A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1923.
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The first mention of Reading is in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the date 871. (fn. 1) In this year the Danes invaded Wessex, took Reading and threw up fortifications on the strip of land between the Kennet and the Thames. (fn. 2) After the battle of Englefield King Ethelwulf and his brother Alfred attacked them there unsuccessfully. (fn. 3) In 1006 Reading together with Wallingford, Cholsey and other smaller places was burned by the Danes. (fn. 4) Reading, like many other towns, grew up on the royal demesne; the market is of immemorial antiquity, and throughout the middle ages was held by prescription.
William the Conqueror gave to the abbey of St. Martin at Battle a church in Reading together with 8 hides, two mills and two and a half fisheries, besides 29 mansurae in the town of Reading. (fn. 5) In the Domesday Survey Reading is expressly called a borough and the town and the manor are separately surveyed. (fn. 6) Both were held by the king in demesne; the only heterogeneity of tenure was caused by the estate of Battle Abbey and by one close and half a virgate of land held by Henry de Ferrers which formerly Godric the Sheriff had held for the purpose of entertainment, probably of officials: the king had twentyeight closes. (fn. 7)
In 1121 Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I (fn. 8); the king by the foundation charter (1125) gave to it with other endowments 'Reading itself and Cholsey, (fn. 9) together with woods, arable lands, pastures, meadows, waters, mills, fisheries, churches, chapels, churchyards, oblations and tithes with a mint (fn. 10) and one moneyer at Reading.' The abbot and convent were also to have all pleas together with sac and soc and other privileges and jurisdiction in cases of murder, theft and the effusion of blood; but if the abbot failed to do justice the king was to intervene, yet so that the liberty of the church of Reading was not thereby prejudiced. Henry's gift included the estate which Battle Abbey had held, in exchange for which he gave Battle land at Appledram, co. Sussex. (fn. 11)
The prosperity of Reading was greatly increased by the foundation of the abbey. (fn. 12) Henry I granted to the abbot and convent a fair to be held at Reading on the feast of St. Lawrence and the three following days; he also, at the request of his daughter the Empress Maud, presented to the community the hand of St. James, which relic attracted many pilgrims. (fn. 13)
It has been suggested that the town of Reading was destroyed to make room for the abbey and that consequently the abbey buildings stood upon the site of old Reading. There is not sufficient evidence for this theory, as the site of the abbey lies away from any great road and from the main stream of the Kennet.
The original settlement at Reading was probably along the Kennet eastward from the Seven Bridges to the east of the High Bridge. A mediaeval tradition preserved in one of the chartularies of Reading Abbey (fn. 14) asserted that Magdalen chapel 'at the east side of the town' was once a parish church. If, as is possible, the origin of St. Mary's was monastic (see under advowson of St. Mary), it is conceivable that Magdalen chapel represented the ancient parish church of the town, which, if it ever existed, was probably ruined by the Danes when they burned Reading in 1006. On this hypothesis the original town must have stretched considerably east of the High Bridge, a supposition which is favoured by the position of the cemetery discovered in 1890. Northward from the Seven Bridges an old road runs through the present St. Mary's Butts towards Caversham Bridge, which, itself ancient, probably represents a still more ancient ford; southward it runs towards Southampton and Winchester. This road as early as the reign of Henry VI was described as 'a certain street ex antiquo called Olde Street.' (fn. 15) The old market of which mention is found was probably part of the present St. Mary's Butts, (fn. 16) and the foundation of the abbey marked the beginning of a process which ended by transferring the commercial and municipal centre of the town from the neighbourhood of St. Mary's Church to the north side of the present Broad Street, where it now is. (fn. 17)
The growth of the town after the foundation of the abbey is indicated by the foundation at the end of the 11th century of St. Giles's Church, (fn. 18) in the southern part of the borough, and of St. Lawrence's Church, which was built to serve the population which grew up round the abbey. (fn. 19)
A castle existed in Reading in early times; it is not known when it was built, but Stephen held it on the outbreak of hostilities between himself and the Empress Maud. (fn. 20) In 1150 he strengthened it, but the next year it was destroyed, wherefore and by whom is unknown. (fn. 21) It was never restored, and its site is uncertain, though it was probably on the high ground to the south-west of the town now known as Castle Hill; the name vicus Castelli is found in a document of the reign of Henry III. (fn. 22)
Henry II was in Reading in 1163, (fn. 23) when he assisted at the consecration of the Abbey Church by Thomas Becket. (fn. 24) In 1180 his son Henry swore obedience to him there, and in 1184 he received there Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Roger master of the Hospitallers, who came as ambassadors from Baldwin, King of Jerusalem. (fn. 25) He showed his favour to the abbey by granting a fair to be held on St. James's Day and the three following days; his 'firm peace' was to protect those at the fair and those going to and returning from it. (fn. 26) He also confirmed the charter which his grandfather had given to Reading Abbey, making special mention of the land which Robert Ferrers formerly held in the town. (fn. 27) In this reign the names of Warin the reeve (prepositus) and Walter the reeve occur as witnesses to a grant made by Joseph Abbot of Reading (1173–80); they were probably officers, who like the later bailiffs were appointed by the abbot to govern the town. (fn. 28) Richard I confirmed the charters of the abbey (fn. 29) mentioning the fair on St. James's Day. (fn. 30) John paid several visits to Reading; on 1 May 1206 he granted to the abbey a fair to be held at Reading on the vigil of the feast of St. Philip and St. James and the three following days. (fn. 31) In 1233 a grant was made by the Abbot and convent of Reading to the Friars Minor of land 'in the culture called Vastern.' The settlement of the friars no doubt marks the growth of that part of the town. The street leading from the priory to the abbey (now Friar Street) was long known as New Street. (fn. 32)
At the beginning of the reign of Henry III Reading appears to have been almost entirely under the power of the abbot and to have been in danger of losing its burghal status. It is not among the Berkshire boroughs 'which swore by themselves' at the assizes of 1224–5 (fn. 33); the government of the town was in the hands of the bailiffs, who were officers of the abbot. The first bailiff of whom mention is made is Laurence Burgeys alias Abyndus, bailiff of the town of Reading, to whom in 1204 Abbot Helyas granted a licence to build a chapel in honour of St. Edmund, near to which he dwelt as a hermit. (fn. 34) In 1235 the king issued a precept to the bailiffs of Reading ordering them to provide fifteen oxen and twenty fat sheep for his use (fn. 35); a similar precept in 1254 concerned one hundred pence worth of bread for the royal consumption. (fn. 36) In 1241 the borough of Reading appeared before the justices itinerant by fourteen men (fn. 37); about the same time the town of Reading paid to the abbot a fine of 15 marks, an arrangement which seems to have been confirmed by William of York, the justice itinerant. Two years later it paid the same fine, and it is expressly stated that nothing was to go to the king's treasury on account of charters held by the abbey. (fn. 38) William of York further declared that the abbot was so to hold his court that the justice itinerant might enter and hold the court with his steward in order to see that justice was done. (fn. 39)
The town was thus under the domination of the abbey, but there was one institution which possessed some power and independence. The origin of the merchant gild of Reading is unknown, but it was certainly of great antiquity; it is probable that by the middle of the 13th century it had absorbed many of the powers of the primitive burghal institution of Reading. It possessed a meadow bearing the significant name of Portmanbroke, (fn. 40) and, though there were probably still burgesses (fn. 41) who were not 'gildani,' they seem to have been representatives of a state of things which was passing away. The word burgess is often employed, as if synonymous with member of the gild. (fn. 42) The gild was already in a flourishing condition, and about this time Ela de Hammel granted to the gildani of Reading an island in the town of Reading near the gildhall to be held at a rent of 16s. per annum. (fn. 43) Under the protection of the abbot the trade of the town and specially the cloth trade was developing (fn. 44); the drapers as early as 1242 formed a class to themselves, for in that year the drapers did not contribute to the composition of 15 marks paid by the township of Reading to the abbot. A few years later two of the leading townsmen, Robert Wille and William de Whitele, were accused of selling cloth against the assize (fn. 45); about the same time a certain Hamo de Oxenford granted to the Abbot and convent of Reading half a mark of rent to be levied on his stalls in the drapery of the town, (fn. 46) which is again mentioned in a document of similar date. (fn. 47) John the Dyer, Thomas the Tailler, William the Dyer and Philip the Draper are among the townsmen of Reading at the end of the reign of Henry III (fn. 48); the first three represented the town before the justices itinerant. About the same date a fulling-mill is mentioned as situated in the parish of St. Giles (fn. 49) in a certain lane leading from Old Street to High Street. (fn. 50) Another important trade was that of the vintners, who, like the drapers, did not contribute to the fine of 1242. Alan the Vintner and Roger the Vintner were contemporaries of the drapers mentioned above. (fn. 51) The first-named was a person of importance; he appears frequently as a witness to charters, and he was one of those who represented the town at the assizes of 1248. (fn. 52) There is evidence of other trades; the name of Walter the Tanner appears in 1254, (fn. 53) Bernars the Goldsmith was one of the representatives of the town at the assizes in 1248, and John the Goldsmith filled the same office at one of the assizes at the end of the reign of Henry III. (fn. 54)
The first mention of the merchant gild is in the year 1253, when a quarrel broke out between Abbot Richard and the burgesses. The men of Reading were then summoned before the king to show by what warrant they claimed liberties under a grant of King Edward (the Confessor) which were contrary to the liberties of the abbey, and to show 'why they come armed into the town of Reading and have repelled by force the bailiffs of the said Abbot,' (fn. 55) and also 'why by night and day in the said town they have lain in wait for the bailiffs and servants of the said abbot and have hindered them from being able to perform the duty enjoined them on the part of the said abbot.' The men of Reading were not able to show any charter or warrant, and a precept was issued to the sheriff to see that the abbot's rights were maintained. On 5 July 1253 the king granted to all the burgesses of Reading who were in the gild merchant that they should be free of shires and hundreds and pleas (fn. 56) and of toll and other dues, and should buy and sell freely throughout England (fn. 57); on 31 July a precept was issued to the Sheriff of Berkshire on behalf of the burgesses. (fn. 58) This document throws light upon the position of the town and gild; the burgesses possessed a gild merchant and a gildhall, outside which they claimed that they could not justly be made to plead. The town had a market which from ancient times had been held in a certain place, probably the present St. Mary's Butts. The burgesses complained that the abbot had moved the market, that he compelled them to plead out of their gildhall, (fn. 59) and that he constrained them to render dues and services other than those exacted in the reigns of Henry II and his sons; 'once and twice' had the king ordered the sheriff to cause the abbot to cease from his malpractices, but without effect; now, notwithstanding any privileges of the church of Reading, the sheriff was to enter the town and see that justice was done.
The burgesses refused to allow the abbot the use of 'the house which is called the gildhall in Reading' to hold the pleas, for which refusal he sued them in the King's Court at Michaelmas. (fn. 60) About the same time, however, an agreement was come to on the question of the position of the market, (fn. 61) and in February 1254 the quarrel was settled by a fine 'betwyst Harry Wille and Daniel Wolnese then stewardis of the Gylde of Radyng and the Burgeys of the saime towne compleyning or compleyntours and Richard Abbot of Radyng defender.' (fn. 62) By this fine the abbot conceded that the corn and other markets should be held in their accustomed places, that the burgesses should have their gildhall, together with twelve messuages pertaining to it and the meadow called Portmanbroke, paying rent to the abbot of half a mark yearly in lieu of the 1d. formerly paid, and that they should have their gild merchant with all its appurtenances for ever; the burgesses on their part agreed that the abbot should choose yearly one burgess acceptable to them to be warden (custos) of the gild merchant for one year, that the abbot and his successors should receive the sum of 4s. from each son of a burgess entering the gild and from each foreigner so doing half the fine paid, which fine was to be assessed by six lawful men of the gild in the presence of one of the members of the abbey, that each burgess in the gild merchant should pay yearly to the abbot 5d. under the name of chepyngavell as a licence to trade in the borough, that the abbot should have the right to tallage the town when the king tallaged his demesne, that the abbot or his bailiffs should hold all pleas which pertained to the town of Reading in the gildhall and should have all amends 'as from the gildani so from others,' (fn. 63) and that though the key of the gildhall should remain in the custody of the steward it should be delivered to the abbot or his bailiffs 'without contradiction' when they wished to hold the pleas; finally the burgesses allowed that the meadow at the head of Portmanbroke was the right of the Abbot and church of Reading. (fn. 64)
By this fine the abbot made good his claim to govern the town by his bailiffs, who held the pleas in the gildhall; he also controlled the gild merchant by the appointment of the warden and by receiving from it dues and fees. The warden was a new officer appointed under the fine and replacing the stewards, of whom there were almost certainly two in office at the same time. (fn. 65)
In 1261 John the Dyer and other ballivi of the borough of Reading brought an action at the assizes against James Gunter, bailiff of Windsor. The men of Reading on a certain Sunday had carried goods to sell at the market of Windsor; certain men of Windsor, incited thereto by James the Bailiff, seized these goods, threw them down in the mud and trod them underfoot, and assaulted their owners. For this conduct, which was doubtless the outcome of local protectionist feeling, James and his companions were fined and required to pay damages. (fn. 66)
The men of Reading jealously guarded the privileges granted to them by Henry III. At the same assizes Ralph de Heckfield, Richard Coppe, Simon Gyle and Richard Gunter, bailiffs of Reading, 'pro communitate burgi de Rading,' sued the bailiffs and other men of Newbury because in the year previous they had exacted toll and stallage contrary to the charters of the men of Reading. The men of Newbury declared that they had never heard of the king's charter, but when it was produced in court they acknowledged it, and agreed that henceforth the men of Reading should be quit of toll and other customs in the town of Newbury. (fn. 67)
In 1300 the charter of Henry III to the burgesses of Reading was read in full husting in the City of London in the presence of the Mayor and aldermen of London, and it was entered in the Black Book (fn. 68); notwithstanding, in 1318 a burgess of Reading, Thomas le Clerk of Wallingford, was distrained for toll and custom on his merchandise by the Sheriffs of London. (fn. 69) The Mayor of Reading, John le Akator, appeared before the court of husting and appealed to King Henry's charter (fn. 70); his claim was allowed, and the sheriffs were ordered 'to surrender the distress so taken and to allow the said Thomas and all burgesses of the aforesaid town to be quit of toll.' (fn. 71) In January 1347–8 a similar case occurred, and again the Mayor of Reading, this time Thomas de Jernyngdon, appeared, and was given the redress for which he asked.
