"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted on July 13, 2018 by Sioux under General
1 Comment

 

Once I had done the necessary updating of certification required in my line of work, I took myself off to Reading, which was half way to my next assignment and meant I didn’t have to get up too early to get the train to my destination.

A large, historically important town located in the Thames Valley at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, with historical evidence showing Reading having been inhabited from the 8th century. It was an important trading and centre in the medieval period; and was the site of Reading Abbey, one of the richest monasteries of medieval England, however only the 12th century abbey gateway and some ruins remain. By 1525, when measured by taxable wealth, Reading was the 10th largest town in England. By 1611, it had a population of over 5000 and had grown rich on its trade in cloth. By mid-2016, Reading had a population of approximately 162,700 making it one of the largest towns in the UK without city status.  

I had a few specific destinations in mind, and with only one day, set off early, on foot, to explore. Looking very forlorn on the early morning light, this pub, named after Butler’s Wine Merchants, is very much a ‘local’ in the heart of town. Butlers was a beer, spirits and wine merchant, and were well known for their own brand of ‘Old Abbey Whisky’ and ‘Burgoynes Australian wine’. The 1830’s building has survived widespread redevelopment of the area since the 1960’s.  

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Reading bridge across the River Thames links the centre of Reading on the south bank with the Lower Caversham area. The current bridge is the first on the site, and was built in 1923.

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My first stop was Greyfriar’s Church. Built by the

Franciscans in 1311, it was used as a hospital; poorhouse

and jail after the friars were expelled in 1538. Restored as

a Church of England parish church in 1863, it is still in

excellent condition and besides being the oldest

Franciscan church still used for worship in the UK, is said

to be the most complete surviving example of Franciscan

architecture in England. I couldn’t get many photos inside

as there were prayer meetings on the go. From the

outside the building is on a main road and surrounded by

trees, so I took what I could, moseyed around and then set off again.

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Total abstinence in Reading was adopted in 1837 and premises were acquired in 1861 to serve as the Society’s headquarters. The hall was demolished in the 1890s and replaced in 1900 by the W I Palmer Memorial Buildings,                                                                                            named for William Isaac Palmer, treasurer of the Society from the 1850’s until his death in 

                                                               1893. It was used as a soup kitchen in 1891 for

                                                               men out of work after a particularly severe winter, 

                                                               and as a temperance club for soldiers during

                                                               1914-16. During WW1, the Society also opened

                                                               coffee stalls at Reading Station to serve

                                                               non-alcoholic drinks. A pity that this beautiful

                                                               building is now sandwiched in between unsightly

                                                               modern buildings and advertising hoardings. 

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I headed on to the Town Hall and the Queen Victoria Statue. Reading Town Hall was built in the 18th and 19th centuries, the oldest being the Victoria Hall, which was built in 1786. Surviving a demolition threat in the 1970’s the building was comprehensively refurbished in the late 1980’s. Just outside the town hall is the Queen Victoria statue, carved from Carrara marble and erected in 1887 to celebrate her Golden Jubilee. 

A popular myth about the statue is that it faces away from the town centre because the Queen was not amused by the reception she received from the townspeople when she made a visit early in her reign. In fact Queen Victoria never visited Reading, though she would have travelled through, so urban legend is all it is! 

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I passed by St Laurence’s Church, which was unfortunately closed. It dates from the Norman period but underwent major re-building in 1196, in the 15th century and in 1867. The building is made of flint  with ashlar quoins (finely cut & worked masonry blocks) and its main feature is a three-stage tower which was built in 1458.  

Enroute to my next stop at Forbury Gardens, I passed the old Corn Exchange building. Built in 1854 it was designed in the Renaissance style using Bath stone. All that remains of the building now is the façade, which leads through to a modern shopping mall.  

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Forbury Gardens is a public park on the site of the outer court of Reading Abbey, in front of the Abbey Church.

The delightful Victorian style parkland area was created in the 1800’s. Formerly known as the Forbury meaning

‘borough in front’, it was an area of open land which provided a meeting place between the Abbey and the town; as well as an area used to dump rubbish and dead animals. Fairs were held on the site three times a year until the 19th century. Being so well placed in the city centre, the park has become a popular lunch-time break area, as well as taking children for outings.

The bandstand is used in the summer months for open air concerts.

