Friends of Reading Abbey - a Look Back at Past Events




Friends of Reading Abbey Annual General Meeting 2017

We held a very successful AGM in Reading’s Town Hall on 28 October. More than 70 members and guests attended and we’d like to thank everyone for this excellent turnout.

Following the meeting Matthew Williams (Reading Museum Manager) and Giles Pritchard (Hants CC Architects) gave a full account of the Reading Abbey Revealed project so far, bringing the audience up to date with the conservation works. Matthew explained the importance and power of the abbey when it was built, and how even today, the site affects the road layout in the town. Many future events are planned once the abbey ruins re-open in 2018 and the area will be a place for the people of Reading to become involved in. To keep informed you can visit the new website .

Giles outlined the stages of the conservation works and described the erosion problems caused by cement capping applied in the 1970’s and 80’s. This is being removed to be replaced by soft capping. Fallen flints are being carefully replaced. Work has begun on the Abbey Gateway after a temporary roof had been erected to allow the existing roof to dry out. Once works are completed, it will house the Museum’s Victorian Schoolroom – a very apt use of the building. Please note, these are very brief summaries of the guest speakers’ illustrated talks!

Our next lecture will be on 13 April 2018 on the subject of ‘Reading Abbey in the Civil War’. Watch this space.

Some photos from the AGM are shown below


The speakers, Giles Pritchard and Matthew Williams


The audience seated in the Waterhouse Chamber in Reading Town Hall


Photos kindly supplied by Dianne Sykes



Friends of Reading Abbey outing to Steventon and Chawton, July 4th

Our Jane Austen inspired trip began at St Nicholas' Church, Steventon where her father and brother were rectors. Jane was born in Steventon and worshipped at this church for the first 25 years of her life. Our group enjoyed a talk by Canon Michael Kenning the retired Rector of Steventon on the history of this lovely Norman church and its Austen connections.

Then to the village of Chawton, for coffee at Cassandra’s Cup sitting under a ceiling decorated with tea cups. After lunch we toured the cottage where Jane settled in 1809 with her mother, sister and Martha Lloyd. Here Jane began the most prolific period of her writing career. There is an extensive collection of family mementoes and documentary material to see, including copies of letters written by Jane and also, her writing desk. A very pretty garden surrounds the house, stocked with many old varieties of flowers and herbs.

Our next stop was Chawton House, an Elizabethan Manor inherited by Edward Austen. The House had fallen into extreme disrepair towards the end of the twentieth century, but was rescued and restored by the American entrepreneur and philanthropist Sandy Lerner. We were given an enjoyable and informative guided tour of the property, which is now The Centre for the Study of Early Women's Writing, 1600-1830. Then, a chance to discuss the day so far over tea and cake served at the house.

Lastly to Chawton church dating back to at least 1270. It contains memorials relating to the Knight family, the forbears and descendants of Jane Austen’s brother Edward, most noticeable being the magnificent marble semi-recumbent effigy to Sir Richard Knight dating from 1679. Jane Austen’s mother and sister are buried in the churchyard.

Here are a few photos to illustrate our sunny day in Jane Austen’s beautiful Hampshire.

1. Introductory talk in St Nicholas' church, Steventon

2. The ceiling in the Cassandra's Cup cafe in Chawton - Cassandra was the name of both Jane Austen's mother and sister

3. The Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton

4. Friends assemble for the visit to the Jane Austen's House Museum

5. Trying out some fitting headgear in the Museum!

6. Notice in the Museum

7. Jane Austen's House Museum: the table-top in this photo is the one on which Jane Austen wrote much of her work.

8. View of the Museum garden

9. Chawton House viewed from the drive

10. The tomb of Sir Richard Knight in St Nicholas' church, Chawton

Links to websites for the places visited during the outing:

    St Nicholas' Steventon

    Jane Austen's House Museum, Chawton

    Chawton House

    St Nicholas' Chawton


Reading Waterfest

The three combined Friends Groups, of Reading Abbey, Reading Museum and Caversham Court Gardens, joined with Reading Museum at the Waterfest on 10 June 2017. On offer were free tours of the Abbey Quarter; tile painting and panoramic views of the ruins from the top of the scaffolding – achieved via virtual reality headsets! Here are a few photos to give a flavour of the day including some of the boats and their colourful owners, on the river. The photos were kindly supplied by Dianne Sykes.



Friends of Reading Abbey outing to Lewes

On July 6th about 30 Friends enjoyed a very pleasant outing to a number of historic sites around Lewes in Sussex. First was a visit to the Anne of Cleves House museum in Southover, so-called because the house was given to Anne of Cleves as part of the divorce settlement between her and Henry VIII. It is now a museum of Tudor, Elizabethan and later artifacts from the local area. This was followed by a tour of Lewes Priory, the ruins of the first Cluniac house in England, and the Gundrada Chapel in the nearby church of St John the Baptist, where the founders of Lewes Priory, William de Warenne and his wife Gundrada, are interred. On the way home, Friends were able to view the notable medieval wall paintings in the church of St John the Baptist in Clayton.
The four photographs below are part of a set kindly provided by Chris Widdows. All of Chris' photographs can be viewed by clicking here.

1. Anne of Cleves House

2. Lewes Priory

3. Gundrada Chapel in St John the Baptist church, Southover, Lewes

4. St John the Baptist church, Clayton


Friends' Summer Party

The Friends' Summer Party on Sunday 19 June, in the Forbury Gardens, went well. The rain held off, and the Party attracted a good number of people. The guided tours of the Abbey Quarter proved popular, as did the impromptu performance of scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream by the Progress Theatre Company: this is their outdoor production this July, in Caversham Court Gardens.

The workshops and community singing of Sumer is Icumen in, led by David Owen Norris, attracted around 100 singers. We sang the round twice to an attentive audience.

These photos of the event were kindly provided by David Shephard:

A set of photos of the Summer Party kindly supplied by Chris Widdows can be viewed by clicking here



Friends enjoyed a memorable outing to Oxford on 8th July 2015. An article about it is available here



Abbey Ruins tours during 2014

Photographs from the 2014 Waterfest tours of the Ruins and from the Summer Party in Caversham Court Gardens can be seen here.
Thank you to Dave Shephard for the photography work.

An account of the tours held on the 9th May 2014 appears on the 'getreading' website, link
Friends assist Museum staff at Waterfest 2014.