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               tHE WEST GATE 

A protective wall with gates surrounded the Abbey, and visitors, pilgrims and trades people were usually allowed only into the large Forbury area leading to the Abbey Church. 

Passing to and from work through the West Gate under the watchful eye of the porter, the daily throng of paid employees from the town showed the relationship between themselves and the Abbey. Abbey and town were inter-dependent, relying on one another for economic wellbeing, yet the Abbey always kept itself somewhat aloof and strove for overall command. Above the West or Compter Gate (so named from the mediaeval word for a prison), was the gaol where wrongdoers were locked up by the Abbot, who administered justice in the town.

The westgate continued to stand until the early 1800s. It is shown in the distance in a picture of round 1800 where it appears to have a round Norman arch. It was then pulled down but the present road from the market place continues to go through where once it stood.

Copyright Reading Museum Service from "Reading Abbey", published by Reading Museum & Art Gallery 1988.

In 1989 when the top of the Plummery Wall to the north of the Abbey site was being taken down for the new Forbury road, many stones from the Abbey where found which had been reused in Victorian times to make up this wall. Among them was the life size head of a bishop, most probably a saint, shown wearinga bishop's hat or mitre. The head has been broken from the body and came from a life size statue. From the weathering being more extreme on its right hand side it can be argued that the statue faced south so being exposed on its right to the greater winds and rain coming from the west. A build up of  grime on the surface of the stone suggests it was in place until such pollution began in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century. The one building known to have stood until then and likely to have been decorated with statues is the west gate. The full story can be read in :-

Cram C L 1991, A thirteenth century sculptured stone head found in the precinct wall of Reading Abbey, Antiquaries Journal 71, 223 - 226.

Here is a picture of the stone, a possible attribution is Saint Birinus who brought Christianity to this part of Britain in 865.

Copyright Reading Museum Service (Reading Borough Council). All rights reserved. 

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