The ABBEY Gateway has opened its doors to visitors this week, for the first time in decades,so Bygones is taking a look at the history of this iconic Reading landmark.

Henry I founded the abbey in 1121,and the gateway formed a barrier to the public, so the 100 Cluniac monks could live without disturbance in their ‘inner sanctum’.

It is believed that successive Abbots may have used the rooms above the archway to hold meetings and greet visiting dignitaries.

The last Abbot,Hugh Cook Faringdon,was found guilty of treason and then hung,drawn and quartered just outside the gateway itself in 1539.

Following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1538, the Abbey almost entirely disappeared as a structure, with vast amounts of building material being sold off,eventually leaving only the flint core standing.

But two building did survive, one being the gateway,the other the Hospitium (lodgings for visiting pilgrims) which is still to be found in St.Laurence’s churchyard.

It was said that Queen Elizabeth I, on witnessing the town of Reading quickly decline,gave a great deal of ‘grace and favour’ to the borough for many years-using the gateway to approach her royal palace next door.

The Civil War ‘siege of Reading’ in 1643,saw a Royalist garrison besieged by Parliamentarian troops,but luckily the gateway did not suffer in the conflict-although the nearby abbey ruins were partially demolished with explosives-to improve the artilleries ‘line of fire’.

Jane Austen,the famous author,did study at Reading Ladies Boarding School in 1785 (along with her sister)with the gateway itself being used as a classroom-the main school building was on the site of the (present day) Abbots House.

Perhaps because the gateway itself was not an especially useful structure, it became so run down that (despite restoration work beginning in 1860) it collapsed in a dramatic storm one year later.

Luckily, two sides of the building did survive and during recent restoration work an original and larger, window frame was discovered and this has been left exposed for visitors to see.

It’s first scheduling as a listed building began in 1915, this ensured the future of the gateway and its purchase from the owners by the corporation halted the general malaise that could have resulted in yet more years of decay.

The official opening of the Reading Abbey Ruins takes place on the 16th June and tours of the Abbey Gateway already available through the Reading Abbey Quarter website.