Evidence of prehistoric man has been found in several locations around Earley. For example, a hand axe was found in the railway cutting; flint implements in a garden in Elm Lane; and hand axes in the gardens in Fowler Close and Silverdale Road. Most of these finds are thought to date from the late Paleolithic period, around 35,000 years ago.
Traces of flimsy shelters from the Mesolithic were discovered at the site of the old power station at Thames Valley Park in North Earley. Tools from that time have also been found, including a flint blade found in a garden in Silverdale Road. Archaeological evidence for continued human presence during the Bronze Age and Iron Age was also discovered on the site of the Thames Valley Business Park, and Roman remains were found on a building site off Meadow Road.
Earley is mentioned in the Domesday Book as "Herlei", with two main manors: Erleigh St Bartholomew, later known as Erleigh Court; and Erleigh St Nicolas, later Erleigh White Knights. In Domesday Herlei is said to be "held by Osbern Giffard from the King, previously Dunn held it from King Edward in freehold. The value was 100 shillings, later 60 shillings, now £4".
The Erleghs, a family of knightly rank who took their name from the manors, held the manors of St Bartholemew and St Nicolas in the latter part of the 12th century through the 13th century and part of the 14th century. John de Erlegh was known as the White Knight, hence the renaming of the manor of Erleigh St Nicolas to Whiteknights. The Whiteknights estate was later owned by the Englefields, from 1606 to 1798, and then by the Marquis of Blandford, later the 5th Duke of Marlborough.
The manor of Maiden Erleigh was formed out of the Manor of Erlegh, as a gift of land by John de Erlegh to Robert de Erlegh in 1368. Later it was transferred to Charles Hide of Abingdon. In 1673 the estate was sold to Valentine Crome, and after many changes of ownership at the end of the 18th century it belonged to William Matthew Birt who was Governor General of the Leeward Islands. In 1818 the property passed to the Rt Hon Edward Golding, MP for Downton in Wiltshire. In 1878 it was purchased by John Hargreaves, Master of the South Berks Hunt, who founded a course where hunt and yeomanry (similar to modern hunter chases) races were run. The course extended over an area now covered by Sutcliffe Avenue, Hillside Road and Mill Lane. The grandstand stood on an area opposite Loddon Infant School. The estate was purchased in 1903 by the millionaire Solly Joel, well known in horse racing circles, who had a racecourse on the estate, the racecourse was demolished during the first world war and the grandstand was re-erected at Newbury Racecourse. He donated a piece of his land to the village to be used for sporting purposes: the park and pavilion were opened by the Duke of York, later King George VI, in 1927 and, as Sol Joel Park, the park and the original pavilion are used to this day.
The estate of Bulmershe Court once belonged to the Abbey of Reading. In the 18th century it was the home of Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth, Prime Minister. Bulmershe College, which became part of the University of Reading in 1989, occupied this site until 2012. The site of the former Bulmershe College is currently (2014) being redeveloped, principally for housing.
Until 1888, Earley extended westwards from the Three Tuns crossroads down the Wokingham Road and into Reading. To enable this section to be linked into the drainage system, Reading extended its boundaries to the Three Tuns crossroads, and this part of Earley was incorporated into Reading. At that time, the centre of Earley was the crossroads and Saint Peters Church. Even today, some residents living over the boundary in Reading think of themselves as belonging to Earley even though they pay their council tax to Reading Borough Council (at least three businesses along the stretch of Wokingham Road lying within Reading Borough include 'Earley' in their business names). Indeed, this area of Reading Borough still forms part of the ecclesiastical parish of Earley St Peter, which extends as far as, but does not include, Palmer Park.
The University of Reading began as a University College, Reading, in 1892; it became the University of Reading in 1926 and acquired its new site, which straddles the boundary between Earley and Reading, in 1947. Of the six large villas on the estate four were designed by Waterhouse (Erleigh Park 1859, Whiteknights 1868 (now called Old Whiteknights House), Foxhill 1868 and the Wilderness 1873). Waterhouse also designed Reading School (1865–71) in Erleigh Road, extended Pepper Manor, now Leighton Park School on Shinfield Road, in 1890 and built Grove House on the north of the same site (1892–94).
Earley grew rapidly both before and after World War II, and became a town in 1974. From 1977, the Lower Earley private estate was constructed, almost doubling the town's population to the current level. Two new primary schools were built, together with a large supermarket complex, which opened in 1979, and a sports centre. In 1988 a second shopping area, Maiden Place, opened. An additional secondary school was planned roughly opposite the sports centre next to Rushey Way, possibly on the site next to the police station. However the school never materialised, and the land was built on.
