Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Reading History Society

Reading History Society

THE subject of the December talk was Reading in the reign of Elizabeth I. The speaker was Joan Dils, who is president of the society.

Elizabeth was crowned on January 15, 1559 and was the last monarch of the House of Tudor as the only issue of the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

At the beginning of her reign Reading comprised three ancient parishes, St Mary, St Laurence and St Giles.

The extent of the built-up area lay within the triangle of New Street (today’s Friar Street) in the north and London Street and Southampton Street to the south. The population was around 3,000.

With the closure of the abbey in the 1530s the economy of Reading had suffered as the large monastic household and the many visitors it had attracted led to a decline in trade.

Many of the responsibilities once held by the abbey had passed to the Crown and its negligence had become apparent.

The condition of the 200 houses, an important source of income, and the 19 bridges it had owned was parlous.

At the start of Elizabeth’s reign the town was bankrupt.

In 1560, the Queen gave a new charter to Reading for self-government: it confirmed the charters and liberties formerly granted and it defined the town’s boundaries.

This helped to solve the town’s financial problems.

The Queen gifted the former monastic house of the Grey Friars to the corporation (the town’s government) for use as their guildhall and all deeds and documents issued by the corporation would have its own seal upon them.

The town would be governed by nine head burgesses who would serve for life and each year they would elect from among their number a mayor. They were supported by 12 secondary burgesses.

This system of government and the extent of the borough’s boundaries would last until the 19th century.

The charter granted the corporation the assize of ale, bread, wine and other provisions. It would also receive the income from the profits of the town’s various fairs and markets and the rents collected from former Crown property.

As well as having responsibility for its maintenance, the corporation was granted the right to pillage building material from the former abbey.

During Elizabeth’s reign there were many trading companies (the guilds) in the town.

The four main guilds were the clothiers and clothmakers, the mercers and drapers, the tanners and leather sellers and the cutlers and bell founders. Each guild set the rules for the regulation of its trade.

Two eminent citizens of Elizabethan Reading who are remembered today are the clothier Thomas Aldworth, who served four terms as mayor of Reading and was elected its MP in 1558, and the mathematician John Blagrave, who was born around 1561 at Bulmershe Court.

Aldworth was educated at Reading School and St John’s College, Oxford, and built the first Southcote Manor and published four eminent mathematical books.

Elizabeth paid many visits to Reading, the last being in 1602.

She lodged at the former abbey, which was still a royal palace, and attended services at St Laurence’s Church.

She died at Richmond, Surrey, on March 24, 1603.

The subject of the next talk will be “The Influence of Victorian mourning in Reading cemetery” and the speaker will be Anna Ellis.

This will take place at Abbey Baptist Church, Abbey Square, Reading, on Wednesday, January 16 at 7.30pm. All are welcome, entry £2 to non-members.

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