Moving on from our day in Oxford, that night we arrived in Reading and met up with my friend, who we were staying with for the next couple of days. The next morning, we started our exploration of the historic town of Reading…
Status: Reading Unitary District, Berkshire, Town, England
Travel: Merseyrail (Southport – Liverpool Lime Street via Liverpool Central), London Midland (Liverpool Lime Street – Birmingham New Street), Cross Country (Birmingham New Street – Reading via Oxford), First Great Western (Reading – Windsor via Slough), Virgin Trains (Birmingham New Street – Wigan North Western), Northern Rail (Wigan Wallgate – Southport)
Eating & Sleeping: Greggs, Patisserie Valerie Cake Shop, Chicken Base Takeaway
Attractions: Reading Abbey, Reading Town Hall, Museum of Rural English Life, Reading University, River Thames, Museum of Reading, Greyfriars Church, Reading Minster, Oracle Shopping Centre etc
Our first stop in Reading was the town centre. We got a bus into the centre and got off very close to one of the main churches, which has been nicknamed the checker board church, and you can see why. This odd pattern covers the whole building, and makes it unique amongst churches that we have come across so far. It’s a great design, and makes the church as a whole stand out.
It is actually Reading Minster, and the main body of the church itself is from the 11th century. In 1539 Reading Abbey was dissolved and the Minster (St Mary’s) was gutted and most internal features removed, leaving it in a terrible state. Between 1551 and 1555 was restored, using materials from the now ruined Abbey, not far away in the town centre. In 1918 a small chapel was added to the building, known as St Edwards Chapel, as a memorial to the victims of World War I.
Inside, the Abbey is well furnished and wooden beams criss cross in the roof space. It is free to enter and one of the main churches in Reading.
From the Minster, we made our way through the extensive series of pedestrianised streets in the town centre, which contain grand buildings on all sides. These beautiful stone constructions sit atop the many and varied shops available to shoppers, and give the whole place a bit of added grandeur.
Our next stop was the fabulous Town Hall, built between 1787 and 1897 in several phases. The main section was the first, and was designed by Alfred Waterhouse (1830 – 1905). Originally the home of local government in Reading, it no longer has these functions and contains instead the Museum of Reading, a Cafe, and Concert Halls, which were added in one of the later stages to the original part of the Town Hall. In 1875 the front of the building was redone, and more additions were made, resulting in it’s present look.
The Musem of Reading is a fascinating look into the history of the town, and even contains a full size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry on the top floor, taking up near enough the entire floor. It also has an exhibition about the finds from an archealogical dig in Silchester, Hampshire, an old Roman Town. My friend in fact helped to excavate Silchester so she was very excited to show us the exhibition, which we really enjoyed.
The Town Hall is my favourite building in Reading, the design just looks incredible and you wouldn’t think it is over 200 years old, it looks so modern. Outside the Town Hall is a statue of Queen Victoria, another in a long line of statues of Victoria we have seen around the UK, including in Southport, Carlisle, Dundee, Birmingham, Blackburn, Hull, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield, South Shields, Worcester, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Paisley.
You might think that Reading Minster has suddenly moved, to stand next to the Town Hall. This is however a completely different building, that replicates the same checker board style. It is in fact St Laurence’s Church, dating back to before the 1100’s, however a series of restorations and rebuildings in 1196, the 15th century and 1867 have changed the original building a lot. It is one of three surviving parish churches in Reading, along with St Mary’s (The Minster) and and St Giles. The tower was added in 1458, and is of a slightly different design to that on the Minster.
You can see the clock tower of Town Hall directly behind it, and this shows how close the two buildings are.
At the back of the Town Hall and St Laurence’s Church, you will find Forbury Gardens, a large open space with a few notable features. The first of these is the Maiwand Lion, shown above. The base is a War Memorial, topped out with a gorgeous sculpture of a Lion, in full detail. It was installed in 1866, and its name comes from the Battle of Maiwand in 1880, between the British with India against Afghanistan, and the memorial is for the battle.
Behind the Lion you can see the ornate Band Stand, which stands at the centre of the gardens. There is another War Memorial near the gate as you enter the gardens and at the other end of the gardens is a great looking Fountain. Forbury Gardens is the perfect place to relax, and the sun had come out, so we relaxed in the area for a while.
Down the right hand side of the gardens, coming from the Town Hall, is the Abbey Inner Gateway, which led into the original Abbey complex that contained the Abbey Mill, the Abbey itself, and the Hospitium (dormitory for Pilgrims).
The gate is long since a ruin, but restoration is planned for it. Reading Abbey is at the very end of Forbury gardens but there is no longer access to it from here, you have to walk around to the front of the Abbey to get a full view. The Abbey itself is closed for healthy and safety reasons at the moment but you can still see most the main features.
The identity of this statue is unknown, but it was created by Elizabeth Frink, and it stands near one of the Abbey Walls in a small garden area.
Behind it you can see the remains of the Abbey itself. It was founded in 1121, by Henry I. When he subsequently died in 1135 in Lyons-la-Foret, Normandy, France, his body was returned to Reading and interred here. The Abbey became one of the most important in the country, and owned land all over the Britain including as far away as Scotland.
The earliest recorded four part harmony in Britain (Summer is icumen in) was written at the Abbey, in 1240. It was a very popular destination with many Kings and Queens, most notably Henry III (1207 – 1272) who visited various times throughout the year. Important events were also held at the castle, including the weddings of John of Gaunt (1340 – 1399, 1st Duke of Lancaster) in 1359 and Edward IV (1442 – 1483, King of England) in 1464.
In 1538 Henry VIII started the dissolution of the Monasteries, and the Abbey was largely destroyed. Hugh Cook Faringdon, the final abbot of the Abbey, was found guilty of treason not long after and executed outside the building.
The ruins survive today, but in poor condition, however there are restoration plans and hopefully any time now it should be restored to a much better condition.
The River Kennett runs past the Abbey, and then further into town. We got this great view looking back up the river, and as it was autumn the leaves were all changing colour and they shone nicely in the sunshine.
We followed the Kennett further into the town centre, to where it flows through a modern section of the town, flanked by the Oracle Shopping Centre.
Our last stop was the amazing cake shop, Patisserie Valerie where we found a great deal and got a few cakes for later on in the evening, before we went out together to Reading University for a party.
Reading is relatively closed to the British Capital, London, and the River Thames flows from here through Windsor and then through Central London. The M4 runs around the town, coming from South Wales (Swansea, Cardiff, Newport), past Bristol and the M5 (For Exeter, South and Birmingham for the North), then on to London itself and past the M25 London ring road. There are direct trains from Reading to Slough, London, Oxford, Birmingham, and the train station in Reading has recently undergone a large restoration to add new modern sections.
If you arrive by train you might notice the statue of Edward VII (1841 – 1910, King of the UK).
The nearest airport is London Heathrow, the busiest airport in the UK, with flights to all corners of the globe. The towns of Windsor, Maidenhead and Wokingham are all very close by road, and Reading is in a great position for tourists wanting to journey out from a base in London.
Reading is a fantastic town full of history and architecture. The museums give you plenty of information on the town and the buildings it contains such as the Abbey, and you will never be bored as you explore.
After we had finished in Reading we had to head back to Lancashire, but we had spent a few days in the town and really enjoyed ourselves. Even though it’s in the wrong direction, we took a detour to Windsor on the way back, so that was our next stop…