Reading Abbey is celebrating its 900th ‘birthday’ on Saturday 19th June, alongside Reading Water Fest, so Bygones is marking this momentous occasion by telling the story of the of town’s most iconic landmark.

Founded by Henry I in 1121, the abbey became one of England’s most important religious centres in the medieval period.

After Henry’s death in France, his body was returned to his spiritual home, but this took nearly two months and resulted in his remains arriving in a terrible condition.

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The King’s brain had been removed, his body had been wrapped in cow’s hide, with the resulting stench killing one of the body’s many visitors.

BREAKING BAD: Most of the gateway fell down in 1861

BREAKING BAD: Most of the gateway fell down in 1861

For hundreds of years the abbey received Royal patronage and was often used as a stopping off point for Kings and Queens when they were travelling around their kingdom.

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.

FOUNDING FATHER: King Henry I was buried in Reading Abbey

FOUNDING FATHER: King Henry I was buried in Reading Abbey

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

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But two buildings did survive, the Abbey gateway and the Hospitium (lodgings for visiting pilgrims) which is still to be found in St. Laurence’s churchyard, the wall of which was restored as part of the project. During the English Civil War, the ruins suffered from artillery fire directed towards the Royalists and some of the walls were demolished to improve the defender’s field of fire.

HALF LIFE: Reading Abbey as it is today

HALF LIFE: Reading Abbey as it is today

The ruins themselves were closed to the public in 2009, after large pieces of flint started to fall from the walls, many from a great height.

The Reading Abbey Quarter Project was begun after £1.77 million of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund was granted, with CRL Restoration Limited being awarded the restoration contract alongside Reading Borough Council.

Gradually the site, which is adjacent to the Forbury Gardens and Reading Prison, was covered in scaffolding, along with the Abbey Gateway which was also part of the scheme.

Using state-of-the-art-technology, the largely flint based walls and structures were secured by the contractors, using huge amounts of hand-applied compatible mortar.

The Abbey Gateway was scheduled as a listed building in 1915, its restoration revealed an earlier medieval window frame that had survived the buildings collapse in 1861.