingstoke, 13 miles south-west of Maidenhead and 19 miles east of Newbury.
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