Reading used to be all about the three Bs — beer, biscuits and bulbs. Now the town is focused on C for Crossrail.
It always seemed strange for the cross-London project to stop at Maidenhead. In March last year sense prevailed and it was announced that the railway would now terminate at the Berkshire town known as the capital of the Thames Valley.
Reading is a real commercial hub and has more incoming than outgoing commuters. And thanks to Crossrail property prices are set to soar by the end of the decade.
Although the fast trains to Paddington take only half an hour, Crossrail, when it arrives in Reading in December 2019, will deposit travellers into the heart of central London with the journey to Bond Street taking 55 minutes, to Liverpool Street and the City 61 minutes, and Canary Wharf 67 minutes.
For those with long memories, Reading’s three Bs refer to its famous brewery H & G Simonds, which was founded in 1785 by William Blackall Simonds and finally closed in 2010; Huntley & Palmers, which in 1900 was the largest biscuit maker in the world but ceased baking in Reading in 1976; and Suttons Seeds, the only remaining business of the three, although sadly no longer in Reading. It started life in 1860, but is now based in the Devon town of Paignton.
Reading is 40 miles west of central London. Close to junctions 10 and 11 of the M4, it is connected to the capital via Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway, which terminates at Paddington station.
What there is to buy in Reading
Reading grew rapidly after the arrival of the railway and this left a legacy of Victorian and Edwardian homes, everything from large detached houses to terraces of workers’ cottages. There are also new flats in the town centre, especially around the Kennet and Avon Canal.
The town’s suburbs — Woodley, Earley, Whitley, Tilehurst and Caversham — have mainly modern houses built since the Fifties.
There are period houses and cottages in the village of Sonning. Haslams estate agent Tim Harding says buyers expect to pay from £200,000 for a Victorian terrace house, £300,000 for a three-bedroom semi-detached property, and £400,000 for a four-bedroom detached home.
In the suburbs, one-bedroom flats start at about £135,000 and two-bedroom flats at £160,000. Town centre flats near the station are more expensive. One-bedroom flats here start at about £200,000 and two-bedroom flats from £300,000. Reading also has some impressive waterside flats.
There is a fast and frequent train service to Paddington that takes about 30 minutes from Reading station and about 40 minutes from Reading West. An annual season ticket costs £4,188. Reading council runs a bike hire scheme called ReadyBike.
The area attracts
Families come to Reading for its two notable grammar schools — Kendrick for girls and Reading for boys. There is also a good choice of private schools.
What there is to rent in Reading
Buy-to-let investors know that Reading has an active rental market with many tenants coming from the town’s big IT, telecoms and financial services employers. Some parents who bought homes for their children while they were at university have decided to hang on to them as rental investments after their offspring have graduated.
Buy-to-let investors of new homes are achieving a rental yield of between four and six per cent, while Crossrail is attracting a lot of investment buyers.
Postcodes: RG1 is the central Reading postcode, RG2 covers the suburb of Whitley, RG4 Caversham, RG5 Woodley, and RG6 covers Earley and Lower Earley.
Alexandra Road and Kendrick Road close to the university, where detached and semi-detached Victorian houses can sell for £900,000 and more. Eldon Square has lovely semi-detached early Victorian villas. Architecturally these are the finest houses in Reading, however, most have been divided into flats with two-bedroom flats selling for between £300,000 and £350,000.
Up and coming
Reading’s station has recently been redesigned by leading architects Grimshaw. This, coupled with the big regeneration plans for the area around the station, is leading buyers to reassess the roads of Victorian terrace houses off Caversham Road. Two-bedroom houses sell for about £250,000 and three-bedroom houses for about £300,000.
Many people initially go to Reading for job opportunities, but then move within the town to be in a particular school catchment area, or to be closer to the motorway.
The long-awaited Station Hill development opposite Reading station is finally under way. Described by the developer Sackville Developments Reading (a joint venture between Stanhope and Benson Elliot) as the largest mixed used development in the Thames Valley, it covers three-and-a half acres and will include 930,000sq ft of office space in five tower blocks, 150,000sq ft of shops and restaurants and 300 flats.
Many new properties are being built in the town centre close to the railway station or overlooking the canal.
Council: Reading is Labour controlled and Band D council tax this year is £1,589.36.
Photographs by Daniel Lynch
Shops and restaurants
The Oracle is Reading’s main shopping centre. Overlooking the River Kennet, it has a good selection of high street brands such as Apple, H&M, Hobbs, Mango, Phase Eight, Topshop and Zara. The development is also home to two department stores, House of Fraser and Debenhams, as well as chain restaurants including PizzaExpress, Wagamama, Café Rouge and Strada.
Harris Arcade has a good range of independent shops. For craft beer and cheese go to The Grumpy Goat, while Shave & Coster is a traditional tobacconist. For made-to-measure tailoring, try Simon Dowling Bespoke in The Forbury.
London Street Brasserie is an award-winning restaurant overlooking the Kennet. Cerise in The Forbury Hotel is a chic dining room serving modern British food. There is a growing independent coffee scene which includes gluten-free café Nibsy’s in Cross Street, My Kitchen in Queen Victoria Street, Picnic at Market Place, Shed in Merchants Place and Lincoln Coffee House in King’s Road. Milk Bar is a popular cocktail bar in Merchants Place.
