The Western League had its origins in the Bristol and District League, founded in 1892 (two years before the Southern League) by teams in and around Bristol. The founder members included Eastville Rovers - later to become Bristol Eastville Rovers and then Bristol Rovers. The league was dominated in its early years by Warmley who were champions four times in the first five seasons, including the first two season after it became the Western League in 1895. The following year saw Bristol South End - later to become Bristol City - join the league.
Reading, together with Swindon, first joined the league in the newly formed Professional Section in 1897. However they played for only one season before transferring to the United League and then to the Southern District Combination. By 1899, the Western League Division 1 had dwindled to just four clubs - Bristol City, Bristol Rovers, Swindon Town and Bedminster - a number that dropped still further when Bedminster merged with Bristol City.
In 1900 there was a major influx of Southern League teams, including Reading, into the Western League. In effect it became a subsidiary tournament for Southern League teams, the fixtures generally being played mid-week. According to league rules, teams were meant to put out a full-strength team. However often weaker elevens or reserve teams were fielded, putting the clubs into conflict with the league.
Growing fixture commitments caused the league to be divided into two sections in 1906, the two winners contesting a play-off to decide the league champions. This continued until 1909 when the first division was disbanded, leaving just the second division, containing some genuine West Country (and Welsh) teams, to continue.
The following table gives the champions and runners-up until the First World War, including the play-off results from 1906-09:
Champions Runners-up 1892-93 Bristol Warmley Trowbridge Town 1893-94 Bristol Warmley St George* 1894-95 Bristol Hereford Thistle St George* 1895-96 Western Warmley Eastville Rovers* 1896-97 Western Warmley Bristol South East* 1897-98 Western Bristol City Swindon Town 1898-99 Western Swindon Town Bristol St George 1899-00 Western Bristol Rovers Bedminster 1900-01 Western Portsmouth Millwall Athletic 1901-02 Western Portsmouth Tottenham Hotspur 1902-03 Western Portsmouth Bristol Rovers 1903-04 Western Tottenham Hotspur Southampton 1904-05 Western Plymouth Argyle Brentford 1905-06 Western Queen's Park Rangers Southampton 1906-07 Western West Ham United 1 Fulham 0 1907-08 Western Millwall 1 Southampton 0 1908-09 Western Millwall 2 Brighton & Hove Alb 1 1909-10 Western Treharris Bristol City Res 1910-11 Western Bristol City Res Bristol Rovers Res 1911-12 Western Welton Rovers Barry District 1912-13 Western Bristol Rovers Res Cardiff City Res 1913-14 Western Cardiff City Res Bath City * Bristol City previously known as Bristol South End * Bristol Rovers previously known as Eastville Rovers * Bristol St George previously known as St George
Reading's best performance was finishing third in 1897-98 and 1901-02.
The Western League continues to this day as one of the feeder leagues into the Southern League.