Burgages in the town of Reading are mentioned in a document of about 1230 (fn. 72) and in the Assize Roll for 1261. (fn. 73) Recovery of land by the stake was in use in Reading; the following decree was made in the year 1290: 'It is awarded by the whole community of the borough of Reading that all the tenements which are recovered by the stake for arrears of rent of at least four years shall be recovered under this form always hitherto used, to wit that every lord shall claim it when by award of the court a stake is fixed, and if this be not done he shall lose his claim both to the rent and to the tenement for ever.' (fn. 74)
Real property was certainly devised by last will in Reading in the 13th century. In 1248 a case was tried at the assizes concerning a shop which had belonged to a certain Stephen, who had died leaving a son Stephen under age. The boy's guardian, William Le Merchant, permitted William the Goldsmith, who had married Gunnilda the daughter of the elder Stephen, to take possession of the shop, but when the younger Stephen came of age he claimed it. William the Goldsmith, however, declared that his father-in-law had left it to him by last will 'together with his daughter Gunnilda,' and that his brother-in-law had confirmed the gift. (fn. 75) In the end Stephen retired from the case. About thirty years later John the Dyer (fn. 76) left some meadow land by last will to his wife Alice 'secundum consuetudines burgi de Radinges.' In 1283 it was stated that 'the custom of the town of Reading is that a woman can leave her own property (perquisitum) to her husband.' (fn. 77) At about the end of the reign of Henry III William Achard devised a tenement in the town of Reading to the Abbot and convent of Reading; he did this coram villata de Rading, as it is expressed in the deed of gift. (fn. 78)
It appears from a case which was tried at the assizes of 1261 concerning a burgage in Reading that the writ of mort d'ancestor did not run in the borough of Reading. (fn. 79) A case of the assizes of 1284 suggests that the borough of Reading had some special rule as to the age when minors might demise property. (fn. 80) A certain Thomas Wille claimed that being a minor he had demised 'a shop with appertinences in Radinges' to John Wille; the defendant in the case pleaded that Thomas 'was of full age according to the custom of the borough of Rading,' and this contention was upheld by the jury.
The first known mention of coroners of the borough occurs in 1248. (fn. 81)
Early in the reign of Edward I the abbey was weak and in debt, and it is probable that during this time the merchant gild was growing in importance and influence. The most significant sign of this growth is the change in the title of the chief officer of the gild. The first mention of the title of mayor is in 1301, (fn. 82) when a royal writ was addressed to the Mayor and bailiffs of Reading; the first mayor whose name is known was Walter Gerard, who held office the next year. (fn. 83) The mayor was the head of the gild and replaced the custos or warden. The early connexion between the borough and the gild has been pointed out. From the time of Henry III the identification of the gild and the municipal institutions of the borough seems to have been complete, except that the ballivi appear to have had no official connexion with the former. The expression 'burgess of the borough' seems always to connote burgess or brother of the gild. (fn. 84) Account Rolls of the date of Edward III headed 'Comptus [N. or M.] majoris Radyng' contain lists of the fines paid for entering the gild. There is evidence that in the 14th century admittances to the gild took place at the meetings of the mayor and burgesses, and the following entry is found in the corporation diary (fn. 85) under the date 1441:
'Ad congregationem majoris et totius communitatis (May 5) … … ad istam diem venit Thomas More et dat de fine ad intrandam gildam Mercatoriam ibidem iiijs. et pro jantaculo xxd.'
The Account Roll of Walter Gerard (fn. 86) contains an entry of the payment of the half mark due to the abbot for the rent of the gildhall. (fn. 87) One Account Roll (1378) is headed 'Burgus Radyng,' another (1508) 'Gildhall of the Burgh of Redyng' (fn. 88); in a document of 1429 money is granted to the mayor to be taken out of the common chest of the gildhall to defray the expenses incurred 'de causa officii majoratus dictae villae et honoris gildae et villae.' (fn. 89) The gildsman in his oath (1456) swore to be true to the king, 'to the Meyre of the borow of Redyng his leve tenaunt and bredren of the Gylde of the said borow.' (fn. 90) The titles Major gildae Mercatorie and Major villae Radingia are sometimes used interchangeably. In 1499, when for special reasons the title Master of the Gild was employed, the office holder for the year is called in one place Magister gildae, in another Major Burgi. (fn. 91) The only evidence which appears ambiguous is an entry in the corporation diary under date 1497, which decrees that the burgesses 'shall be obedient to the Master of the Gild as they used to be to the Mayor of old,' (fn. 92) but there is no doubt that it simply points to a change in the name of the chief officer of the gild made on account of certain circumstances. (fn. 93) In some law papers of about the same date the titles Mayor and Guardian or Master of the Gild are used interchangeably—'the Master of the Gild or Mayor of the seid Towne,' 'the Maister of the Gild oderwise called the Mayre.' (fn. 94) In the charter given by Henry VIII (1542) the charter of Henry III to the gild merchant is recited incorrectly, for the word Major is inserted before 'omnes burgenses qui sint in gilda Mercatoria de Radingia.' (fn. 95) This addition shows that the mind of the 16th century considered that the office of mayor had been connected with the gild merchant from the time of the fine of record.
The successive Abbots of Reading refused to acknowledge the title of mayor and referred to the head of the gild by his legal title of guardian or warden. (fn. 96)
In 1302 the burgesses of Reading resisted the abbot's claim to tallage the town. The Prince of Wales, afterwards Edward II, wrote to the abbot requesting him not to tallage his friend Adam the Skinner and the other burgesses of Reading, although the king was taking a tallage of his lands. Such a tallage was unusual, and he begged him to wait a month in order that inquiries might be made and counsel taken. (fn. 97) In 1359 the king again took a tallage, and the burgesses of Reading again resisted the abbot, who wished to tallage them; the king, however, ordered the mayor and bailiffs to submit to a reasonable tallage, recalling significantly the arrangement made in 1254. (fn. 98) In 1314 Edward II confirmed the privileges of the abbey, except that of having a mint, and granted the assizes of bread and ale. (fn. 99) In 1338 Edward III granted another confirmation to the abbey and specified certain privileges, such as the return of the king's writ, which, though contained in former charters, were not expressed with sufficient clearness to avoid disputes. (fn. 100) In 1344 he confirmed the charter of Henry III to the burgesses, omitting, however, the clause which granted them freedom from pleas (fn. 101); this omission was probably due to the influence of the abbot and convent, jealous of their newly confirmed privileges.
In 1335 Reading was assessed at 20 marks in a royal writ addressed to the mayor and bailiffs; the position and relative importance of the town are shown by the fact that it paid the same fine as Rochester and Colchester, while Winchester paid 40 marks, Norwich 200 and London 500. (fn. 102)
In the reign of Edward III the sessions of the justices itinerant were not held in Reading, probably owing to the efforts of the abbot; the burgesses complained of the great loss thus occasioned to the town. (fn. 103)
The government of the town continued in the hands of the mayor and bailiffs, but in public documents the mayor and communitas are often coupled together. (fn. 104) Walter Gerard was elected per assentium communitatis (fn. 105) : John le Catur, Mayor of Reading (1363), made a grant ex assensu et consensu totius communitatis. Borough regulations, such as the recovery of land by the Stake (1290), were made per totam communitatem. There is little doubt that this expression, which also occurs in the form of communitas Radyngie and communitas Gilde Mercatorie Radyngie, means the body of burgesses in the gild. In 1449 three candidates were elected for the mayoralty per totam communitatem; in 1451 per burgenses. It is extremely unlikely that the qualification for voting was changed in these two years. (fn. 106) In one early example (1261) the bailiffs acting pro communitate burgi de Rading claimed the privileges granted by Henry III, (fn. 107) which were expressly limited to the burgesses of the gild. (fn. 108) In 1429 a grant was made by nos burgenses et communitas villae de Radyng, where the expression is probably redundant: the communitas controlled Portmanbroke which was the property of the burgesses. (fn. 109) In 1510 the expression 'Communitas Burgencium burgi de Redingia' is found. (fn. 110) It is possible that in very early times communitas had a wider meaning. After about the middle of the 15th century the word is not much used in the town records.