Reading Market, open Wednesday to Saturday, is found in Hosier Street. Every Friday, street food stalls are set up in Market Place.
Forbury Gardens, a public park in the town centre, has the famous Maiwand Lion, a sculpture and war memorial. It is overlooked by a public square with a branch of Italian restaurant Carluccio’s and The Forbury Hotel in former council offices.
Palmer Park in Wokingham Road and Prospect Park in Liebenrood Road are Reading’s two largest parks. The former has a sports stadium, gym, bike hire and a children’s playground, while Prospect Park has a miniature railway on the first Sunday of the month, a pond, a children’s playground and a listed mansion that houses a private restaurant. There are lots of peaceful walks along the River Kennet.
Leisure and the arts
Music lovers should be well aware of the Reading Festival. This year’s event takes place from August 28-30 at Little John’s Farm. Headline bands will be Mumford & Sons, Metallica and The Libertines.
The Hexagon in Queens Walk is a multipurpose arts venue that puts on concerts, comedy and children’s shows. South Street Arts Centre is a fringe theatre and music venue. Progress Theatre, at The Mount, is an amateur dramatics theatre that also puts on the annual Open-Air Shakespeare festival in Caversham Court.
The Mill at Sonning is a small theatre where the ticket price includes dinner. Vue cinema at The Oracle has 11 state-of-the-art screens.
Reading Museum is housed in the magnificent Victorian town hall designed by Alfred Waterhouse. The University of Reading has three museums — the Museum of English Rural Life is currently closed for refurbishment, while The Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology and Cole Museum of Zoology are both on the Whiteknights campus.
Three things about Reading
Who still describes herself as a “Reading girl at heart” and compares notes with Ricky Gervais?
Hollywood star Kate Winslet grew up in the Berkshire town where her family still lives. She has talked of swapping stories of growing up in Reading with the town’s other famous export, comedian Ricky Gervais.
How did part of a poem written about Reading appear in a cemetery in Paris?
Lines from Oscar Wilde’s (1854-1900) poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol are inscribed on his tomb in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Wilde was imprisoned in Reading Gaol in 1895 for homosexual offences and the poem was written after his release two years later. The Ministry of Justice closed the prison in December 2013 and it has lain empty since.
How does beer connect with a lion in Reading and a falcon in New York?
George Blackall Simonds (1843–1929) was chairman of H & G Simonds Brewery from 1910 until his death. He was also a famous sculptor responsible for the Maiwand Lion in Forbury Gardens in Reading, which commemorates the death of 329 men of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment of Foot in the battle of Maiwand in 1880 during the Afghan War, and the statue of a falconer in New York’s Central Park.
State primary and grammar
Reading has some leading private schools and two top-performing state grammar schools. However, the town’s state primary schools, although mostly judged to be “good” or better by Ofsted, have their weak points with a number in “special measures”. The following are judged to be “outstanding” — St John’s CofE on Orts Road; All Saint’s Juniors (ages seven to 11) on Brownlow Road; Caversham on Hemdean Road; Emmer Green on Grove Road; Aldryngton in Silverdale Road; Geoffrey Field Infants (ages three to seven) on Exbourne Road; Churchend on Usk Road and South Lake on Campbell Road.
Reading’s state grammar schools are Kendrick (girls, ages 11 to 18) on London Road and Reading School (boys, day and boarding, ages 11 to 18) on Erleigh Road, both of which are rated “outstanding”.
Reading’s comprehensive schools are all judged to be “good”. The following either get above average results at GCSE or have been given “outstanding” ratings — Bulmershe (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) on Woodlands Avenue and Maiden Erlegh (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) on Silverdale Road, Earley, where, according to estate agent Tim Harding, living in the catchment area affects house prices. Maiden Erlegh is opening a new free school in east Reading in September. UTC Reading (co-ed, ages 14 to 18) on Crescent Road is a University Technical College, specialising in computing and engineering that opened in September 2013.
Private primary and prep
There is also a wide choice of private schools in Reading and nearby. The private primary and preparatory schools are The Deenway Montessori School (co-ed, ages three to 11), an Islamic school on Sidmouth Street; St Edward’s Prep (boys, ages five to 14) on Tilehurst Road; Caversham Preparatory (co-ed, ages three to 11) on Peppard Road; Crosfields (co-ed, ages three to 13) on Shinfield Road; Dolphin (co-ed, ages three to 13) in the village of Hurst; and Waverley (co-ed, ages three months to 11) in Wokingham.
The private secondary schools are Queen Anne’s School (girls, day and boarding, ages 11 to 18), a CofE school on Henley Road; Leighton Park (co-ed, day and boarding, ages 11 to 18), a Quaker school on Shinfield Road, and Reading Blue Coat (boys ages 11 to 18 and girls ages 16 to 18) on Sonning Lane. There are also a number of private all-through schools: The Abbey School (girls, ages three to 18) on Kendrick Road; Hemdean House (co-ed, boys ages thee to 11 and girls ages three to 16) on Hemdean Rise; St Joseph’s College (co-ed, ages, three to 18), a Catholic school on Upper Redlands Road; Holme Grange (co-ed, ages three to 16) and Bearwood College (ages, three months to 18), both in Wokingham.