Friends of Reading Abbey - a Look Back at Past Events


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2021

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Reading Water Fest and Reading Abbey's 900th anniversary celebration, Saturday June 19th

After a year off because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Reading Water Fest returned in 2021. This year it was also the flagship event to celebrate 900 years since Reading Abbey was founded by King Henry I.

Pandemic restrictions were still in place: numbers were limited to 4000, with one entry point and a one way system through the Forbury Gardens leading into the Abbey ruins. Nevertheless, Reading Borough Council put on an impressive programme, with dozens of performances, workshops and stands throughout the festival area. All the tickets had been booked well before the date for this, one of the early major events following the pandemic lockdowns, and people were glad to be able to meet up, circulate and generally enjoy themselves.

The Friends of Reading Abbey had a stand located in the South Transept of the ruins, along with other heritage groups, and a steady flow of visitors came through during the day, to browse through the leaflets, buy the books and Reading Abbey 900 badges which were for sale, and chat with the Fora stallholders.

We were pleased to welcome the Mayor of Reading, Councillor David Stevens, to the Fora stand. His visit can be seen in the photos below, these were kindly supplied by Heather Young.
 



 

Below are photos taken around Water Fest, kindly supplied by Dianne Sykes and David Shephard. There are additional photos on the
Friends of Reading Abbey Facebook page and on the Reading Water Fest Facebook page.

        



 

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2019

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Friends' First Sunday, August 4th


Many thanks to the people of Caversham and beyond who arrived in large numbers to enjoy one of Caversham Court Garden’s ‘First Sundays’. We had a great afternoon, joining forces again with The Friends of Reading Museum. The Mayor of Reading, Councillor Paul Woodward and the Mayoress supported the event and both were keen to hear about the activities of the Friends of Reading Abbey. In spite of competition from the many cute hounds being judged in the dog show, our stand received many visitors and the children’s History Trail was very popular! The weather was fine and sunny, and music from the Salvation Army band along with a well-stocked Tea Kiosk, added to a perfect afternoon by the river.

We’re very grateful to our hosts – The Friends of Caversham Court Gardens, for inviting us to take part on the day. The gardens look beautiful at any time of year, and we urge you to visit if you’ve not done so.

Here are some photos of the event, kindly supplied by Dianne Sykes.



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Friends of Reading Abbey Annual Outing, Wednesday 24th July


The FORA annual outing was a relatively local one this year, to Cholsey, Wallingford and Dorchester Abbey. Cholsey was part of the foundation endowment to Reading Abbey and the church has interesting 12th century features, as well as being the burial place of Agatha Christie. Wallingford was an ancient Saxon burgh which rose to importance in the Norman period as a place where the Thames could be forded, and is where William the Conquerer crossed the river on his way from Hastings to London. A castle of Norman foundation guarded the ford, which held out for Matilda throughout the anarchy and survived a number of sieges. Dorchester was an Augustinian abbey and much of the abbey church still survives.
Some photos from the day, kindly supplied by Chris Widdows, are shown below. All of Chris' photographs of the outing can be viewed by clicking here


   Church of St Mary the Virgin, Cholsey


   The Town Hall, Wallingford


   Interior of Dorchester Abbey


   Now the Museum and Tea-room, these are the only monastic buildings remaining of the original Abbey at Dorchester



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Reading Waterfest, Saturday 15th June


Despite the uncertain weather, people flocked to the riverside to enjoy the many entertainments and activities on offer. The focus of the Friends of Reading Abbey this year, was to gauge public opinion on ways to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Abbey which is fast approaching in the year 2021. The response was overwhelming and some options received royal approval! We’re still collating the ideas which will feed into our programme of events. Thank you to all who stopped by and took time to take part. We are very grateful to the members who volunteered to help on our stand and to Reading Museum for the loan of tables. Our partners in this event, The Friends of Reading Museum also drew many visitors to their stand, where people had an opportunity to sign Matt Rodda’s ‘Save Reading Gaol’ petition - a campaign to stop the Ministry of Justice from selling the prison site to the highest bidder, resulting in residential development.
Here are a few photos from the day.


Thank you to Dianne Sykes for the photos



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2018

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Friends of Reading Abbey Annual General Meeting 2018


We had a very well attended AGM on Saturday 27 October, held in St James Church. It was a pleasure to have the Mayor of Reading, Councillor Debs Edwards in the audience. The reports from our Chairman Dr Peter Durrant and Secretary John Painter, reflected what a very active time the past year had been - the main event being the re-opening of Reading Abbey Ruins on 16 June 2018, after a successful conservation project. Membership of FORA is flourishing, and we are in a very good position to prepare to mark the 900th anniversary of the founding of the abbey, in 2021. Following the formal business, our speaker, Professor Anne Lawrence-Mathers provided a fascinating insight into the medieval mind during her talk on Magic, Medicine and Miracles. We heard of the miracles performed by the hand of St James; the healing powers of gemstones (such as pearls, topaz and amethyst) and the medicinal herbs used to cure various ailments. Our next talk will be at our spring meeting in 2019, details will follow later.

Below are photos from the AGM, showing the Friends' President, Professor Brian Kemp with the Mayor, and showing Professor Anne Lawrence-Mathers and Dr Durrant with the President and the Mayor.
 


Thank you to Dianne Sykes for the photos



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The Friends' Summer Party, Sunday 2nd September


The Summer Party took place in the newly re-opened Abbey ruins on a superb early September day. The photo below shows the party in the Dormitory area with the Chapter House and Reading Gaol beyond. An article about the day and further photos can be seen here
 


Photo: Chris Widdows



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The Friends' Outing to Tewkesbury and Deerhurst, Wednesday 25th July

The Friends enjoyed a day visiting the superb Norman abbey church at Tewkesbury and the anglo-saxon St Mary's Priory church, and Odda's Chapel, also anglo-saxon, at Deerhurst. Some photos from the day, kindly supplied by Chris Widdows, are shown below. All of Chris' photographs of the outing can be viewed by clicking here.
 

   Tewkesbury Abbey

   St Mary's Priory Church, Deerhurst

   Odda's Chapel, Deerhurst



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The re-opening of Reading Abbey ruins and Waterfest, Saturday 16th June

The long and patient wait for the re-opening of the Abbey ruins ended on June 16th. Combining with Reading's annual Water Fest, in festivities stretching from Forbury Gardens to Chestnut Walk and beyond, this significant event in Reading's history was celebrated by thousands of visitors. The official re-opening of the ruins took place at 11am, with the Mayor of Reading, Cllr Debs Edwards and HM Lord-Lieutenant of the Royal County of Berkshire, Mr James Puxley, carrying out the ribbon-cutting ceremony, shown below. The Friends of Reading Abbey were present, and passers-by visited our stand to read our literature and ask questions about the abbey’s history.
A description of the day is given in this Reading Borough Council press release
Further photos can be seen on the Reading Water Fest Facebook page




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2017

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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 readingabbeyquarter.org.uk .

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

 

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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


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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.


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2016

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



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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


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2015

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

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2014



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
here.
  
Friends assist Museum staff at Waterfest 2014.