Celebrating 900 years of Reading Abbey

Video report by ITV Meridian's Mel Bloor

Interviewees: Alex Brannen, Reading UK and Cllr Karen Rowland, Reading Borough Council

Nine hundred years ago, work began on the construction of what was to become one of the wealthiest and most important monasteries of Medieval England.

Reading Abbey was founded by King Henry I in 1121 and today its ruins are a highlight of the town's contemporary cultural scene. Unfortunately, the King died before his Abbey was complete but monks lived, worked and worshipped there for more than 400 years.

In 1539, four centuries of monastic life at Reading Abbey came to an abrupt end and on the orders of King Henry the 8th, the Abbey was closed. 

The buildings were torn down and the stone sold off.

The Grade I listed Abbey Gateway

The Abbey Gateway was one of only two complete buildings to survive the dissolution. Originally it marked the division between the area of the Abbey open to the public and the section accessible only to monks.

In the late 18th century, it was used as Reading Ladies' Boarding School, attended by the author Jane Austen.

The rest of the ruins were re-opened to the public in 2018, following major conservation work.

Reading Abbey Conservation Works in 2018

Two new carved heads will be added to the Abbey Gateway, and members of the public are being asked to help choose who they should be.

The six contenders are:

  • Hugh Faringdon – the last Abbot of Reading, accused of treason by Henry VIII, and publicly hung, drawn, and quartered outside the gateway in 1539.

  • Queen Elizabeth I – who used the abbot’s house and gateway as a royal palace in the 1560s.

  • Jane Austen – who studied in the gateway from 1785 to 1786 when it was used as a classroom for Reading Ladies’ Boarding School.

  • Sir George Gilbert Scott – the leading architect who restored the gateway back in 1861 after a thunderstorm caused the archway to collapse.

  • Dr Jamieson Hurry – a local historian and philanthropist who gifted 12 carved heads in 1900

  • A modern stonemason – based on a female member of the team that worked on the recent restoration of the Abbey.

New film launched to introduce Reading Abbey in its 900th anniversary year

Reading UK has produced a new introductory film to Reading Abbey Quarter to coincide with the Abbey's 900th anniversary.

'Reading Abbey 900' has been produced to raise awareness of the Abbey as one of England’s outstanding medieval gems and to encourage visits to Reading later in the year, once the current COVID situation allows.

The film was initially created as part of the tourism work Reading UK has undertaken with UK and international travel trade operators to support the visitor and hospitality economy in Reading. With the beginning of 2021 coinciding with continued tightened restrictions on travelling and a #stayhome message, Reading UK is now launching the film directly to the visitor market to encourage people to plan a visit to Reading later in the year.