Walter Gerard received for his salary as mayor 20s. together with 3s. for his clerk and 3s. for his servant Reginald. In the reign of Richard II the mayor's clerk received 6s. 8d. The early mayors kept the accounts of the gild. In 1378 cistarii appear for the first time. In 1391 John Kent, mayor, kept the account, but after his death there is a regular succession of cistarii, coferarii or thesaurii. Custodes of the five wards of the town are mentioned in the account roll for 1363; they also appeared as guardiani or wardani. The first mention of a clerk of the market is in 1380; of constables in a document of 1368. (fn. 111)
The number of burgesses entering the gild varied from year to year. In 1363–4 there were eleven entries, in 1366–7 the number rose to twenty-three, the next year it dropped again to fifteen, in 1384–5 there were fourteen entries, in the following year only two. The entrance fine varied considerably; in the reigns of Edward III and Richard II 6s. 8d. or 10s. was the usual fine, and frequently 40d. was added for a jantaculum or feast, but sometimes only 3s. 4d. was paid. The son of a burgess was admitted freely or else paid a reduced fine; sometimes he provided a jantaculum and nothing more. The mayor for the year had the right of admitting one burgess freely, and a similar privilege was sometimes granted to local magnates, as when in 1391 John Clerk was pardoned his fine at the prayer of the Abbot and Prior of Reading (fn. 112); or when in 1435 the fines of William Hampton and William Jaffes were remitted 'in reverence to the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.' (fn. 113)
In 1399 John Hunte, butcher, granted to John Hunte, tailor, and John Benet, cofferers of the gildhall of Reading and their successors, the rent of a tenement situated 'in a street which leads towards the gildhall of Redyng' for maintaining of the gildhall for ever. (fn. 114) There is evidence that the gild elected the constables, cofferers and ward-keepers, but there is no single instance of the election of the ballivi (fn. 115) by the gild or the burghers. (fn. 116) These officers, who often appeared in connexion with the mayor, had a special relation to the abbot and acted indeed as his intermediaries with the gild; to them was paid the half mark due from the gild to the abbot for the rent of the gildhall and the tax of chepyngavell. Walter Gerard's election to the mayoralty per assentium communitatis seems at first an infringement of the rights of the abbot, but it is possible that this election was only the ratification of the choice of the abbot; the wording of the fine of 1254 was such that the burgesses were able under it to claim a right of veto against the abbot's nominee, as appears from the following undated paper:
Whereas the seid Abbot seyth that he and his predecessors have used every yere by their discretion to take one of the inhabytaunts within the seid Towne to be named and be takyn as Keeper of the Gyld, the seid Burges sayen that the seid Abbot owe not now such officer to make onder that fynne for it appereth in the fynne of recorde, that he shuld take a burges of the seid Gyld, wherewith we should be content withall and yf the forseid Burges be not content with hym, the seid Abbot to take a nother and so forthe, tyll the seid Burges be content; then it was consideret [sic] be the seid Abbot and the seid Burges for disabllyng of the seid Burges that then iij of the most abull Burges electe and chosen by the foreseid Burges on the Fryday next before Michellmas Day in the Gyld Hall, and on the Michellmas Day to be presented be the seid Burges to the Abbot in his monastery of Redyng, and he to name one of the seid iij to occupie the seid office for the yere followyng, and that day twellmoneth another to be so chosen and charget, and the old to be discharget. (fn. 117)
A modification of this arrangement, by which the burgesses in the first instance elected three of their number from whom the abbot selected one to fill the office of mayor, was in use as early as 1459 and almost certainly earlier (fn. 118); in this year the burgesses chose three of their number, from whom the abbot cum concensu omnium Burgensium selected one to be mayor. (fn. 119)
In 1379 Richard II confirmed the charter which Edward III had given to the burgesses of Reading (fn. 120); to pay for this favour contributions were offered from the five wards of the town. Further confirmations were granted by Henry IV (1401) and by Henry VI (1427). (fn. 121)
In 1365 the grantor of some property in Reading 'quia sigilla nostra pluribus sunt incognita' caused to be affixed to the deed the common seal of the borough of Reading; an exactly similar seal is still used by the corporation of Reading. (fn. 122)
In 1380 a dispute occurred between the town and the abbey as to whether the abbot should contribute with the town towards the tenth granted to the king. (fn. 123) In 1391 a more serious quarrel occurred on the subject of choosing constables for the town. (fn. 124) The case was tried before Lawrence Drew and his associates the justices itinerant of the king. The jurors presented that Reginald Sheffield, the abbot's steward, at a court of portmote held at Reading in that year had ordered the mayor's deputy and others of the town to elect a constable in the place of William Shortwade, who was absent, and that on their refusal he had chosen a constable and compelled him to take the oath. The mayor and commonalty refused to acknowledge the constable thus chosen and pleaded that the town had always elected its own constables, adding that Reading was a royal borough and had been so before the foundation of the abbey. It is not known how the question was settled, but in 1417 two constables were elected by the mayor and presented before the justices of the peace to be admitted to office in the usual way. (fn. 125) In the middle of the 15th century these officers were elected by the mayor and burgesses (fn. 126); in 1463 the election is said to be made by all the burgesses, and in 1471 by the mayor and burgesses in the gildhall. In 1477 the constables after election were presented before the steward of the abbot and by him sworn in; in 1486 a constable was elected by the mayor and comburgesses juxta corum antiquam consuetudinem. (fn. 127) The wealth of the gild increased steadily from the time of Edward III, when the accounts were first regularly kept, until in the reign of Henry V and at the beginning of the reign of Henry VI the annual receipts were between £4 10s. and £5 10s., and in 1423–4 they were as much as £9 6s. 1d. At the beginning of the reign of Henry VII the gild was not very prosperous and the receipts were sometimes less than the expenditure; but later its financial position greatly improved, and in the last year of the reign over £30 was received, and, after all expenses were paid, £13 remained in hand. (fn. 128)
The receipts came chiefly from fines for entrance to the gild, from fines of 'foreigners' trading in the town, who in the reign of Henry V made a yearly agreement with the gild, paying sums varying from 1s. downwards for their privileges; from the dues of fish and meat shambles and of the common beam and wharf, and from fines incurred for such misdemeanours as allowing pigs to roam about the streets of the town or for the graver offence of a 'transgression against the gildhall.' During the first part of the 15th century the number of burghers entering the gild was small. In 1422–3 there is no entry, and in 1428–9 only one, but two years later the number rises again to nine. For a later period a calculation of the number of burgesses in the gild might be made on the basis of the amount paid yearly in chepyngavell to the abbot, (fn. 129) for in 1480 it was decided that this tax, instead of being paid by each burgess individually, should be paid out of the common chest of the gild. (fn. 130) A difficulty, however, arises, as a careful comparison of the account rolls and the corporation diary suggests that burgesses were received into the gild and allowed to defer the payment of their entrance fine, perhaps to avoid paying chepyngavell, perhaps on account of difficulties of assessment with the abbot. In 1491–2 the tax was paid for thirty-one burgesses, in 1507–8 for only ten. The fines of entrance during the 15th century varied up to 20s. It is probable that from 1254 the abbot received 4s. from each son of a burgess entering the gild and half the fine paid by a 'foreigner,' but there is no evidence on the subject until about the middle of the 15th century, after which there are many entries in the corporation diary, of which the two following are typical:—
'On Friday [May 5] next after the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross in the 9th year of King Edward IV came John Foulere to enter the Gild Hall and he gives for his fine xs. that is to the Gild Hall vs. and to the Abbey vs. and to the repairing of the Gild [Hall] xld.' (fn. 131)
'The same day [27 Sep. 1510] came Nicholas Nyclas the brewer and gives for his fine 4s. to the Lord Abbot and no more because he was the son of a comburgess.' (fn. 132)
The yearly expenditure of the gild usually nearly equalled the receipts, and was divided between such items as dues to the abbot, salaries to the officials and repairs to gild property. (fn. 133) Entries for repairs occur frequently: for instance, in 1427 both the bridge at Portmanbroke and the bridge at the gildhall required mending; in 1382 the hedges and ditches of Portmanbroke were carried away and had to be renewed at the expense of the gild. In 1508 it was the gildhall bell which needed attention. About the beginning of the 16th century the gildhall seems to have been rebuilt. (fn. 134)
In 1512 the trade of the town had so increased that two cofferers were elected with different functions —one to collect rents and dues of 'le beame pro yerne,' the other to have supervision of the wharf and wharfage and of 'le beame pro lana.' (fn. 135) In 1529 three cofferers were elected, and in 1535 four were found necessary for the wharf, the wool beam, the yarn beam and for rents respectively. (fn. 136)
At the beginning of the 15th century the mayoralty was endowed with lands, tenements and rents, but this arrangement was found to be inconvenient, and in 1429 it was agreed that instead of this endowment the mayor should yearly receive 5 marks out of the common chest of the gild at the hands of the treasurers. (fn. 137) Out of this money he was to provide for the entertainment of the king's justices and of the abbot's steward and to defray all other expenses required of his office by the honour of the town and gild. A little later the salary of the mayor was increased to 100s. per annum. (fn. 138) In 1476 it was reduced to £4; in 1508 he is found receiving the old salary of 5 marks, and ten years later it was decreed that 'the Mayor for the time beynge and by the Lord Abbott of Redyng elect and chosen yerely shall have and receive by the hands of the Cofferers for the tyme beynge the hole yerely rent of the Mede called Portmanbroke towards the supportacion of his office and charges over and besydes his fee of 5 marks accustomed.' (fn. 139)
It appears that the burgesses attempted to obtain offices by the help of powerful persons, perhaps sometimes the Abbot of Reading, for in 1449 the following decree was made:—
'It is agreed by the mayor and the whole community that no one of them shall endeavour to obtain a letter from any lord or from any other stranger to help him to obtain any office the election to which is in the whole community under pain of a fine of 100s.' (fn. 140)
On the other hand a burgess duly 'put in election for to be Maire' could not withdraw himself or attempt to get himself excused without forfeiting 40s. and rendering himself liable to have his 'franches seisid.' (fn. 141)
The beginnings of craft gilds in Reading may be traced in the associations of draparii and vinetarii men tioned in 1242. (fn. 142) In the MS. called the 'Puncta Gilde' groups of traders, as tanners, shoemakers and butchers, are mentioned, whose affairs were regulated and whose interests were watched over by the gild merchant. (fn. 143) In 1444 two wardens of the shoemakers were elected at the meetings of the mayor and burgesses, at the same time as the wardens of High Ward and New Ward (fn. 144); in 1448 two wardens of the merchants, who seem to have formed another gild, were elected in the same way, (fn. 145) and in the following year the wardens of the shoemakers were elected 'by the mayor and whole community.' (fn. 146) About the same time, under the auspices of the mayor, two wardens were appointed for four groups of tradesmen—the weavers, the millers, the shoemakers and the tanners (fn. 147); in 1464 the wardens of the art 'de Fullers craft' were elected and sworn in before William Lynacre, at that time mayor. (fn. 148)
Up to the time of the dissolution of the abbey the number of burgesses in the gild never reached fifty, and thus as the town grew in wealth and inhabitants it became more and more an aristocratic body. It seems almost certain that every man in Reading who was not a burgess of the gild was technically a 'foreigner.' (fn. 149) As late as 1507 the word is applied to anyone entering the gild who was not the son of a burgess. Nevertheless it is probable that the craft gilds included members who were not burgesses or brethren of the gild merchant, and these may have had special privileges. A distinction perhaps was also drawn between an inhabitant or native of the town and a stranger. In 1445 the mayor and commonalty decreed that no burgess or any other should receive an 'extraneus' coming with corn into his house before he had been to the corn market. (fn. 150)
The 'Puncta Gilde' gives many instances of the restrictions on foreigners. (fn. 151) No foreigner was to buy on a market day 'devant la tierce s'il ne soit haut homme.' No foreigners were to bring leather to Reading market except on fair days. No shoemaker who was not in the 'Fraunche gylde' was to make shoes 'en fourme por tant soulement de seet pouz.' No foreigners were to sell 'en marche tiele launga ne lynge par tayle por tant soulement en terme.' In the 15th century foreigners compounded with the gild for the right to trade in the borough. (fn. 152) In 1424–5 17s. 4d. was received in fines from foreigners as well as 31s. from butchers. There are many entries on the account rolls of this period of sums received from persons 'that they might remain in the town outside the gild.' (fn. 153)
The gild merchant regulated all trade in the town; some of the regulations of the 'Puncta Gilde' were sanitary, as that which ordered that the carcase of an animal which had died suddenly should be burned, (fn. 154) others regulated the manufacture of goods, as that which forbade that cloth should be made with 'burlee' mixed in the wool. (fn. 155) In 1443 the mayor and burgesses forbade any barber to keep his shop open after 'x of the clok in the nyght betweyn Estre and Mychaelmasse ne aftre ix of the clok in the nyght from Mychaelmasse to Estre bot hyf hit be eny straunger ore eny worthy man of the toune that hath nede' (fn. 156); the penalty for transgression was the payment of a certain number of tiles to the gildhall. In 1464 the butchers of the town refused to make use of the municipal 'Scleynge house' in Gutter Lane, whereupon 'the Meyre and Burgeys of Geylde Hall in Redinge' agreed that no burgess of the gild 'schalle bye of no bochere dwellynge in the seyd toune no manere flessche … tyl the tyme that the seyd bocheres acordythe to sclee theyre flessche in the Scleynge house.' (fn. 157)
The fair on St. Lawrence's Day fell into desuetude perhaps as early as the reign of Edward I (fn. 158); certainly it had been given up before the middle of the 15th century. The two fairs of St. James and St. Philip and St. James were favourite times for the settling up of debts (fn. 159); market day was probably Saturday. (fn. 160) In 1507 it was determined that for the fine of chepyngavell the burgesses might freely buy and sell in the shops, houses, fairs and markets of the town; all other inhabitants of the town paid dues to the abbot. The measures used in the town were in the hands of the mayor and bailiffs, and were assessed by six legal men of the town. (fn. 161)
The 'Puncta Gilde' bears witness to the importance of the cloth trade in Reading in the 13th century, and in a 14th-century list of English towns and their characteristics 'Teule de Radinges' appears. (fn. 162) The clothing trade continued to be the chief trade of Reading, so that on the eve of the Reformation Leland wrote 'the toun chiefly stondith by clothing.' (fn. 163) In 1510 out of nineteen burgesses who paid their fines for entering the gild merchant ten were either drapers, weavers, fullers or tailors. The gild merchant sometimes, perhaps, about this time found difficulty in completely controlling the craftsmen who may have been supported by the abbot, whose policy it was to encourage the commonalty of the town at the expense of the burgesses. (fn. 164) Henry VII confirmed the town charters in 1487; he added new privileges, one of which was the exemption of the mayor and burgesses from serving on juries, another was the grant to the mayor for the time being of the supervision of the cloth-workers. In 1520 Henry VIII confirmed the articles for the regulation of the weavers' trade; as in the case of the election of the mayor of the town, each year three persons were to be presented to the abbot, from whom he was to select one to be keeper of the seal for sealing the cloth. (fn. 165)
