"Reading Abbey" Reading Things to Do Tip by sociolingo

Reading Things to Do: 42 reviews and 44 photos

Reading Abbey was constructed between 1121 and 1164. It was one of the great pilgrimage centres of Medieval England.
Reading Abbey was founded by King Henry I in 1121 as a private mausoleum for his family. It was built on the site of the Danish stronghold set up during the Viking Wars of King Alfred's reign (871). They used it as their countrywide invasion headquarters, and the King besieged them there several times. At the time of the Civil War between Henry's daughter, the Empress Matilda and her cousin, King Stephen, the Abbey was still being built. The latter apparently constructed a motte and bailey castle in its grounds, possibly to harrass Wallingford, though this was a little distant. It was destroyed by the Empress' son (later Henry II) in 1153. The remains of the motte can still be seen in the Forbury Gardens (which take their name from the Castle: the Fore-Borough). The Abbey was finally completed in 1164, forty-three years later. It was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, (Saint-to-be) Thomas A'Beckett.

It was while staying at the Abbey, the previous year, that Henry II had witnessed the trial by combat of Henry De Essex and Robert De Montfort on De Monfort Island in the Thames. Essex had been accused by Montfort of treachery and cowardice, and the two fought a long hard battle until Montfort was victorious and Essex found guilty. The latter was thought to be dead and was taken to the Abbey where he recovered, revealing his defeat had been due to his being blinded by a vision of St. Edmund. He remained a Reading monk for the rest of his life. It was also at Reading Abbey, in 1185, that the Patriach of Jerusalem offered Henry II the crown of his city, if he would defend it against the infidels. The King declined. On three occasions, the Papal Legate summoned ecclesiastical councils at the Abbey, and parliament also met there, notably in 1453. The House of Commons met in the Chapter House and the Lords in the Refrectory, often when they were pushed out of London by the threat of plague. There were Royal occasions at the Abbey too.

The Abbey's Inner Gateway is one of the few remnants of this once great house still standing today. It was the original home of the Abbey School and was attended by Jane Austin. There are some ruins of the Abbey's chapter house and associated features in the Forbury Gardens, where the largest lion in the World stands as a memorial to the Royal Berkshire Regiment killed at the Battle of Maiwand in the Afgan Wars. The other substantially intact Abbey building that remains today is the dormitory of the pilgrims' hospitium or guesthouse of St. John the Baptist. This stands beside the path through St. Laurence's churchyard. It later became the abode of the Royal Grammar School of Henry VII (now Reading School), Stables for Henry VIII's horses when the Abbot's House became his palace for a short time, the Barracks of Civil War Soldiers and, in 1892, the home of University College Reading (now the University of Reading: hence St. James' scallops on its arms).

Directions: By Forbury Gardens in the centre of Reading ..near the Apex Plaza
othercontact: http://www.britannia.com/history

Review Helpfulness: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Was this review helpful?

  • Written Aug 24, 2002
  • Send to a Friend
  • Add to your Trip Planner
  • Report Abuse

More Things to Do in Reading (1)



“travel light, make time for people”

Online Now


Top 5,000 Travel Writer
Member Rank:
0 4 3 8 9

Have you been to Reading?

  Share Your Travels