"READING, comprises the parishes of St. Mary, St. Lawrence, and St. Giles, it is a market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, and county town, county Berks, locally in the hundred of Reading, but exercising separate jurisdiction, 39 miles S.W. of London by road, and 36 3/4 by the Great Western railway, on which it is a principal station. There are also branch lines of the Great Western to Hungerford and Basingstoke, and of the South-Eastern to Reigate, by which last the main lines of the Great Western, South-Western, and South-Eastern are connected. There is also water communication with most of the chief ports of England by means of the Kennet and Avon canal and the river Kennet, which last is navigable from Reading for vessels of 120 tons burden, and has commodious wharves on its banks." (more...)
From The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland(1868). Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003.
Other descriptions can be found from other periods in various trade directories covering Berkshire from the early 19th century onwards, from Berkshire FHS, and from A Vision of Britain Through Time.