At the beginning of the 14th century Reading covered about the same area as at the beginning of the 19th, but, as in most mediaeval towns, there were many open spaces (fn. 166); the 'mede at the vii Brygge' is mentioned as late as the reign of Henry VII; in or near it was a vineyard. (fn. 167)
Each trade had its special quarter (fn. 168); Shoemakers' Row, which is mentioned in the reign of Edward II, was on the east side of the present market-place. (fn. 169) As late as the 16th century all shoes made in Reading had to be made in this place. (fn. 170) The eastern part of the present Broad Street was occupied by two narrow streets or rows, Cheese Row on the north, which was known by this name as early as 1272, (fn. 171) but which later became Fish Row, where certainly in the 16th century, and probably much earlier, the common beam was kept; and Butchers' Row on the south, which may be identified with the out-butchery. (fn. 172) Near by was the slaying-house of the gild in Gutter Lane, (fn. 173) a small street leading into New Street, which is mentioned by this name in 1272. (fn. 174) The Loriners dwelt certainly at one time in the present Hosier Street, for Lurkman Lane, by which name it was long known, is a corruption of Lormery Lane. (fn. 175) The Herbytery was in High Street; perhaps in the ancient Synkarstrete mentioned in the reign of Edward I we may see the abode of the sievemakers. High Street was the principal street; it led from the market-place southward to 'le hye Brugge' over the Kennet, spanning the Holy Brook on its way by means of 'le smalebrugge.' (fn. 176) It was thus of considerable length instead of being, as at present, one of the most insignificant streets in the town; beyond the High Bridge it bore, as now, the name of London Street. The High Bridge was the commercial centre of the town. It is first mentioned by the name of 'Altus Pons' in a document of about 1230 (fn. 177); sometimes it appears as 'Magnus Pons.' To the north-east of it was the common wharf, which is mentioned as being in this position in the reign of Henry VI, and which no doubt was there much earlier; adjoining was the wharf-house. (fn. 178) The gildhall from its first appearance in the history of the town in the reign of Henry III stood a little to the west of the High Bridge on the north bank of the Kennet; it was situated on a piece of ground between the Holy Brook and another still smaller branch of the river, which latter stream was spanned by 'Le Gildhall Brygge'; near by was Minster Mill. The approach to the gildhall on the west was by what is now a mere alley, which no doubt was an important street in the days when it led to the civic centre of the town. Minster Street, out of which it leads, is mentioned in the reign of Henry III. The top of Minster Street was known as Tothill, in which at one time Richard le Pig held a tenement. (fn. 179) Old Street stretched up towards the Seven Bridges, and already before the middle of the 14th century part of it was known as Wood Street; beyond the bridges it was Horner Street, mentioned in 1272. (fn. 180) The name of Seven Bridges, which has fallen into disuse almost within living memory, is found in the reign of Edward I. (fn. 181) The Seven Bridges and London Street were connected by Mill Lane, which is mentioned in the reign of Edward III, and which still bears its ancient name. (fn. 182) Castle Street is mentioned in the reign of Henry III, and Grope Lane, a small street near St. Mary's Church, finds a place in a rent roll of 1347. (fn. 183)
Reading was divided into wards certainly as early as 1240. (fn. 184) At this date High Ward, New Ward, and London Ward are mentioned, which, together with Old Ward and Minster or Castle Ward, made up the five ancient wards of the town. (fn. 185) High Ward in the 14th century was much the richest, including as it did the rich and busy quarter round the wharf. By this time the markets seem to have been entirely transferred to their present position, leaving the old market near St. Mary's without trade; consequently this part of the town was declining in wealth. In 1364 Old Ward was already the poorest of the five wards, while New Ward, part of which was near the abbey, seems to have been increasing in wealth. This process continued until in 1548 the parish of St. Lawrence, which grew up at the gates of the abbey, and much of which was in the abbot's demesne, had 1,000 housling folk, while those of St. Mary and St. Giles had but 500 apiece. (fn. 186)
The streets of mediaeval Reading were adorned by a number of crosses: Fair Cross, which was in London Street, and is mentioned in the reign of Edward II, (fn. 187) Cornish Cross, Gerard's Cross, which was not far from the gildhall, and Coley Cross, like others, may have marked the boundary of the borough. (fn. 188) Cornish Cross and Coley Cross are mentioned after the Reformation in a survey of the town. (fn. 189)
In the words of Leland, 'there is no manner of token that ever the town of Reading was wallid.' (fn. 190) Reading was a commercial town dependent upon its religious houses and upon its clothing trade. The River Kennet there is divided into two streams, the smaller of which, the Holy Brook, runs through the abbey grounds. In the middle of the town 'diverse armelettes' break out of the two streams, which waters were 'very commodious for diers.' There were a large number of bridges, all of them apparently of wood, for whose repair the abbot, as lord of the town, was responsible, which duty he sometimes neglected. The gild merchant was responsible for the Gildhall Bridge and also for the bridge at Portmanbroke. (fn. 191)
It is probable that the boundaries of the borough were marked by bars. A cottage in Castle Street 'extra barras' is mentioned in the reign of Henry VIII; on the north-east the town was bounded by the great establishment of the abbey, in whose outer court, known as the Forbury, the fairs were held. (fn. 192)
Battle Lane, which perhaps takes its name from the ancient estate of Battle Abbey, is mentioned in a document of about 1431. The same Henry Kelsall who left money to rebuild the gildhall also left 40s. for the amending of the way 'called Ort Lane next to Redinge.' (fn. 193) On the north-west the borough stretched as far as Caversham Bridge (fn. 194) or Pons Rading ultra Tamisiam, which is mentioned in 1231. (fn. 195)
In 1405 Richard Abbot of Reading granted to the burgesses of Reading and also to any stranger to have 'passage with their bote and other vessels called showte reasonably charged with merchandise or victaille' between 'sun rysing and the sun going downe and not otherwise from the greate Ryver callid Thames thorowe the severall waters of the said Abbot and Convent callid Kenett which encloseth thone part of the said Abbey unto the high Bridge of the Towne of Redyng.' A special toll was to be paid as well as 'customs and penyes dewe to the said Abbot and Convent and ther successors of goodes and merchandise laid on ther grund withyn the precincts of there lordschippe of Radyng.' It was to be unlawful 'to any person with showte or bote withyn the said severall waters to make any play, riott or noyse which might turn to the prejudice damage or disease of the said Abbot and Convent or of their successors.' (fn. 196)
During the time that Thomas Henley was abbot (1430–45) there is evidence of disputes between the abbey and the burgesses. (fn. 197) This abbot took into his own hands the out-butchery of the town, which was situate in the present Broad Street, and which the gild claimed, and it is probable that these disputes arose out of this confiscation. In 1440 articles of peace between the abbey and the gild were drawn up, but the out-butchery was not restored. (fn. 198) Ten years later the quarrel broke out again and some of the burgesses journeyed to London and Canterbury to show the evidences of the gildhall. The gild also consulted Lyttelton, the famous lawyer.
In 1453 Henry VI was in Reading, and it was probably on this occasion that he granted to the mayor leave to have a mace borne before him, and a few years later, in 1458, the cofferers of the gild paid 3s. 4d. to Richard Goldsmyth 'for makynge of a mace.' (fn. 199) However, the vigilance of Reading Abbey discovered in this permission an infringement of its privileges, and the king hastened to write a letter to the warden of the gild ordering him to forbear the use of the mace and reminding him that it had only been granted 'so that it be no prejudiciall unto our Churche and Monasterie of Redyng.' (fn. 200) That it was so he was persuaded by 'shewing of evidences and credible reports' which clearly proved that no one had any right 'for to have any mase or eny other signe of office' within the town and franchise of Reading except the bailiff of the abbot, who was entitled to bear two tipped staves.
When in 1487 Henry VII confirmed the charters of the town he granted to the mayor the right to have two mace serjeants. (fn. 201) On this occasion the abbot seems to have made no remonstrance.
The disputes continued with Henley's successor, John Thorne, who ruled from 1445 to 1486, and who so abused his office that when Edward IV came to Reading he was memorialized against him for 'chapells and bridges misordered.' (fn. 202) Under his successor, who bore the same name, the long working discontent produced in 1488 an open breach between the town and the abbey.
The protagonist of the burgesses was one Richard Cleche, a draper by profession and a man of considerable wealth, living in St. Lawrence's parish, (fn. 203) who entered the gild in 1475. He was not the son of a burgess, as he paid an entrance fine of 10s.; he gave the unusually large sum of 3s. 4d. for a feast. He was mayor for the year 1487–8. (fn. 204) At this time Abbot John Thorne II, who had recently entered on his office, is said to have made large promises to him, saying that the mayor should henceforth be a justice of the peace within the borough, that he should be allowed to have the mace to be borne before him, and that other privileges should be granted. Cleche relied on his word and urged him to fulfil his promises speedily, pointing out 'that oon of his brethren Thomas Bye had seyd unto hym that as soon as we should have all your seyd promyse performyd he wold all so sone take downe the wedyr-cock with hys honde.' (fn. 205) 'Cleche,' replied the abbot, 'tryst this to me: be my Presthode hit shall be performed by Michelmas next cummynge with God's grace.' 'Ze, my lord,' answered Cleche, and he went away to discover before long the wisdom of Bye's remark.
In 1492 three burgesses, of whom Cleche was one, were as usual presented as candidates for the mayoralty. (fn. 206) For some unknown reason the abbot refused to make his election, and for five years the town seems to have been without a regularly constituted chief magistrate. It was probably in 1496 that the abbot appointed as keeper of the gild Cristin Nicholas, a burgess, who though he is found acting against him seems to have been more acceptable than his fellows. It does not appear that the burgesses had any share in this appointment, though Nicholas seems in some measure to have exercised his office. No sooner, however, was the year out than the burgesses proceeded to elect a mayor without reference to the abbot. The following highly rebellious entry occurs in the corporation diary (fn. 207) :—
To be shewid that in the Monday [Oct. 23] next before the fest of th' Appostelles Symone & Jude in the xijth yere of the reigne of our sovereigne leage lord Kynge Henry VIIth in theire Assomulacioun in the Gildhaule there of their fre election, that is to say John Baxstere Richard Cleche and Thomas By [by] one assent and one graunte these Burgeis as foluynge and under wretyne, there beynge present in the day and yere aforeseid, have chosyne to theire Master, fore one hole yere, Johne Baxstere aforseid to be Master of the Gilde there and to all such londes & tenementes that be perteynge or belongynge to the seid Gilde.
'John Abbot of the monastery of Reading and lord of the town of Reading' sued the rebellious burgesses with Richard Cleche at their head in the court of King's Bench. His complaints included, besides the election of Baxter to the mayoralty, the making by the burgesses of constables, bailiffs and a clerk of the market. The result of the case is not known. (fn. 208)
During Baxter's tenure of office it was decreed that the burgesses should be obedient to the master of the gild as they had been of old to the mayor. (fn. 209) It was probably thought by the burgesses that their position would be strengthened if the chief officer of the gild were not known by a title to which his claim was doubtful and which irritated the abbot. The title magister gildae was probably considered equivalent to that of custos gildae, which was legalized by the fine of 1254.
The following year (1498) Cristin Nicholas was chosen by the burgesses out of three previously elected burgesses to be major gilde (fn. 210); two constables were also appointed. In 1499 three burgesses were again elected, of whom the burgesses chose Richard Cleche to be mayor, without reference to the abbot. The following entries in the corporation diary are no doubt aimed at the partisans of the abbot:—
'… if there be any Burgeis, to the seid gild belongyng … do any otherwise than concernyng to his hoth he owt to do, and so duly provid, that thanne he to be put forth out of the Gilde aforesaid & openly shamed and so to be drevyn out or flonge out, and if nede shuld requyre to turne by his helis and to make picter of his person and superscribe the name over his person.' (fn. 211)
The second has more explicit reference to the question at issue:—
'If any Burgeis take upon hym to take any office, as Constabull or Wardayn or any other office, except they be of the eleccion and choyse of the Mayor and his Comburgensis, that any of them so doing at any tyme to be put owt of the seid Gild in manner and forme aforesaid.'
Cleche showed that this was no empty threat by immediately discharging two constables who had been appointed by the abbot. (fn. 212)
The abbot at this audacious conduct issued a bill of complaint, but Cleche at once replied to it. He said that he had 'never laboured against the liberties and franchises' of the abbey, but 'to his symple power' was 'as gladde of the good prosperities thereof as any tenant the seid abbot hath.' He acknowledged that 'he took upon him to be mayor,' but he justified his action on the ground that 'there hath byn used tyme out of mynde to be hadde an officer called Master of the Gilde oderwise called the Mayre which hath been used to be hadde for the good rule and governance of the town.' This officer had not been appointed 'by the space of iij or iiij yeres last passed in default of the seid abbote to the grete hurte and damages of the inhabitants ther dwelling.' He had been elected, he pleaded, by the burgesses in the gildhall on the accustomed day, the Friday before Michaelmas, an election which was all the more necessary 'inasmuch as before the time of Christmas last passed mysruled peple dayly encresed and contynued and cardes dises hasarden vacaband and many oder unlawfull gamys in the seid Towne were used as well by nyght as by day.' Cleche went on to defend his conduct in dismissing the constables appointed by the abbot and in choosing others to take their place. The abbot's nominees, he said, were simple persons unfit for the duties of the constablewick, and therefore he and the other burgesses had been compelled to appoint constables 'to helpe to see mysruled people punished during the seid tyme of Christmas.' Finally he repelled the odious aspersion that he and his adherents had riotously broken the stocks of the town (which were made and repaired by the burgesses, but of which apparently the abbot kept the key) and then had had new keys made. The truth was that the lock of the stocks was found to be insufficient, and that those to whom the abbot had entrusted the keys refusing to give them up, he, Cleche, and his adherents in the purest public spirit had caused a new lock to be made. (fn. 213)
The next year (1499) peace was so far restored between the abbey and the gild that the burgesses elected three of their number of whom the abbot, as of old, chose one to be mayor. (fn. 214) This arrangement continued until the dissolution of the abbey, except in the year 1509, when apparently the abbot again refused to appoint a mayor. (fn. 215)
It was during this quarrel that the question of the seizure of the out-butchery was revived, and in connexion with this matter the general relation of the borough and the gild to the abbey was discussed. Two documents of great interest have been preserved; one is entitled 'The Compleynt of the Gardeyn and Burges of the Gild Merchant of Redyng,' the other is 'The Answer of the Abbot and Convent to this Compleynt.' (fn. 216) The idea of corporation was at that time very prominent in the minds of lawyers, and the burgesses urged that 'the Town of Reding is an ancient borough,' and 'that they have been and be corporat by the name of the Gardeyn and Burges of the Gylde Merchant of Redyng by the tyme that no mynde is,' and that in right of this gild merchant they had been seised of the out-butchery of which Abbot Henley had dispossessed them. To 'approve and ratifie the Corporation of the Borough of Reding ' they appealed to the fine of record (1254) and to the following evidences: 1. The possession of a wharf, common beam and weights. 2. The possession of an inn called the Shambles of Fish and (until recently) of the out-butchery. 3. The patronage of the Coley chantry held by the mayor. (fn. 217) 4. The constant privilege of sending two burgesses to Parliament. 5. Freedom from toll, shire and hundred granted by Royal Letters Patent. 6. Possession of a common seal. 7. The charge of the reparation of the stocks.
