HUGE crowds headed to the town's oldest gem on Saturday for the long-awaited reopening of Reading's Abbey Ruins.

A substantial conservation project has seen more than £3m injected into the 900-year-old attraction, which until the weekend had been off limits to the public for almost a decade.

The Abbey Ruins Revealed ceremony marked the end of the restoration works at the Grade I listed site and was attended by hundreds of visitors.

All of the Abbey Quarter has been carefully considered by contractors in order to preserve the character of the old home of Henry I.

Councillor Sarah Hacker, lead member for culture and heritage, said: "It was a fantastic day and it was brilliant to see so many people waiting to get into the Abbey.

"They were greeted with a musical performance and we have had some brilliant feedback from the day. There was entertainment in the Forbury and people had a fantastic time.

Reading Chronicle:

"I really can't thank the volunteers and the performers enough. A lot of people had never seen the site before and for many people it was their first experience of the monument.

"Reading is not just a shopping town. It has so much more to offer and so hopefully people begin to find out more about the town's history."

The reopening of the Abbey was made possible through £1.77m funding Heritage Lottery Fund and match funding of £1.38m from Reading Borough Council.

The Abbey played a key role in the country's history, until Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in the mid sixteenth century.

It was founded in 1121 and a range of demonstrations and live actors were on hand throughout the day to take visitors back to the time of Henry I.

The ceremony was held as part of this year's Water Fest celebrations, with reenactments and themed activities for children.

Matthew Williams, manager of Reading Museum, added: "I think it starts a new chapter in Reading's history. We really want to show off what Reading has to offer.

"We have tried to protect it for the future, but in a way that is sympathetic to the ruins, rather than using harsh modern techniques."