Despite its generally 19th and 20th century appearance Earley has some remnants of its older past hidden in amongst the newer development. The following buildings in Earley Town are currently listed by English Heritage as being of special architectural or historic interest (all are listed as Grade II except for Foxhill House):
On Whiteknights CampusLandscape garden feature, Whiteknights Park – early C19;
North Lodge, Whiteknights Road – early C19 gate lodge;
South Lodge, Whiteknights Road – early C19 gate lodge;
Foxhill House, Whiteknights Park – 1868 large house in red brick diaper pattern, now the School of Law (formerly a students' hall of residence) (Listed Grade II*);
Former stables and coach house immediately north east of Foxhill House, Whiteknights Park (now also part of the School of Law);
The Lodge, Whiteknights Road – 1868 red brick lodge to Foxhill;
Blandford Lodge, Chancellors Way, Whiteknights Park – late C19 (1870s?) grey brick;
Reading War Room ('The Citadel'), University of Reading, Whiteknights – 1953 concrete war room;
Elsewhere in EarleyRushy Mead, Cutbush Close – late C16 timber framed house altered in C19 and C20;
Radstock Cottage, 1 Radstock Lane – early C17 timber framed cottage altered and extended in mid C20;
Sindlesham Farmhouse – early C18 altered C20, brick rendered and painted;
The George Inn, Loddon Bridge Road – C18 inn now public house;
25 Church Road – 1820s cottage red and grey chequered brick;
Church of St Peter, Church Road – c.1844 grey vitreous brick, aisles and chancel added 1882–83;
Bridge at Sindlesham Mill – mid C19 road bridge over mill stream (note this is in Earley not Woodley);
Sindlesham Mill, Mill Lane – mid C19 watermill now restaurant and club;
Lower Earley is often spoken of as a town in its own right, but it is just a development at the southern end of the town. The name Lower Earley is however very old, having originally been applied to the low-lying land between the old Maiden Erlegh Estate and the River Loddon.
Even after its recent development, Earley has some remnants of ancient woodland within its boundaries, including Pearman's Copse and Redhatch Copse.
Earley falls within the parliamentary constituency of Wokingham, except for the Whitegates Town Ward (comprising the part of Earley lying north of the Reading - Waterloo railway line), which falls within Reading East.
Earley is bordered by the B3270 (Lower Earley Way) to the south and south-east; the boundary then follows the Reading - Waterloo railway line until it turns north to run to the east of the B3350 (Church Road and Pitts Lane) as far as the gyratory system where the B3350 joins the A4; the boundary then runs north to the River Thames. The boundary then runs upstream along the Thames as far as the River Kennett, then follows the Reading - Waterloo railway line again, until it meets the B3350; it then runs north-west along Whiteknights Road, cuts irregularly across the University of Reading Whiteknights Campus, and then runs to the east of the A327 (Shinfield Road) until it meets up again with the B3270. The extension of the Reading Borough boundaries in 1888 (referred to above) has the result that the section of Earley lying to the north of the railway line (sometimes referred to as Old Earley or North Earley) is connected to the larger part to the south by only a narrow corridor of land. The Borough of Reading lies to the west, the River Thames to the north-west, Woodley to the north-east, Winnersh to the east, and Arborfield and Shinfield to the south.
Earley has two levels of local government: Earley Town Council, created from the former Parish Council in 1974, based at Radstock House in Radstock Lane, and Wokingham Borough Council based at Shute End in Wokingham. There are 25 councillors representing eight wards on the Town Council and 12 Borough Councillors (out of 54 on the Borough Council) representing four Earley wards (Hillside; Hawkedon; Maiden Erlegh; and Bulmershe and Whitegates). The Bulmershe and Whitegates ward also includes the Bulmershe ward of Woodley Town Council.
The Town Wards do not coincide with the Borough Wards: Cutbush and Hawkedon Town Wards make up the Hawkedon Borough Ward; Hillside and Radstock the Hillside Borough Ward; Redhatch, St Nicolas and Maiden Erlegh the Maiden Erlegh Borough ward; and Whitegates together with the Woodley Town Ward of Bulmershe make up the Bulmershe and Whitegates Borough Ward.
Town Council elections are held every four years; the last one was in 2015. Borough Elections are held by thirds with one in 3 years out of every 4 for the three member wards and one year with no election.
Amongst other functions, Earley Town Council runs Sol Joel Park, leased from Reading Borough Council for 50 years, Meadow Park off Meadow Road, Bulmershe Park (jointly with Woodley), the BMX track near Paddick Drive which was opened in 2011, 2 community centres and Maiden Erlegh Lake, which was declared a nature reserve in 1997. The council has a large and well maintained allotment at Culver Lane and a lawn cemetery at Mays Lane. The Council also provides the familiar green bus shelters at the main Reading-bound stops.