The abbot and convent attacked the claim of the burgesses on technical grounds by saying that the fine of record was levied between the abbot and the steward and burgesses of Reading, and that therefore at that time the 'town was not corporate by the name of warden and burgesses.' (fn. 218) The other arguments of the burgesses are answered one by one, in several cases by the plea that the privileges had only been allowed by sufferance of the abbot. In 1507 the 'variauncey and greviences' which had been pending between the gild and the abbot for nineteen years were referred by Christin Nicholas, then mayor, Richard Cleche and Thomas Carpenter, with the consent of all the burgesses of the gild, to the Lord Privy Seal, Fox, Bishop of Winchester, and to Daubeney, Lord Chamberlain to the king, who referred the matter to Sir Robert Rede and John Kingsmill, justices of the Common Bench at Westminster. (fn. 219) These lawyers, after examining the evidences, declared 'the seid Maire and Burgessez of the seid Gilde Merchante to be corporat.' The other questions at issue were decided by the four arbitrators. The mayor was to be chosen according to the existing arrangement, but provision was made that in case of the abbot's absence from Reading for more than eight days after Michaelmas the three elected burgesses should present themselves before the prior, chamberer or sub-chamberer, who should choose one to be mayor. Regulations were also made following the lines of those of the fine of 1254 for the making of burgesses and the payment of chepyngavell; the wardsmen and constables were to be chosen by the keeper of the gild, the burgesses and 'the comenaltie of howseholders of the seide toune.' One constable and five wardens were to be burgesses, the other constable and the other wardens were to be 'able persons of the Comynalte at large being no burgeis of the gilde.' By this arrangement the gild merchant lost the exclusive right of appointing the officers of the town, for which it had struggled for so long. The question of the out-butchery was not settled; it was deferred that further evidence might be taken. Judgement was given in 1525 by Thomas Englefield and Thomas Luke, but in what sense is not known. (fn. 220)
Further difficulties arose as to the making of the mayor and of 'a burgess within the borough of Reading.' These difficulties, which seem to have come from the fact that owing to the recent troubles there were but five fully qualified burgesses in the town, (fn. 221) were finally settled by an Order in Council of 1510. (fn. 222) After this settlement a number of burgesses were sworn in at a court of Portmote by the substeward of the abbey and their fines assessed by six burgesses. The number of burgesses having reached fifty-five it was agreed the next year (1511) by the whole body that twenty-four of them should be set apart as the secret council of the mayor. Richard Cleche was among the twenty-four chosen, as was the mayor for the year, William White. (fn. 223)
In 1528 Henry VIII granted to the mayor and burgesses of Reading a licence in mortmain to acquire possessions to the annual value of £5. (fn. 224)
The long struggle which the gild had waged with the abbey had not been without result; the burgesses had forced an acknowledgement that their gild was a corporation; they had obtained the right of choosing for mayor such of their fellow burgesses as they might please, leaving to the abbot only the right of selection from such candidates as they might present to him. Moreover, the mayor had made good his claim to have borne before him the insignia of office. The abbot had been forced to relinquish his claim to appoint the constables and guardians of the wards, and in the 16th century the ballivi seem to have lost much of their importance. (fn. 225) The mayor was permitted to hold a weekly court, of which the profits belonged to the burgesses. (fn. 226) The common beam and wharf seem from the beginning to have been in the hands of the burgesses. But notwithstanding these victories the last Abbot of Reading preserved intact most of the privileges which had been granted to the first. His deputy presided at the Portmote court and took the profits of justice; his were the view of frankpledge, the two fairs and the market. (fn. 227) From each burgess he exacted the fine of chepyngavell, while from the gild merchant he took all the dues settled by the fine of 1254; his were the churches, the mills and the fisheries of the town; he was 'lord of Reading.' On the eve of the dissolution of the monastery the Bishop of Salisbury annoyed Thomas Cromwell by calling the Mayor of Reading 'the abbot's mayor.' (fn. 228)
The last mayor appointed under the old system was Thomas Mirth, who in 1538 was selected from the three presented candidates by Hugh Faringdon, last Abbot of Reading. (fn. 229) When at the following Michaelmas the burgesses again met together to make a new election Reading Abbey had fallen, and the town after more than four centuries of monastic rule had reverted to the Crown. Thomas Cromwell had been appointed steward of the borough and liberty, and with his consent the mayor and burgesses elected Richard Justice mayor for the following year. Justice took the oath to Vachell, the under steward. (fn. 230) In 1540 Sir William Penyson was appointed by the king chief steward of the borough of Reading and bailiff of the hundred of the town of Reading. Vachell was also appointed bailiff of the town of Reading. (fn. 231) At Michaelmas 1640 the burgesses elected three of their number, of whom Penyson and Vachell selected William Edwardes to be mayor (fn. 232); at the next election Vachell alone made the selection. (fn. 233)
Henry VIII was in Reading in 1540, on which occasion the mayor and burgesses petitioned for a charter of incorporation. Penyson and Vachell were sent to inquire into the liberties of the town, and in 1542 the new charter was given. The mayor and burgesses were incorporated under the title of the mayor and burgesses of Reading, so that the borough technically passed from under the control of that body, which in one aspect was the gild merchant, and which thus fell almost at the same time as its ancient enemy the abbey. (fn. 234) Richard Turner, whom John London had described in a letter to Cromwell as a 'very honest man,' was appointed the first mayor under the charter. (fn. 235) The mayor for the time being was to be a justice of the peace and clerk of the market. The appointment of the mayor was to be in the burgesses alone, and the mayor and burgesses were to elect all the officers of the town except the bailiffs. All the property which the gild had held was confirmed to the new corporation, and at the special request of the mayor and other prominent burgesses the church of 'Lez Greyffreres' was granted to serve as a new town hall in place of the small and inconvenient house by the river, where the deliberations of the burghers were disturbed by the noise of women who came to wash clothes in the Kennet. (fn. 236) The mayor and burgesses were granted the power 'to call name choose and constitute burgeses' of Reading 'all and singular men inhabityng within the same borough,' which privilege they so availed themselves of that not only was the corporation inconvenienced by paying chepyngavell for forty and more burgesses, but so great a number 'of diverce and sundry mindes qualites and condicions' rendered the meetings of the hall unruly and tended to the betrayal of secrets. (fn. 237) In 1548 it was decreed that no more burgesses should be made until death had decreased the number to below thirty. Thirty was to remain the normal number, seven of whom were to be of the bench. (fn. 238) This order was made void in 1554.
In 1540 the tolls and profits of the two fairs were granted to Sir William Penyson for forty years, and in 1545 the king granted a large quantity of property in the town formerly belonging to the abbey to William Grey of London. This grant was the foundation of the influence of the Blagrave family in Reading. (fn. 239) Another large grant was made to Thomas Vachell. (fn. 240)
In 1548 the manor and borough together with the fairs of Reading were granted by Edward VI to his uncle the Duke of Somerset (fn. 241); at his attainder they reverted to the Crown. It is probable that the name of Duke Street, which about this time began to be applied to the southern part of High Street, is a memorial of his lordship of Reading. In 1552 Edward VI, who in 1547 had confirmed the charter which his father had given to the borough, came to Reading (fn. 242); he was met at Coley Cross by the mayor, Thomas Aldeworth, 'accompanyed with the substance of th' enhabitants of the seid towne as well Burgesses as others in ther best apparelles.' (fn. 243) Aldeworth, kneeling, kissed the mace and then delivered it to the king, who graciously returned it, after which ceremony an usher appointed by the mayor rode before the king 'through the towne into the Kynges place.' As it was Edward's first visit to the town two yoke of oxen were presented to him. Two years later Queen Mary and her husband, Philip of Spain, visited Reading, and were received with similar honours. (fn. 244)
There is no doubt that the disappearance of the abbey was for a time a blow to the prosperity of Reading. The Crown, on which fell the duties formerly discharged by the abbey, was so negligent that the nineteen bridges of the town were suffered to fall into such decay that trade was thereby gravely injured; houses were falling into ruin. The town must also have suffered from the removal of the large monastic household and of the confluence of people which it attracted, the more so because, like most ecclesiastical towns, it had always had an undue proportion of poor inhabitants. (fn. 245) In 1546 the corporation was so poor that it borrowed £6 of the churchwardens of St. Lawrence. In 1554, either from poverty or bad management, it had allowed its house property, from which it derived most of its rent, to fall into disrepair. (fn. 246) In 1546 the mayor's fee was reduced from £10 to £8 yearly until the hall should be out of debt.
On 23 September 1560 Elizabeth gave a new charter to Reading. It recited and confirmed the charters and liberties formerly granted to the town, and incorporated the mayor and burgesses under the title of the mayor and burgesses of the borough of Reading. The burgesses were divided into capital or head burgesses, of whom there were to be nine, and secondary burgesses, of whom there were to be twelve. The outgoing mayor and the head burgesses were to nominate three of their number, of whom one was to be elected mayor by a majority of the body formed by the outgoing mayor, the residue of the head burgesses and the secondary burgesses.
The Crown, having regard to the decayed state of Reading, granted to the corporation the assize of bread, ale, wine and other victuals, the profits of the Portmote court, much property in the town which had belonged to various monasteries and chantries, the profits of the market (which was fixed to be held on Saturday), of the two ancient fairs of St. Philip and St. James and St. James, and of two new fairs to be held on the eve, feast and morrow of St. Matthew and of the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, together with a court of pie-powder. The ancient dues of 6s. 8d. per annum for the gildhall and of chepyngavell were remitted, and the view of frankpledge was granted to the corporation. (fn. 247) In consideration of the privileges and property granted, the corporation was henceforth to be responsible for the repair of the bridges, and to this end a grant of wood and stone was made; the stone was to come from Reading Abbey. The charter defined the boundaries of the borough, which remained unchanged until the 19th century. (fn. 248)
This charter, together with the general prosperity of Elizabeth's reign, restored the well-being of Reading. Trade was flourishing, and about this time there were five trading companies, those of the Mercers and Drapers, the Cutlers and Bellfounders, the Tanners and Leather-sellers, the Clothiers and Cloth-workers and the Victuallers and Innholders. (fn. 249) Each company had minute rules for the regulation of trade; that of the clothiers was the most important. In the latter part of the 16th century great fortunes were sometimes made in the clothing trade at Reading, as in the case of John Kendrick. William Laud, who was born in Reading in 1593, was the son of a prosperous clothier of the town resident in a house on the north side of Broad Street. (fn. 250) Laud's biographer, Peter Heylin, speaks of Reading as 'the principal town of Berks for wealth and beauty: remarkable heretofore for a stately and magnificent Abbey … and no less eminent in these last ages for the trade of clothing the seminary of some families of gentry within that county: and of this trade his father was who kept not only many Lomes in his house but many weavers spinners and fullers at continuall work living in good esteem and reputation amongst his neighbours to the very last.' (fn. 251)
Queen Elizabeth paid several visits to Reading, staying in the abbey. The last was in 1602, when she attended service at St. Lawrence's Church, which was decked with flowers and rushes for the occasion. (fn. 252)
In 1604 James I granted a charter of incorporation to 'the weavers of woollen, the weavers of lynnen and other weavers in Reading,' who up to this time had formed part of the clothiers' company. The king named the wardens, of whom there were to be two, for the first year, after which they were to be elected by the company on St. Bartholomew's Day in each year. (fn. 253) This charter for some reason was not allowed to stand, as appears by the following entry in the corporation diary: 'At this daye (March 4 1605) the judgement exemplified under the great Seale against the Weavers' Charter was openly read in the Guildhall unto John Charleton and William Dibley two of the Master Weavers forbiddinge them and the rest of their company the weavers to use any authoritye supposed to be granted unto them by their charter within this Borough.' (fn. 254)
The town still had an undue proportion of poor inhabitants, due to the system of cutting up houses into tenements, by which means house property brought in higher rent to its owners to the detriment of the town. Many of the houses were thatched.
