Reading (pronounced 'redding') is a city that lies about 25 minutes west of London in the county Berkshire. It is home to ruins and a university. The River Thames and the River Kennet converge here. Its past includes a feud with King Henry VIII and its present, a magnificent Oracle. Though not an immediately recognizable Jane Austen site, she had some history here. Combine that with Reading's other points of interest and a day trip becomes a nice way to spend some time.
Reading has been part of historical record since the 8th century. It was originally a Saxon settlement and the confluence of both the River Kennet (from the valley) and the River Thames (to London) made it a great market place. Goods grown and harvested in the surrounding area could make their way by water to London for trade and business.
Reading's first mention in history came in the year 871, when the first Battle of Reading was fought by the King of Wessex and his brother, Alfred the Great, in an attempt to liberate it from an invasion by a Germanic tribe. It made another footnote in history when, in 1066, the Battle of Hastings was fought between King Harold and William the Conqueror for the throne of England. William won and built the Battle Abbey on lands around Reading and Hastings to atone for the loss of lives in the dispute. This Abbey and the lands around it later became part of Reading Abbey in 1121 established by King Henry I. Centuries later, King Henry VIII had the Reading Abbey (and many others) destroyed in 1538 when the Pope refused to annul his first marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon. Little remained, but those parts that did, were preserved. In addition to the rubble, the Abbey's Inner Gateway and its Hospitium still stood.
In 1785, within the Abbey Gateway, a ladies' boarding school existed. Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, attended this school for one year. It was their only formal schooling. A plaque is mounted on the wall at the Gateway to commemorate Jane's brief time spent in Reading. The Abbey ruins and the Gateway are still on display and are open to visitors. They are next to a popular park and not far from the Broad Street Mall and the Oracle, a shopping complex on the River Kennet. Reading's many eateries, shopping, history and easy access to transportation should make it a tempting visit for a Jane Austen fan.