The chapter house was the meeting room for the monks at the Abbey. Here they would discuss abbey business, receive important visitors and give out punishments to monks who had broken the rules.

Digging Deeper - Abbey Life

Many monks lived at Reading Abbey and there would have been a group of senior monks who held additional responsibilities to ensure the smooth running of the site.

  • Abbot: In charge of the abbey.
  • Prior: Abbot's second-in-command.
  • Precentor: In charge of the library, archives, singing and processions.
  • Sacrist: Responsible for the security and upkeep of the abbey church.
  • Cellarer: Managed the abbey's estates and ensured the abbey was well supplied with food, drink and firewood.
  • Kitchener: Organised meals for the monks and the infirmary.
  • Chamberlain: Ensured the monks had clothes, shoes and clean bedding and organised baths and shaving.
  • Master of the Infirmary: Looked after sick monks staying in the infirmary.
  • Almoner: Responsible for giving money, food and clothes to poor people living nearby.
  • Master of the Novices: In charge of training and educating new monks (novices).

The abbey would have been a major landowner and would have owned lands locally and further afield. The monks would have managed this themselves and income from this land would have supported the running of the abbey.

Map of land owned by Reading Abbey
Map of the major lands owned by Reading Abbey

Abbey property

The abbey was granted land all over England. Most was in Berkshire but there was also property in Herefordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire, Sussex and Kent. Reading Abbey also had a priory on the Isle of May in the North Sea off the east coast of Scotland.

Memorial Plaques

There are three memorial plaques in the chapter house, all set up in the early 20th century. One is for the song ‘Sumer is i-cumen in’ (‘Summer is here’), the oldest known English round, which was first written down in a 13th-century manuscript book kept at Reading Abbey. The other memorial stones are for Reading Abbey’s first abbot, Hugh de Boves, and the last abbot, Hugh Cook of Faringdon. 

In 1539, King Henry VIII closed Reading Abbey, along with all the other abbeys and priories in England. Reading’s last abbot, Hugh Cook of Faringdon, questioned Henry’s right to close the abbey and was accused of treason. He was executed by hanging, drawing and quartering, probably close to the west front of the Abbey Church, on 14 November 1539.

Conservation of the Reading Abbey Ruins