In 1620 the market-place was adorned by the building of Blagrave's Piazza or the church walk, an arcade which adjoined St. Lawrence's Church. It was built partly with money left by John blagrave of Southcote and partly with money furnished by the corporation. The demolition of this piazza in the middle of the 19th century caused much indignation in Reading. In 1628 the Oracle was built under the will of John Kendrick. This building, which stood at the corner of Minster Street and Gun Street, was intended to benefit the clothing trade, and in 1633 it was decreed by the corporation that, in order to prevent 'the frauds and deceits used in drapery within this borough of Reading,' all woollen clothes made within the town should be brought to the gate house of the Oracle, there to be 'searched sealed and measured.' (fn. 255)
Archbishop Laud took a great interest in Reading; it is said that he intended to anticipate future improvements by pulling down not only Back Lane and Sun Lane, which disappeared in 1760 to form the present King Street, but also Fisher Row and Butcher Row, which blocked up Broad Street and were only destroyed in the 19th century; but if he failed in this scheme of beautifying his birthplace he was more successful in granting to it solid benefits. Among the things which he noted in his diary 'to do if God bless me in them' was to obtain 'a charter for the town of Reading,' and he was able to add the word 'done.' (fn. 256) This, which was the governing charter of the borough until the 19th century, was granted by Charles I on 17 December 1638. (fn. 257) The borough was incorporated under the title of 'the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the borough of Reading in the county of Berks.' Under this charter the governing body consisted of twelve aldermen (who replaced the head burgesses of Elizabeth's charter) and twelve assistants (who replaced the former secondary burgesses); the mayor and aldermen nominated three persons of their own body for the office of mayor on the last Monday in August; the ten remaining aldermen together with the twelve assistants then elected one of the three aldermen who had been nominated; the charter granted a court of record for cases not exceeding £10; quarter sessions to be held yearly 'at the four times of the year' in the borough by the mayor and others; a mortmain licence of £500 per annum; all which privileges had been specially desired by the corporation. All former privileges and property were confirmed to the corporation, and in view of the great expense of the repair of bridges pontage was granted in the borough and a toll at Caversham Bridge. A special clause of the charter forbade the erection of cottages and the cutting up into tenements of larger houses, but this injunction was not attended to, and in 1833 the large number of small tenement dwellings in the town was remarked upon by the Municipal Commissioners.
In 1636, just before the giving of the new charter, Reading was described as 'the prime and principal town in this county of Berkshire for fair buildings large streets for cloathing and other blessings.' (fn. 258)
The grant of the charter of 1638 was the culminating point in the history of old Reading, but the decline in the prosperity of the town followed this event with startling suddenness. This was due partly to economic causes, since the depression in the cloth trade, already making itself felt, was if anything accelerated by the administration of Kendrick's charity, partly to the form of the charter itself, which perpetuated the government of the town in a small and self-electing corporation, but most of all to the political events of the time. Few towns can have suffered more than Reading from the outbreak of the Civil War. As soon as Oxford became the Royalist head quarters, Reading formed an outpost garrison, held first by one party and then by the other, coveted by both on account of its wealth and its situation. Its wealth laid it open to heavy exactions from both parties, which forced the corporation to mortgage the town lands and incur liabilities which crippled it for many years after the war had come to an end. Although the majority of the townspeople inclined perhaps to the Parliamentary cause, resenting the ship-money exactions, Reading does not seem to have been hotly partisan at the outbreak of the war, and as early as January 1642–3, after a few months of the war, the town joined in a petition with the county to the king and to both Houses of Parliament for an accommodation of their differences. (fn. 259) The neighbouring gentry, Sir Francis Knollys and his son, Tanfield Vachell, Sir John Blagrave and Daniel Blagrave were all Parliamentarians, while the chief members of the corporation, under the leadership of the Recorder, Sir Thomas Mainwaring and Anthony Brackston, were Royalists. The first move, however, was made by the Parliament, which sent Harry Martin, a knight of the shire, and afterwards one of the regicides, to secure the town and surrounding district. (fn. 260) Reading was then unfortified and peculiarly open to attack, but no effective efforts were made to fortify it, though posts and chains were set up in the streets and a mounted force was raised to act as scouts. (fn. 261) This availed little, and on the approach of a party of Royalist horse from Abingdon, at the end of October 1642, the governor and many of his supporters fled to Windsor and thence to London, saying with much truth that the 'Mayor and others of the chief of the Town were of the Malignant party,' and had intended to deliver it up to the Royalist army, and that if they had remained in Reading the Parliament would have been deprived of their arms and services. (fn. 262) The Royalists immediately entered the town and urged its permanent occupation, since it was an important post. The king at once appointed Sir Arthur Aston governor of Reading and garrisoned the town. He was in Reading himself on 3 November, where messengers from the Parliament found him, (fn. 263) but the negotiations came to nothing and the king pursued his march towards London. The events that led to his retreat are outside the history of Reading, to which the king returned on 14 November. He determined to keep Reading garrisoned, and did not leave until he had seen a line drawn round it and the fortifications well advanced. In the meantime he had borrowed £2,000 from the corporation. (fn. 264) Further the town had to bear the cost of the garrison of 2,000 foot and a regiment of horse, (fn. 265) to provide cloth and victuals for the king's army, (fn. 266) and find labourers for work on the fortifications. (fn. 267) Besides this all trade with London was prohibited. (fn. 268) The records of the meetings of the corporation at this time are full of devices to meet this vast expenditure, but in the January following the governor demanded another £2,000 for the king. (fn. 269) At the time of the first loan a list was given to Sir Arthur Aston of the names of all those who refused to pay their taxes, (fn. 270) and on this occasion he sent to the corporation at the royal command a list of several men who were to be taxed double for the new loan. (fn. 271) In February, however, the prohibition of the cloth trade with London was withdrawn, and the governor told the clothiers to procure their liberty from the Parliament as well. (fn. 272) Of the other events of the winter of 1642–3 in Reading, perhaps the most important was the trial by court-martial and the hanging of a certain London citizen named Boyes as a spy. (fn. 273) The governor was also accused by the Parliamentarians of other similar acts, but apparently without foundation. (fn. 274) Outside the town there had been but little fighting of any importance, although in January the Earl of Essex marched towards Reading and his artillery came as near as Caversham, whence he fired on the town, with, however, no result. (fn. 275) In March a truce was concluded lasting until 15 April, (fn. 276) and on the day the truce expired the Earl of Essex marched from Windsor and began the siege the same night. (fn. 277) The Parliamentary account describes Reading as 'a place strongly fortified with a deep ditch round and strong workes neare and remote,' (fn. 278) while Clarendon states that the 'fortifications were very mean to endure a formed siege, being made only to serve a winter quarter and never intended for a standing garrison.' (fn. 279) Essex had a large force and a well-equipped siege train, including two of the heaviest guns from the Tower of London, (fn. 280) and chose his time of attack with judgement, since Prince Rupert was away campaigning in the Midlands and King Charles had only a much weakened force with him at Oxford. (fn. 281) The chief fortifications, besides the ditch already mentioned, were at Mapledurham, near Sir Charles Blount's house, on Caversham Hill, a fort in the Forbury, probably the 'Fort Royal'; a second at Harrison's Barn, called the Invincible Fort, and a post on Castle Street Hill with an outwork on the Newbury Road, while the steeple of St. Giles's Church was utilized and guns mounted on it. (fn. 282) The Mapledurham post was taken on the first approach of the besieging army, and Essex, after crossing the Thames in safety by Caversham Bridge, took up his position on the west and south-west of the town. He summoned the garrison to surrender, but Sir Arthur Aston answered very resolutely that 'he would keep the town or starve in it.' (fn. 283) He further refused to allow the women and children to leave the town before the siege began. Essex placed his guns during the night of the 15th and immediately began the bombardment of the town, (fn. 284) taking up his head quarters at Sir John Blagrave's house at Southcote. (fn. 285) The bombardment did much damage in the town, not only to houses but also to St. Giles's steeple. (fn. 286)
On the 18th, however, when the ammunition of the garrison was beginning to run low, Lord Ruthven appeared on the Caversham hills on the north side of the Thames, (fn. 287) and from Sonning sent by boat 'a supply of 700 musketeers with six cart loads of Powder, Match and other kinds of Ammunition.' (fn. 288) The besieging force could do nothing, since they had not secured the hills to the north of the Thames, and had broken down Caversham Bridge (fn. 289) after crossing the river in the first instance. On the day following this success the garrison suffered their first serious misfortune; Sir Arthur Aston was inspecting one of the courts of guard, in the line of fortifications, when the roof was hit by one of the enemies' shot and a tile fell on him, incapacitating him for taking any active part, not only in the fighting, but in the direction of the defence. (fn. 290) The command devolved on Colonel Fielding, who sent word to the king that unless he was relieved within a week the town must be surrendered. His position was rendered more difficult by the approach of a second Parliamentary force under Lord Grey, which secured the northern and eastern sides of the town, though the new force appears to have been composed mainly of very raw recruits. (fn. 291) On the 22nd Lord Ruthven and Wilmot, the lieutenant-general of horse, made a second attempt to supply the besieged town with ammunition. (fn. 292) One Flower, a servant of Sir Lewis Dives, swam across the Thames and gave Fielding information of the Royalist general's plans, but on his attempt to return to the Oxfordshire side he was taken prisoner by Essex's men, and the plan thus became known to the Parliamentary generals. An ambush was laid for the relief party, but a determined stand was made by Lord Carnarvon and some horse while the foot and ammunition were being withdrawn. (fn. 293) On the 24th Lord Grey's men were within pistol shot of Harrison's Barn, and Colonel Fielding decided that he could no longer hold out. (fn. 294) On the morning of 25 April a white flag was hung out and a parley was held. Three hostages were given on each side, and Essex and Fielding agreed on the articles of capitulation. (fn. 295) In the meantime, however, King Charles, having received the very peremptory demands for relief made by the garrison, (fn. 296) had collected all his available forces and marched from Oxford. The relief force, commanded by Prince Rupert and the Earl of Forth, arrived at Caversham on the same day that Colonel Fielding had hung out his white flag. (fn. 297) Prince Rupert, expecting help from the garrison, with a small force attacked Caversham Bridge, (fn. 298) and seems before returning to have thrown into the besieged town sixteen barrels of powder, which were of much assistance in obtaining better terms. (fn. 299) Fielding, having begun negotiations, took no part in this fight. During the night he left the garrison and came safely to Charles's quarters, and there discussed the terms he had obtained. (fn. 300) According to Clarendon's account, the king and his officers were only too ready to accept the excellent terms agreed upon, since the Royalist army was much inferior to that under Essex's command. (fn. 301) Reading was practically untenable owing to its position, while the men, ammunition and ordnance shut up in the town would be far more valuable if joined with the main army. Fielding returned to the town, and the following day it was agreed that the Royalist army might march out with flying colours, arms and four pieces of ordnance, ammunition, bag and baggage, lighted match, bullet in mouth, drums beating and trumpet sounding, and join the king at Oxford, and, further, that the inhabitants and others of the town should not be prejudiced. On the following day as the Royalists marched out at Friars Corner the Parliamentarians marched in at the same place. (fn. 302) The governor, Sir Arthur Aston, was carried out first 'in a horselitter covered with red and lined with white, after him both coaches and wagons, and then Horse and Foot beate a March and so departed with their (White, Blew and Red) Colours flying towards Oxford by Casum Church.' (fn. 303) Only two regiments of the garrison had left the town when the Parliamentary soldiers began to plunder the baggage wagons and then the town itself, (fn. 304) and though Essex promised each man 12s. to stop the pillaging, and rode up and down the streets of Reading all day, enough was done to cause a great deal of ill-feeling, and, as Clarendon records, the breach of the terms of surrender became a precedent throughout the war. (fn. 305) The inhabitants of Reading gained little from the close of the siege. Essex and his army remained near the town for about six weeks, (fn. 306) being unable to move for lack of funds, and most of the officers, as well as Sir John Meldrum's regiment, were quartered in the town itself. (fn. 307) The town records are practically silent throughout the summer of 1643. Few townsmen wished to occupy any prominent position, and in the August elections two men at least refused to take the oaths of their office, (fn. 308) and a third, who had frequently refused to come to the corporation meetings, offered to pay a fine to be discharged from his office of alderman. (fn. 309) While the town remained in the hands of the Parliament it contributed to the fortification of Wallingford, for which a thirty weeks' tax was charged on the townspeople, £20 on Coley Farm and £10 on Battle Farm. (fn. 310) In September, however, Reading was again the centre of the military operations. On the 20th the first battle of Newbury was fought, (fn. 311) and Essex marched to London, but Prince Rupert was able to harass his march in the narrow lanes near Reading. (fn. 312) The main body of the Parliamentary army, however, reached Reading in safety. After two days the general pursued his march to London, (fn. 313) and Reading was immediately occupied by the royal forces, and a garrison of 3,000 foot and 500 horse, under the command of Sir Jacob Astley, was established. (fn. 314) The old exactions immediately began. Reading was assessed at a monthly contribution to the king, the governor was allowed £7 a week and the fortifications were rebuilt. (fn. 315) The work for the latter was pressed on, every householder being ordered to pay a fine of 12d. for every day he failed to work, and other labourers were hired at 8d. a day. (fn. 316) In the spring of 1643–4 (fn. 317) Reading was again in danger of a siege, the inhabitants being ordered to lay in three months' provisions for their families. (fn. 318) Part of the garrison was drawn off for service with Hopton's force, and the townsmen had to fill the vacancies and keep the necessary watch and ward. (fn. 319) In April an attack on Reading was continuously expected, but though information was received of the march of a force from London, with Reading as its objective, the presence of the Earl of Forth and the Royalist army between Reading and Wallingford prevented any immediate attack. (fn. 320) The earl was at Cholsey on 11 May, and probably reached Reading the next day. (fn. 321) Two days later Charles himself came to Reading, where he mustered the foot soldiers and made a speech announcing that Essex's forces were then on the march and would probably try to take Reading. (fn. 322) He ordered the works to be slighted and the town deserted, letting 'all such of his good subjects as were willing to be freed from the power of the Parliament's forces' to migrate to Oxford. (fn. 323)
