These are some of the historic and archeological highlights you can see in the Abbey Quarter including Reading Museum. The Abbey Quarter covers the former precinct of one of Europe's largest royal monasteries.
A Chapter House was a multi-purpose room that served as the meeting place for the community of monks at Reading Abbey. This impressive space is the most complete room within the Abbey Ruins. The Chapter House is currently closed for conservation and reopens in summer 2018, but you can glimpse it from the gardens behind the Abbot's House offices in Abbot's Walk.
Nestled amongst striking modern office buildings, stand the remains of the twelfth century Abbey Mill arch. The mill was in use up until 1959. You can access it from Abbey Street along the Holy Brook riverside path, beside The Blade office block.
The Grade I listed Abbey Gateway divided the public area of the Abbey grounds (what is now Forbury Gardens) and the private area where the rest of the Abbey Ruins are located. The Abbey Gateway was once part of the Reading Girls School. This was famously attended by author Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra.
In 1861 the Gateway collapsed in a gale, shortly after funds had been raised for vital conservation. Instead the Gate had to be substantially rebuilt. This work was completed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, a Victorian architect known for his Gothic Revival work. He also designed Reading Gaol within the Abbey Quarter. The Gateway is also currently being restored and work will finish in early 2018.
These are a fine example of Victorian public gardens created in 1856 in the eastern half of the Forbury, the former outer precinct of the Abbey. You can still enjoy the paths, flower beds, fountain and Forbury Hill that were laid out by Reading Corporation. The gardens were linked to the Abbey Ruins by a short tunnel incorporating carved stones from the Abbey unearthed during the tunnel's excavation. This will once again link the gardens and Ruins when conservation work is completed in 2018.
In 1860 the western half the Forbury was acquired and ten years later formally incorporated into the gardens. The enormous Maiwand Lion memorial was added in 1886 to commemorate the men of the 66th Berkshire Regiment that died at the Battle of Maiwand in Afghanistan in 1880. The beautiful gardens were faithfully restored by Reading Council in 2006 and host music and events throughout the year.
Reading Gaol is infamous as the place where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in cell 3.3 between 1895 and 1897. After he was released Wilde wrote his famous poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol about his experience of the prison. The former prison is located at the eastern end of the Abbey Quarter overlooking the main Abbey Ruins.
The first County Gaol on the site opened in 1796. The present neo-Tudor building of 1844 was one of the earliest designs by George Gilbert Scott (later Sir Gilbert). He designed it with his partner William Bonythorn Moffatt. Their outer prison wall with its castellated towers and gatehouse was demolished in 1971, but the original cell wings and central tower remain.
In September 2013 the government announced the permanent closure of Reading Prison. It was too expensive to run and will be sold for conversion of the Listed Buildings to new uses. You can view the exterior from the Forbury and Chestnut Walk.
This column capital features the earliest surviving depiction of the coronation of the Virgin Mary. A capital is the carved stone that sits on top of a column, supporting an arch. It is just one of the many important Romanesque stones from the Abbey at Reading Museum. It will feature in the new Abbey displays at Reading Museum that open in February 2018 as part of Reading Abbey Revealed project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.