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Reading Abbey’s much anticipated big day re-opening was well celebrated by visitors yesterday, 16 June. The formal cutting of the crimson and gold ribbons was undertaken by Reading Mayor, councillor Debs Edwards, and HM Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire James Puxley.

The ribbon cutting party comprised (from L to R above): Reading East MP, Matt Rodda; deputy leader of Reading Borough Council, cllr Tony Page; Matilda the Empress; HM Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, James Puxley; Mayor, councillor Debs Edwards; Deputy Mayor, cllr Paul Woodward; Henry I; and lead councillor for culture, heritage and recreation, cllr Sarah-Jane Hacker.

At least four of the VIPs are familiar with Katesgrove Hill. Before his election as MP for Reading East, Matt Rodda was a Katesgrove councillor and Deputy Mayor, Paul Woodward is a councillor for Church Ward. At The Whitley Pump, we also like to think that Henry I would have come up to the top of the hill to see the site where his abbey would be built and that Matilda must have travelled along Basingtoke Road coming to or from Winchester during the Anarchy of King Stephen’s Reign.

The gates into the Abbey in the south east corner of the Forbury Gardens were then opened to all those who had been patiently waiting in the queue in the gardens.

Kennet Morris Men

The programme of events inside the ruins began with the Kennet Morris Men on the main stage. The south transept was the location of two atmospheric sound experiences which ran throughout the day. On the hour Beautiful Creatures performed the ‘Call of the Bells’ and at other times Reading Fringe Festival and Iain Chambers presented a Reading specific ‘House of Sound’.

Costumed characters: Henry I, Matilda the Empress, Elizabeth I, Jane Austen and Madame La Tournelle, circulated during the day. In the afternoon, they joined the procession from the Forbury and around the Abbey ruins with masks that had been made during the day at the Jelly animal mask making stand.

Outside the ruins, Water Fest straddled along the Kennet from Gas Works Bridge to Abbey Wharf where there were charity and community stalls as well as a boat parade and narrow boat trips.

In the Forbury there were activities for children and demonstrations including, spinning, archery and a civil war enactment from Earl Rivers Regiment of Foot; the latter was a nod to the Siege of Reading in 1643, during the English Civil War when the Abbey ruins were used as a defensive position by the besieged Royalists.

Civil war interpretation panel

The weather was perfect; not too hot and no rain. A good time was had by all.

Enormous congratulations are due to everyone who participated in the Reading Abbey Revealed project, led by Reading Museum, and made it a resounding success. The cost was £3.15 million and thanks are due to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for funding of £1.77m and Reading Borough Council (RBC) who allocated £1.37m from financial contributions made by developers as part of the planning process.

Surely Reading must now be worthy of a spot on the tourist heritage trail?

The ruins are now open daily from dawn to dusk and are free to visit unless there are special events taking place. The Abbey gateway is only open for schools and tours (the summer tours are already sold out). Information about all events in the Abbey Quarter and booking details can be can be found on the dedicated website.

The ribbon cutting party celebrate on the roof of the Abbey Gateway

  1. Reading Water Fest and Reading Abbey Revealed
  2. Reading Abbey Revealed
  3. Reading Abbey Quarter
  4. Reading Museum
  5. Henry I featured in Whitley Pump
  6. Matilda the Empress featured in Whitley Pump
  7. Three days to go before Reading Abbey re-opens
  8. Two days to go before Reading Abbey re-opens – Did monks play at Rabson’s Rec?
  9. One day to go before Reading Abbey re-opens