The decision to evacuate the town was made necessary by the presence of Essex's army of 10,000 men at Windsor and Waller with nearly an equal force at Basing. (fn. 324) The works were slighted in three days, and then the king and his army marched to Oxford. (fn. 325) Reading was immediately occupied by troops sent from Windsor, and on the Earl of Essex's recommendation the Parliament decided to hold and garrison the town. (fn. 326) The first work put in hand was the rebuilding of Caversham Bridge, to pay for which the corporation was obliged to borrow again, (fn. 327) and later the military authorities insisted on a drawbridge being added. (fn. 328) Nothing further was done to protect the town, and Major-General Browne, who was appointed to command the Parliamentary force in the Reading neighbourhood, did not make Reading his head quarters, and the town was left practically unprotected during June and part of July. (fn. 329) The Royalist garrison at Wallingford was quick to realize the position at Reading. Lieutenant-Colonel Lower demanded a contribution from the town for the support of Wallingford garrison at the rate of £50 a week, (fn. 330) and, as at the end of three weeks no money had come in, a party of horse carried off the Mayor of Reading, William Brackston, to Wallingford and detained him there until part at least of the money was forthcoming. (fn. 331) In his absence the corporation sat frequently, trying to avoid the levy; finally a petition was sent to the council of war at Oxford, but it seems to have had little effect. The mayor was carried off on 21 June, and he was not present at a corporation meeting until the 10th of the next month. (fn. 332) After this the affairs of Reading pursued a more normal course, but the campaign of 1644 had left Berkshire 'in a miserable condition, hardly a sheep, hen, hog, oats, wheat, or any other thing for man or beast to feed upon,' and Reading was in no better condition. Its cloth trade was ruined, and it never recovered its position until modern times. The town property was mortgaged; the king was of course unable to pay his debts, while the creditors of the corporation clamoured for payment (fn. 333); the tenants could not pay their rents, and begged to give up their leases or at least to have their rents reduced. (fn. 334) There is extant a letter from a tenant named George Varney to the town clerk of Reading, written from prison, giving an account of his troubles, which must have been common to many others. After complaining of the impossible taxation and the loss of his horses, he concludes: 'Besides all this, when the King's souldiers come to us, they call mee round headed rouge, and say I pay rent to the Parliament garison, and they will take it away from mee. And likewise when the Parliament souldiers, they vaper with me, and tell me that I pay rent to Worcester and Winchester; there fore the Parliament souldiers say they will have the rent.' (fn. 335) It was no wonder that the corporation failed to collect its rents. Various attempts at economy were made in the following years; thus in 1647–8 the usual allowances for the entertainment of the judges at the assizes were made, but it was agreed that no fees should be paid to their stewards 'for that the Corporation is so poor that they are not able to pay any.' (fn. 336)
Reading remained in the hands of the Parliament
until the close of the Civil War, and shortly after the
Wallingford raid it was properly garrisoned. (fn. 337) It
became the head quarters of the committee for Berkshire, to which the local affairs of the county were
entrusted. (fn. 338) The corporation ceased to have full
control of the town, and the members of the committee, amongst whom may be mentioned Henry
Martin, the former governor, Thomas Vachell and
Daniel Blagrave, were frequently present at the meetings of the corporation. (fn. 339) In August 1644 they
declared the chief Royalists in the town, Sir Thomas
Mainwaring, Anthony Brackston, Thomas Harrison,
William Turnour and William Gandy, to be 'notoriously disaffected to the State,' and ordered their
removal from the corporation. (fn. 340) Such interference
was evidently resented by both parties in the corporation, and time was demanded for further consideration,
except in the case of Sir Thomas Mainwaring,
the recorder, who was immediately dismissed from
his office of assistant, not, however, as a Royalist, but
'for his long absence and neglect in giving any
attendance at the Hall and assistance of the Company.' (fn. 341) He held the office of steward of the borough
for more than a year longer, (fn. 342) and no action at all was
taken against any of the others named by the committee for a year, and then Brackston, Turnour and
Dewell were deprived of their offices. (fn. 343) Six months
later, in January 1645–6, a petition was made by
the inhabitants of the town to the House of Commons
for the removal of eight members of the corporation,
again including Thomas Harrison. (fn. 344) The mayor read
it aloud at the next meeting of the governing body,
and several of these members offered to resign if no
fine was imposed on them. Another was dismissed,
but still no action was taken against Harrison, who
probably submitted to the Parliament. Reading was
again fortified, under the direction of the engineer
Culemberg, (fn. 345) and became a dépôt for the Parliamentary
armies. (fn. 346) The free school was closed and used as a
magazine. Large bodies of troops were frequently
passing through Reading, besides the regular garrison, (fn. 347)
and in December 1644 the corporation petitioned
Parliament 'for the relief of the town, against the
insolencies and violences of the Souldyers.' (fn. 348) The
inhabitants complained that the soldiers
break down our houses and burn them, take away our goods and sell them, rob our markets and spoil them, threaten our magistrates and beat them, so that without a speedy redress we shall be constrained, though to our utter undoing yet for the preservation of our lives, to forsake our goods and habitation, and leave the town to the will of the soldiers, who cry out they have no pay, they have no beds, they have no fire, and they must and will have it by force, or they will burn down all the houses in the town, whatever become of them. (fn. 349)
To meet the levy for the army in Ireland (fn. 350) the wardens of each ward were ordered to go to every house and prepare a list of all persons who were neither assessed for the weekly collections nor received alms, so that the burden on the regular taxpayers might be lessened. (fn. 351)
The townspeople evidently made great efforts to recover their prosperity, not by welcoming all trade to the town, but by closing it to all but freemen of the borough. The fact that the 'foreigners' were anxious to come into the town shows that trade revived to some extent. The market was frequented very soon after the Parliament had regained possession of the town. As early as August 1643 Leonard Draper was warned not to sell pottery in the market by retail on pain of forfeiting £5, (fn. 352) but he apparently preferred paying the fine to leaving the town, for a year later the serjeants of the mace were twice given warranty to levy £5 from his goods. (fn. 353) Similar orders were frequent and were seemingly as often disregarded. (fn. 354) In 1645–6 the clothworkers complained of the 'multitude of forreigners both clothworkers and journeymen keeping shop and working in the Town.' (fn. 355) In 1650 a marshal was appointed to undertake certain new duties, one of which was to inform the corporation of any strangers coming to trade in the town. (fn. 356) In 1652 Thomas Curtis requested the help of the corporation in levelling the works in the Forbury, so that the fairs might be held there according to the former custom, but it is not clear whether the works referred to were the remains of the old Royalist fortifications or one of the new forts built by the committee for Berkshire. (fn. 357) The next year the cattle fair on St. James's Day was ordered to be held in the Forbury. (fn. 358)
In 1650, after the establishment of the Commonwealth, the corporation obtained the confirmation of the charter by Parliament with slight alterations. (fn. 359) The mayor was directed to take his oath in the presence of the recorder, instead of before the former mayor, aldermen and assistants; each alderman was to be sworn in the presence of the mayor and recorder, and the offices of steward and recorder were to be separated. (fn. 360) The royal arms, however, were not removed from the mace until 1651–2. (fn. 361) In spite of the removal of the Royalists from the corporation in 1645 they seem to have been active in the town. In 1648 Fairfax had information of Royalist meetings held there (fn. 362) with the object of seizing the town for the king and ordered two troops of Colonel Harrison's regiment at Guildford to march to the town. (fn. 363) The governing body of Reading, however, seems to have accepted the changes in public affairs and to have been occupied in getting the finances of the town into order. They rang the church bells for the victory of Worcester, (fn. 364) and presented Cromwell with wine and sugar at the Bear Inn when he came to Reading. The charter was again confirmed on his assuming the title of Protector. (fn. 365) In 1655 William Brackston was discharged from his offices of alderman and justice of the peace in consequence of the 'Declaration for settling the peace of the Commonwealth.' (fn. 366) The Protector also interfered in the appointment of a new master to the free school, which was now re-opened. (fn. 367) The school was said to have been sequestered, the old master, Page, having been an active Royalist. In 1657 Cromwell was proclaimed Protector in the marketplace, the new constitution contained in the Humble Petition and Advice being publicly read on the same occasion. (fn. 368) The Parliamentary elections during the Civil War and Protectorate were productive of serious disputes. In 1645 one of the members for the borough, Sir Francis Knollys, jun., died, and the result of the ensuing election was disputed. (fn. 369) The custom of the time was for the election to be made by the mayor, alderman and burgesses, and to them the writ was again addressed on this occasion. (fn. 370) There was no proper definition of a burgess, and the right to vote, being unpopular owing to the expenses entailed in the payment of members of Parliament, had become confined to the members of the corporation. (fn. 371) The candidates were Tanfield Vachell and William Ball, the latter being neither a burgess nor a freeman. (fn. 372) Before the election he asked that this disability might be removed, but he was told 'that the number of burgesses was full, and that they did not admit any freemen, save only tradesmen.' (fn. 373) However, Vachell was elected by the corporation in the presence of 'the Communaltie,' and a poll demanded by Ball was refused. (fn. 374) In consequence of this refusal a new election was ordered by Parliament, when Vachell was again elected. Further election disputes arose in 1648. In 1656 'the Company with the ministers and divers other people assembled in the Townhall to seek God for a blessing in the choice of a burgess for this borough to serve in Parliament. And Mr. Jemmatt and Mr. Ford performed the duties of exhortation and prayer for that purpose.' (fn. 375) Sir John Barkstead, then Lieutenant of the Tower of London, was chosen. The question of the franchise was still unsettled, and the corporation when about to apply for the confirmation of the charter in 1656 considered the question 'whether the Company or those that pay to the poor elect the burgess for Parliament,' (fn. 376) but nothing was decided at this time, and the disputes continued till after the Restoration.
The Restoration of Charles II led to changes in the governing body of Reading and certain members were secluded; their actual dismissal, however, was not voted, and on payment of a fine they were allowed to resign. (fn. 377) The king was proclaimed in the market-place 'with greate solempnity and rejoycing,' (fn. 378) the corporation spending £6 10s. or more; the mace was altered and the royal arms put up in the hall, council chamber and compter. (fn. 379) The following year there were rejoicings on the occasion of the coronation, and each parish in the town was allowed £1 for the expenses of a bonfire and the provision of beer. (fn. 380)
Under the Corporation Act of 1662 all the members had to sign their renunciation of the Covenant in the presence of certain commissioners. The mayor, Samuel Jemmett, and thirteen others refused to subscribe and in consequence were dismissed from their offices. (fn. 381) The king and queen passed through Reading in August 1663 and were met in Orte Lane by the corporation, who presented them with purses after a congratulatory speech had been made by the steward. (fn. 382)
In 1667 the charter was confirmed with the addition of the power to levy fines on the goods of offenders, and to hold lands in mortmain of the yearly value of £1,000 instead of £500. (fn. 383) The great seal affixed to this charter was accidentally broken and the Lord Keeper affixed a new seal by royal warrant. (fn. 384) On the accession of James II the corporation was ordered to surrender its charter, (fn. 385) which was cancelled. A new charter was granted in 1685 by which the borough received an entirely new constitution. (fn. 386) It was brought to Reading by the recorder, Sir Thomas Holt, and Samuel Coates and the bells were rung and a bonfire provided to mark the occasion. (fn. 387) In 1687–8 the political views of part of the corporation led to further royal interference, and James II ordered that three aldermen, Samuel House, Thomas Stephens and Edward Brackston, and six burgesses should be dismissed and others elected in their place. (fn. 388) In June 1688 Sebastian Lyford, one of the chamberlains, was dismissed in obedience to a royal mandate, and the corporation was ordered to elect 'Mr. Clare' to fill his place. This the corporation delayed to do, 'there being no such person.' (fn. 389) In the following August the king objected to the election of John Bigg as mayor for the next year, and ordered the corporation to remove him from the office of alderman, his place to be filled by Joseph May, an assistant. (fn. 390) Charles Calverley was elected mayor in his place, but he only held office for two months. (fn. 391) By an Order in Council, dated 17 October 1688, the mayor, aldermen and assistants, together with the recorder and the town clerk, were dismissed and displaced, and the new charter was cancelled, (fn. 392) the charter of Charles I being again revived. From this time there was no further interference by the Crown with the constitution of the corporation.
