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Berkshire (/ˈbɑːrkʃər, -ʃɪər/ BARK-shər, -⁠sheer; in the 17th century sometimes spelt phonetically as Barkeshire; abbreviated Berks.) is a county in South East England. One of the home counties, Berkshire was recognised by the Queen as the Royal County of Berkshire in 1957 because of the presence of Windsor Castle, and letters patent were issued in 1974. Berkshire is a county of historic origin, a ceremonial county and a non-metropolitan county without a county council. The county town is Reading.

The River Thames formed the historic northern boundary, from Buscot in the west to Old Windsor in the east. The historic county therefore includes territory that is now administered by the Vale of White Horse and parts of South Oxfordshire in Oxfordshire, but excludes Caversham, Slough and five less populous settlements in the east of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. All the changes mentioned, apart from the change to Caversham, took place in 1974. The towns of Abingdon, Didcot, Faringdon, Wallingford and Wantage were transferred to Oxfordshire, the six places joining came from Buckinghamshire. Berkshire County Council was the main local government of most areas from 1889 to 1998 and was based in Reading, the county town which had its own County Borough administration (1888-1974).

Since 1998, Berkshire has been governed by the six unitary authorities of Bracknell Forest, Reading, Slough, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham. The ceremonial county borders Oxfordshire (to the north), Buckinghamshire (to the north-east), Greater London (to the east), Surrey (to the south-east), Wiltshire (to the west) and Hampshire (to the south). No part of the county is more than 8.5 miles (13.7 km) from the M4 motorway. Read more...

Selected article

Reading, Berkshire montage.jpg

Reading (/ˈrɛdɪŋ/ (About this soundlisten) RED-ing) is a large, historic university and minster town in Berkshire, England, of which it is now the county town. It is in the Thames Valley at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, and on both the Great Western Main Line railway and the M4 motorway. Reading is 70 miles (110 km) east of Bristol, 24 miles (39 km) south of Oxford, 40 miles (64 km) west of London, 14 miles (23 km) north of Basingstoke, 12 miles (19 km) south-west of Maidenhead and 15 miles (24 km) east of Newbury as the crow flies.

The first evidence for Reading as a town dates from the 8th century. It was an important trading and ecclesiastical centre in the medieval period, as the site of Reading Abbey, one of the largest and richest monasteries of medieval England with strong royal connections, of which the 12th-century abbey gateway and significant ancient ruins remain. By 1525, Reading was the largest town in Berkshire, and tax returns show that Reading was the 10th largest town in England when measured by taxable wealth. The medieval town was seriously affected by the English Civil War, with a major siege and loss of trade, and played a pivotal role in the Revolution of 1688, with that revolution's only significant military action fought on the streets of the town. The 18th century saw the beginning of a major iron works in the town and the growth of the brewing trade for which Reading was to become famous. The 19th century saw the coming of the Great Western Railway and the development of the town's brewing, baking and seed growing businesses. During that period, the town grew rapidly as a manufacturing centre.

Today, Reading is a major commercial centre, with involvement in information technology and insurance, and despite its proximity to London, has a net inward commuter flow. It is ranked the UK's top economic area for economic success and wellbeing, according to factors such as employment, health, income and skills. Reading is also a major regional retail centre serving a large area of the Thames Valley, and is home to the University of Reading. Every year it hosts the Reading Festival, one of England's biggest music festivals. Sporting teams based in Reading include Reading Football Club, Reading City F.C. and London Irish rugby union team, and over 15,000 runners annually compete in the Reading Half Marathon.

In the 2011 census, the urban area around Reading had an estimated population of 318,014. The borough is represented in Parliament by two members, and has been continuously represented there since 1295. For ceremonial purposes the town is in the county of Berkshire and has served as its county town since 1867, previously sharing this status with Abingdon-on-Thames. Read more...

Selected biography

Harding in October 2012

Sarah Nicole Harding (born Sarah Nicole Hardman; 17 November 1981) is an English singer, model and actress. She rose to fame in late 2002 when she auditioned for the ITV reality series Popstars: The Rivals. The programme announced that Harding had won a place as a member of the girl group, Girls Aloud. The group achieved twenty consecutive top ten singles (including four number ones) in the UK, six studio albums that were certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), two of which went to number one in the UK, and accumulated a total of five BRIT Award nominations. In 2009, Girls Aloud won "Best Single" with their song "The Promise".

During the group's break, Harding began acting, appearing in Bad Day, the BBC television film Freefall, Run for Your Wife, and St. Trinian's 2: The Legend of Fritton's Gold. Harding contributed three solo songs to the soundtrack of St. Trinian's 2. She has also modelled for Ultimo lingerie. In late 2012, she reunited with Girls Aloud to celebrate their tenth anniversary. In early 2013, they announced that they had split up. In 2015, the singer briefly appeared in Coronation Street, and released her first extended play, Threads. On 25 August 2017, she was announced as the winner of Celebrity Big Brother 20, with 35.33% of the final vote. In 2019 Harding retired from public life. Read more...

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