The proud county town of Berkshire, Reading is 38 miles west of London with a train service to Paddington that takes just half an hour. It is one of Britain’s leading hi-tech hubs thanks, in part, to its matchless location — on the M4 within easy reach of Heathrow — making it a convenient place for globe-trotting international business people to base their UK offices.
With so many big-name firms — from Microsoft and Oracle to Ericsson and Verizon — based in and around the town, Reading is a commuter hot spot in its own right, with an often-clogged ring road. More office workers pour into Reading in the morning rush hour than head for London.
Add to this one of Britain’s top universities, a renowned music festival, several top-notch schools, an attractive network of rivers and canals (this is where the Thames meets the river Kennet), and a premiership football team (the Royals), and Reading has all the ingredients of a modern city — though city status has eluded it, despite three applications since 2000.
Before techno-geeks spotted its potential, Reading thrived on the “three Bs” — beer, as in the Simonds Brewery; biscuits, baked at the local Huntley & Palmers plant, and bulbs, produced by Suttons, the big seed business. Alas all three have gone from the town.
Properties for sale in Reading: At its heart Reading is a Victorian town, with many fine buildings from that period in the centre and road upon road of terrace houses built for factory workers.
But this doesn’t tell the full story, because there are also large Victorian houses built for the managers, plus Edwardian houses, Thirties townhouses, and estates of Sixties and Seventies homes.
In recent years there has been a boom in riverside and canalside homes, so there is also a ready supply of studio, one- and two-bedroom flats.
The area attracts: most buyers are already based locally, although the hi-tech industries and university draw in professionals who are coming to work in Reading. London commuters come for the affordable house prices.
Staying power: Steve Woodford of leading local estate agents Haslams says a section of Reading’s population is transient. “Many people come to work in the town on contracts that only keep them here for a year or so, but there are also long-standing Reading families who wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
Renting: with so many people working on contract, the rental market is very active. Some parents buy flats for their children to live in while they are at university and then keep them as rental investments. The rental yield is currently around 6.25 per cent.
The best roads: the dream addresses are among the private roads in Sonning on the north-west edge of town, in Maiden Erleigh Drive in Earley, south of the town, and the Caversham Heights area to the north. In the centre of Reading the conservation areas to the south, between King’s Road and the university are popular, especially Eldon Square, a fine Regency gem built of Bath stone. The most recent house sold there went for £799,000. Close by, in roads such as Alexandra Road, there are large detached and semi-detached Victorian houses that sell for between £450,000 and £750,000.
What's new: Steve Woodford tips the area near the station. “Network Rail is spending nearly £900 million improving the station with a new track layout and five new platforms,” he says. “This will release a lot of land around the station for a mix of development.”
Up and coming: the biggest development of new homes is at Kennet Island south of the town centre off the A33 relief road, where St James is building 1,369 homes — 274 of them affordable — on a former water works.
In Laika Square prices start at £287,950 for a three-bedroom townhouse, and in the latest phase Georgia Square, being sold off-plan, one bedroom flats start at £155,000, with two-bedroom houses from £239,950. So far 500 homes have been built and the whole development will take another five to six years to complete.
Getting an education: Caversham Primary School is judged “outstanding” by Ofsted and many people will relocate to be in the catchment area.
Other Reading primary schools judged to be “outstanding” by the Government’s education watchdog are: St John’s CofE in Orts Road; Wilson in Wilson Road; Aldryngton, off Silverdale Road; Geoffrey Field Infants in Exbourne Road (the Junior school is judged “good”), and Churchend in Usk Road.
Reading’s two grammar schools — Kendrick (girls ages 11 to 18) in London Road and Reading School (boys ages 11 to 18) in Erleigh Road — are both judged “outstanding”.
The following comprehensive schools are judged “outstanding”: Highdown (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Peppard Road and Maiden Erlegh off Silverdale Road.
Reading also has a good selection of private primary and prep schools, all-through schools and secondary schools.
The all-through schools are: The Abbey School (girls ages three to 18) in Kendrick Road; Hemdean House (co-ed ages three to 11; girls ages 11 to 16) in Hemdean Road; and St Joseph’s College (co-ed ages three to 18) in Upper Redlands Road.
The senior schools are: Queen Anne’s School (girls ages 11 to 18) in Henley Road; Leighton Park (boys ages 11 to 18, with girls in the sixth form) in Shinfield Road, and Reading Blue Coat (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Holme Park.
Shops and restaurants: The Oracle shopping centre with its big-name high street stores and attractive canal frontage lined with restaurants has sucked much of the life out the mainly pedestrianised town centre, which is badly in need of a facelift.
Reading’s best restaurants are in The Forbury, the town’s boutique hotel, the London Street Brasserie, and Myalacarte in Caversham. Outside Reading there is the renowned Michelin-starred L’Ortolan at Shinfield.
Open spaces: Reading has the advantage of two rivers, the Thames and the Kennet, which meet in the town and offer riverside and canalside walks. Dinton Pastures is a country park at Winnersh constructed from former gravel pits.
Leisure and the arts: museum culture is Reading’s strong point. Otherwise the town suffers culturally from the dual pulls of London and Oxford.
The local Reading Museum is housed in the fine Victorian gothic town hall and the associated Riverside Museum is at Blake’s Lock. There are two museums at Reading University — the Museum of English Rural Life and the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology.
The Reading music festival is held every August bank holiday weekend in a riverside field to the west of the town centre.
The Hexagon is multi-performance space which puts on music, comedy and drama. The Progress Theatre is a thriving amateur dramatics venue.
Swimming is also a popular activity, with five council-owned pools.
The Madejski Stadium houses both Reading Football Club and the London Irish Rugby Football Club and is named after local publishing, property and hotel magnate John Madejski.
There are also three local golf clubs — Bearwood at Sindlesham, with nine holes, and Calcot Park and Sonning, both with 18 holes.
Travel: Reading is close to the M4 with quick access to Heathrow and London. Trains for London leave every few minutes and take half an hour to Paddington. An annual season ticket costs £3,800.
Council: Reading borough council (Labour controlled); Band D council tax in 2012/2013 is £1,498.76.
Buying in Reading
One-bedroom flat: £129,000
Two-bedroom flat: £187,000
Two-bedroom house: £220,000
Three-bedroom house: £315,000
Four-bedroom house: £533,000
Renting in Reading
One-bedroom flat: £550 to £950 a month
Two-bedroom house: £650 to £1,950 a month
Two-bedroom house: £750 to £1,000 a month
Three-bedroom house: £800 to £1,350 a month
Four-bedroom house: £1,200 to £2,500 a month
Five-bedroom house: £1,750 to £3,000 a month
Source: Haslams Estate Agents
Fun facts for Reading: highest value streets
Phototgraphs by Graham Hussey