Reading had some share in the events of the Revolution of 1688. On the news of the approach of the Prince of Orange and his army the king appointed three commissioners, Lords Halifax, Nottingham and Godolphin, to treat with him. (fn. 393) The commissioners reached Reading on 3 December. Reading was garrisoned for James by a detachment of Irish troops. (fn. 394) These were unpopular in the town, and rumours were spread abroad that the soldiers had orders to massacre the townspeople during the time of divine service on the following Sunday. (fn. 395) This caused a panic amongst the inhabitants, already in sympathy with the Protestant cause, and on the advance of the Count of Nassau to Newbury John Wastmarland, a Reading clothier, was dispatched to ask for assistance. (fn. 396) The same day, 9 December, Nassau dispatched 300 men, who reached Reading in the morning, where they found the royal troops drawn up in readiness for their coming. A fight took place in the narrow streets of Reading, resulting in the defeat and flight of the defending troops. The prince's men were said to have received help from the townspeople, who fired on the king's troops from their windows, and the victory was long celebrated in the town by the ringing of the church bells on the anniversary of 'Reading Fight.' (fn. 397)
During the latter part of the 17th century the corporation made a number of by-laws and other orders for the town, showing that the apathy of which there was so much complaint a century later had not yet overtaken the corporation. In 1646 John Jerome was ordered to kill 'the dogs which run up and down the town,' the townspeople being warned to keep in their pigs at the time. (fn. 398) Chains were ordered to be placed at the end of Minster Street, to prevent wagons passing through it to the market-place, the road being so narrow that 'great dammages and inconveniences' often resulted. (fn. 399) Strict precautions were taken by the corporation to check the various outbreaks of plague, and special houses were built in which the victims were lodged. (fn. 400) An order for such a house in 1646 was, however, accompanied by the dangerous concession that 'John Hancock shall have the boards and all the materials again to his own use when it pleaseth God to cease the visitation.' (fn. 401) At the time of the Great Plague a tax was levied to pay for special searchers and buriers, and for wardens to search for 'suspicious persons and goods' coming to the town. (fn. 402) The precautions were so successful that the outbreak was stamped out in a very short time. (fn. 403) Infected meat was searched for in 1675, and burnt at the town shambles. (fn. 404) The inhabitants were responsible for watching at night by turns, and if they did not come in person they had to pay for a substitute. (fn. 405) The lighting of the streets was undertaken by the householders, the bellman warning them on a dark night to hang out lanterns and candles, (fn. 406) but this plan was evidently not very effective, and in 1688 the corporation set up two or three new lamps, 'such as are used within the city of London.' If they were satisfactory the whole of Reading was to be lighted with them. (fn. 407) In 1664 a tax was raised to provide fire engines. (fn. 408) They were to be exercised and kept ready for use, but they were not placed in the charge of a special official till 1688, when a chief fireman was appointed, and provided with a leather coat, iron cap and other necessary equipment. (fn. 409) He received no salary, but all his rates were remitted. The first waterworks in Reading were set up between 1694 and 1696 in Mill Lane, the water being pumped from the mill stream, but the power was found to be insufficient and the works soon fell into disuse. (fn. 410)
In the 18th century the most important question in the history of the borough related to the Parliamentary franchise. The borough had returned two members to Parliament since the reign of Edward I, being first represented in the Parliament of 1295. The election was generally made by the mayor, aldermen and other burgesses and inhabitants of the town, (fn. 411) a formula which left a considerable amount of latitude as to the real qualifications for the vote. The number of voters varied considerably, from about 1,000 in 1658 and 1660 to 2,500 in 1685, (fn. 412) but since the election of 1645 the electing body had never been limited to the corporation alone, and during the Commonwealth the voters probably included not only inhabitants, or householders, but also lodgers. (fn. 413) The right of the householders, paying scot and lot, however, was fully admitted, and in the 18th century the situation was reversed, and the franchise of those who were freemen only and not householders was called into question. There were election petitions in 1700, 1708 and 1715. (fn. 414) In the evidence given before the committee of the House of Commons in 1715 the right of voting was stated to be in all housekeepers, freemen and the eldest sons of freemen, being of age. (fn. 415) The sitting members, Robert Clarges and Felix Calvert, urged the retention of the freemen voters, but the evidence proved that most of the corrupt voters were to be found amongst those who were only freemen, and not inhabitants paying scot and lot. Further the freedom was sometimes given, after the writs for the election were issued, on the promise of support for the sitting members. In the result the House of Commons decided that the right to vote was in the inhabitants paying scot and lot only, and this decision stood until the reforms of the 19th century. (fn. 416) In practice the corporation controlled the elections for Parliament to a large extent, and in 1708 it was resolved 'that for the time to come, the mayor, aldermen and burgesses in common council, in the case of members to serve in Parliament for this borough, do first determine and resolve amongst themselves who shall be deemed fit representatives for that purpose.' (fn. 417)
At the close of the 18th century, although the cloth trade that had originally raised Reading to importance had disappeared, the prosperity, lost in the time of the Civil Wars, was recovered. The market was of great importance, and the opening up of the canal system connecting Reading with the Midlands and with Wales brought a great increase of trade. The corporation, however, was entirely conservative and stationary in its policy, and took practically no steps to meet the needs of the town. New by-laws were not passed, and the only innovation in its own procedure was the decision made in 1722 that all future elections should be by ballot. (fn. 418) In the latter part of the century the corporation ceased to be the only authority in the town. In 1785 an Act of Parliament was obtained for the appointment of commissioners, responsible for the paving, watching and lighting of the town. They were empowered to levy a limited rate, and at once started various works that the lax administration of the corporation rendered imperative. (fn. 419) This activity, however, seems to have lasted but a very short time, for the description of the state of the streets of Reading, the inadequate provision for watching and lighting in the early 19th century show that the commissioners had done but little. (fn. 420) A new Act was obtained in 1823, appointing new commissioners with increased powers. Reforms were carried on slowly, but the Paving Commission existed until 1850, when its functions were taken over by the Local Board of Health. In 1792 the machinery of the court of record was remodelled. (fn. 421) The last confirmation of the charter of Charles I was obtained in 1830, after the accession of William IV, and by it the number of borough magistrates was increased, the ex-mayor and the six senior aldermen being placed on the commission of the peace. (fn. 422) The final work undertaken by the old corporation was the repair of the various bridges in its charge, at a cost of over £2,500, an improvement rendered necessary by the increasing use of the waterways for the carrying trade. (fn. 423) The Kennet and Avon Canal, opened in 1810, brought London and Bristol into direct communication by water, and resulted in bringing still more trade to Reading. Various small manufactories were successfully carried on, but the tradesmen, in spite of their growing prosperity, were entirely shut out from all share in municipal government. (fn. 424) At a time when democratic ideas were in the ascendant and the cause of reform was nowhere more heartily supported than in Reading, (fn. 425) its government was in the hands of a close corporation, self-electing and confined in practice to a small clique, mostly related by birth to one another. (fn. 426) The number of freemen had dwindled by 1833 to seventy-three, (fn. 427) the loss of the Parliamentary franchise and the disappearance of the old trading privileges having destroyed the main advantages derived from taking up the freedom of the borough. Certain positions, however, were restricted to freemen, and to become a member of the corporation, a burgess of Parliament, or to be eligible for certain local charities it was necessary to be a freeman. (fn. 428) This right was conferred on the applicant by the mayor, aldermen and assistants, who also admitted certain honorary freemen. On an average not more than four freemen were admitted in a year. (fn. 429) Thus there was no control over the actions of the corporation, and the relations existing between it and the rest of the town are well illustrated in the proceedings relating to the celebration of the jubilee of George III in 1809. (fn. 430) A committee of the corporation was appointed to prepare a plan to which the larger body assented, but in the meantime the inhabitants of Reading wished to have some share in the arrangements, and a general meeting was proposed by three prominent men, Dr. Valpy, the master of the free school, Mr. Monck and Mr. Marsh. (fn. 431) The mayor, however, refused to countenance the proposal, as the corporation plan had already been accepted, and his colleagues thanked him 'for his manly and decided conduct' in the matter. (fn. 432) The corporation, in fact, would have no interference; it pursued its own course, managed its property, dispensed the town charities and until shortly before the inquiry of 1833 celebrated public events with convivial meetings. The real cause of the unpopularity of the corporation lay in the town charter granted by Charles I, but the situation was embittered by the divergence of political opinion between the governing body and the majority of the townspeople. (fn. 433) In consequence the corporation was charged with serious crimes, and when Parliamentary reform was carried the Reading Liberals turned to attack their own corporation. A speech delivered at one of the meetings held at this time shows how high the feeling ran. 'The Corporation are all self-elected, they, as trustees, won't elect a boy to the Bluecoat School or a girl to the Green School unless their parents are blue … They won't give the girls the town money or the poor old people bread at Christmas, or elect any of the poor old people to an almshouse if they can find that they have been on the Liberal side. At elections they bribe, they treat, they compel their workpeople and all over whom they have any influence to vote for the Blues.' (fn. 434) These allegations were probably wellfounded, for the members of the corporation were still in a position in 1816 to suppose that 'they have still influence enough to return one member,' (fn. 435) but bribery was rampant on both sides at election times. (fn. 436) Other misdeeds were laid to their charge, the chief being alleged partiality towards members of the corporation, by the judges of the court of record, by the borough magistrates in the licensing of public-houses, by the whole corporation in granting leases and in the administration of the charitable bequests. (fn. 437)
The corporation was reformed under the Municipal Corporation Act of 1835, and now consists of the high steward, the mayor, thirteen aldermen and thirtynine town councillors. The first municipal elections brought a majority of Liberals on to the governing body, (fn. 438) but at first little was done to improve the condition of the town; the meetings were acrimonious, and when the medical members urged the necessity of sanitary reforms so strongly that an inquiry was held in 1848, the result was an unsatisfactory scheme and a long dispute over the costs of the inquiry. (fn. 439) Further powers were found to be necessary, and the Public Health Act of 1848 was adopted for Reading, the Local Board of Health being established in 1850. (fn. 440) In other matters the new corporation gradually effected many reforms.
A new town hall was built in 1786, (fn. 441) which was used not only for municipal business, but also for the Lent assizes, the Epiphany quarter sessions, and in alternate years for the Michaelmas sessions. (fn. 442) The arrangements of the courts were very inconvenient, and finally Baron Platt refused to sit at Reading and in 1848 held the Lent assizes at Abingdon, where it was customary to hold the summer assizes. (fn. 443) The new assize courts were not built till 1861, (fn. 444) but on their completion, by an Order in Council of 14 September 1868, both assizes were ordered to be held in Reading.
In 1885, under the Redistribution of Seats Act, Reading lost one of its two members of Parliament and at the same time the boundary of the Parliamentary borough was extended. The municipal borough was extended in 1887, and it was divided into ten wards. It had anciently been divided into wards (fn. 445); until 1802 there were five, (fn. 446) but these were afterwards reduced to three. The borough became a county borough for certain purposes under the Local Government Act of 1888, and parts of Caversham and Tilehurst have been lately added to it. (fn. 447)
At the time of the Domesday Survey there were six mills in Reading, four on the land of the king and two on the land of the Abbot of Battle (fn. 448); one of the latter may probably be identified with Minster Mill, which is mentioned in documents of the reign of Henry III, and which was near the town hall and St. Mary's Church. (fn. 449) By the foundation charter Reading Abbey held all the mills in the place; at the Dissolution they lapsed to the king. (fn. 450)
In 1545 two corn-mills and a fulling-mill known as St. Gyles Mylls (fn. 451) and two corn-mills and a fullingmill known as Minster Mill were granted to William Grey, (fn. 452) through whom they passed to the Blagraves; in 1614 Anthony Blagrave held five water-mills and seven fulling-mills in Reading. (fn. 453)