Within Earley, the Borough Council has provided the Waterside Centre, a canoe centre in Thames Valley Park, and the Loddon Valley Leisure Centre. They also own Chalfont Park and Laurel Park in Earley, both of which include football pitches.
Earley railway station is on the line from Reading to London Waterloo. Winnersh Triangle railway station, which opened in 1986, is also near Earley.
Earley is also served by Reading Buses who provide a number of bus services to and from the centre of Reading, namely the 4, X4, 19a, 19b, 19c; and the 21, a 24-hour service. The 17 bus runs 24 hours a day from the junction at the Three Tuns, through Reading town centre, towards Tilehurst. Wokingham can be reached by bus on the Wokingham Road or by train from Earley or Winnersh Triangle stations.
Earley is to the north of the M4 motorway which connects London with Bristol.
Earley is home to the Thames Valley Business Park which is alongside the Thames to the east of the A329(M) motorway. The park houses offices of many major companies including the UK headquarters of BG group, Microsoft, ING direct and SGI together with offices of Oracle, Computacenter, David LLoyd, Cybersource, JP Executive Recruitment, Open Text, Regus, Websense and Worktube CV.
The neighbouring Suttons Business Park houses more service and high tech companies such as Rentokil Initial, Service Point, HP Invent, MOOG, FPS and Royal Mail.
One of the main industries located in Earley was Sutton Seeds whose headquarters were based in London Road, at the northern end of what was once the A329(M) motorway spur (now the A3290). The building was partly taken over by the civil engineering consultancy Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners in June 1974, when it relocated from London. Sutton Seeds finally departed in 1975 to its new base in Torquay.
The following schools all have children from Earley and Lower Earley within their designated catchment areas as defined by Wokingham Borough Council.Maiden Erlegh School
The Emmbrook School
The Piggott School
The Holt School
Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth (1757–1844; Speaker 1789, Prime Minister 1801, donated land for and endowed Earley St Peters Church, owned Erleigh Court)
The Marquis of Blandford, later George Spencer-Churchill, 5th Duke of Marlborough (acquired Whiteknights estate Earley Whiteknights 1798)
Sir Owen Buckingham, Lord Mayor of London; owner of Erlegh Court 1708 to 1720
DC Ian Coward QPM for gallantry, 1942–1971, shot and killed on duty with Thames Valley Police, buried St Peter's Church, Earley
Thomas de Erleigh (Keeper of the Kings Deer Windsor Forest: owner of Erleigh Court to 1320)
Sir Francis Goldsmid, 2nd Baronet (1808–1878; first Jewish Barrister and QC, MP for Reading, owner of Whiteknights)
Sir Isaac Goldsmid, 1st Baronet (1778–1859; financier, owner of Whiteknights Estate, first Jewish Baronet)
William Heelas (1867–1937; shopkeeper, lived in Hungerford Lodge Wokingham Road)
Baron Hirst (1863–1943; lived at Foxhill Whiteknights Estate, founder with Gustav Byng a company selling electrical appliances which was transformed into GEC, Hirst was MD of GEC in 1900 and chairman in 1910)
Sir Rufus Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading (1860-1935), who was variously Member of Parliament for Reading (1904-1913), Solicitor General for England (1910), Attorney General for England (1910-1913), Lord Chief Justice of England (1913-1921), British ambassador to the United States (1918-1919), Viceroy and Governor General of India (1921-1926) and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1931) and Leader of the House of Lords (1931) lived at Foxhill House on the Whiteknights Estate during the early years of the 20th Century, until 1919.
Solomon Joel (1865–1931; businessman owner of Maiden Erlegh estate from 1903)
General Sir Richard Denis Kelly KCB (1815–1897, Colonel 34th Cumberland Regiment, born in Ceylon wounded and taken prisoner at Sebastapol, lived in 'Shrublands' Earley, buried in St Peter's Churchyard Earley)
John Scott, 1st Lord Eldon (1751–1838; Lord Chancellor under five prime ministers between 1801-1806 and 1807-1827; benefactor to the Royal Berkshire Hospital)
William Scott, Lord Stowell (1745–1836; Tory; MP for Oxford University, lived at Erleigh Court from 1828 died there on 28 Jan 1836)
Alfred Waterhouse (1813–1905; architect, designer and owner of Foxhill on Whiteknights Estate, first chairman of Governors at Leighton Park School, designed Wokingham and Reading Town Halls)