A PROJECT to uncover the hidden treasures beneath the town's oldest gem has gathered momentum after being welcomed by councillors.

Reading's Hidden Abbey Project (HAP) follows the successful £3.15m restoration of the 900-year-old Abbey Ruins and will allow experts to delve further into the history of the site.

The scheme has been designed to discover the full extent of the ruins and plans have been arranged in partnerships with Historic England.

More than 18,000 visitors headed down to the reopening of the site, which was off limits to the public for nearly a decade due to safety concerns.

Councillor Sarah Hacker, lead member for heritage and culture, said: “With the Abbey Quarter now thriving and the much loved Abbey Ruins open to the public, now is an ideal time for us to take the next steps to move the HAP forward.

"This site is potentially one of the richest areas in Reading as a source for discovering not just the history of the town but also its relevance to the historical development of the Thames Valley. Our ambition is to now use targeted trench investigation.

"This would represent the first ever comprehensive study of Reading Abbey Church, offering a unique research opportunity of national, and potentially international, importance and may finally help answer many of our key questions that have long intrigued historians, archaeologists and researchers alike.”

The restoration project was boosted by funding of £1.77m from the National Lottery and Heritage Lottery.

Proposals to carry out work at the site were put before the council's housing, neighbourhoods and leisure committee on July 4.

The HAP steering group revealed plans to explore key locations at the landmark, including parts of Forbury Gardens and the rear of Forbury Gardens Day Nursery.

Councillor Tony Page, deputy leader of Reading Borough Council, added: “The first stage of the Hidden Abbey Project provided us with tantalising initial results and opened up the possibility for future exploration.

“Following on from the reopening of the Abbey Ruins and the revitalisation of the Abbey Quarter, this project has the potential to further build on this success and bring huge cultural, historical and economic benefits to the quarter and the town as a whole.

"As a group, we hope to keep the momentum going and to get to a position where we can further expand our understanding of this historic site.”