In 2015, a statue was erected in memory of Trooper Fred Potts VC, who was awarded the Victoria Cross in October 1915, after endangering his own life to drag a wounded comrade from the battlefield at the Battle of Scimitar Hill, using just a shovel. The statue is located just outside the garden’s wall, not far from the War Memorial.

In the gardens stands the impressive 9.5m Maiwand Lion statue, also known as the Forbury Lion. It was erected in 1886 to commemorate the loss of soldiers from the 66th Royal Berkshire Regiment at the Battle of Maiwand in Afghanistan in 1880. The statue, made of cast iron and weighing 16 tons, stands on top of a granite plinth. In the background is The Blade, a modern state of the art building with and iconic and distinctive design.   

The Victoria Gates on the southern side of the gardens were installed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.  

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                                                                                             Reading Abbey founded in 1121, dominated the town for the

                                                                                             next four centuries, becoming one of the most influential 

                                                                                             establishments in medieval England. The abbey was largely

                                                                                             destroyed in 1538 during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the

                                                                                             Monasteries. The last abbot was tried, convicted of high 

                                                                                             treason and hanged, drawn and quartered in front of the Abbey Church. After this, the buildings of the abbey were extensively robbed, with lead, glass and facing stones removed for reuse elsewhere in the town. Only a few of the original walls still remain; but was closed for cleaning and renovations during the time I was there.

Some of the only remaining walls of the old Abbey, with the Reading Prison tower in the background. Built in 1844, it was closed as a prison in 2013 and used as an arts venue for the Reading 2016 Year of Culture programme Two famous people that served time in the prison were actor, Stacey Keach and poet, Oscar Wilde.

 

A small part of the Abbey wall ruins still stands next to the St James Church building.

The Abbey Inner Gateway led to the area that housed the monk’s living quarters. It partially collapsed during a bad storm in the 1860’s and was repaired at the time, but renovations on such ancient buildings is an ongoing task.

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Faces of pilgrims and priests, carved on the sides of the Abbey Gate walls.

The Abbey Gateway remained in use after the demolition of most of the other Abbey buildings. It was used as the school room of the Abbey School which was attended by Jane Austen in 1785.

Located near to the Abbey is St James church. Built, using some of the stones from the rubble of the Abbey, in 1840 with Norman style with rounded arches and windows, the church was designed by the same architect who designed Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. 

To the locals in Reading this church is known as ‘the church next to the prison’, as it is positioned between Forbury Gardens and the local prison.

 

The scallop shell, a traditional sign for pilgrims, is the symbol for St James and it appears in various forms around the church building.

 

The building itself is dedicated to St James, the patron saint of pilgrims and is still a stop off place for those walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. 

Most of the statues in the church were covered up, or ‘veiled’, as is done during the period of Lent; supposedly to ensure worshipers place more focus on prayer during Holy Week; and as a reminder that nothing lasts forever and therefore the anticipation of the uncovering or ‘unveiling’ after Lent. 

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In a small garden just off of a pathway known as Abbot’s Walk was this statue of the ‘Robed Figure’. A replica of the main figure from a trio of statues in Dorchester representing the Dorset Martyrs, the robed figure represents the executioner (the

other two figures are not part of the Reading piece).

 

The Dorset Martyrs

Memorial, erected at

Gallows Hill in Dorchester,

commemorates all those

from Dorset who have

been punished for holding

fast to their faith. 

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Over the road from the park is The Forbury Hotel which has

been described as ‘The UK’s Sexiest Townhouse Hotel’. Its

design and opulence is the talk of the fashionable set. Built in

1911 as the Shire Hall for Berkshire County Council, the building is impressive and lends itself to being used as a luxury hotel. The wide hallways, vaulted ceilings, cornice mouldings and original lift shaft have been painstakingly restored; with the central lift shaft which runs the full height of the building being the setting for a magnificent Italian chandelier, containing 86,000 individual glass beads from top to bottom. 

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From the Gardens, I crossed through the back of St Laurence’s church as I headed down towards the Thames.

                                                                                                      This huge piece of ‘tracery’ (ornamental stone openwork, 

                                                                                                      typically in the upper part of a Gothic window) lying among 

                                                                                                      the headstones originally formed part of a window in St 

                                                                                                      Laurence’s Church and was dislodged during a German 

                                                                                                      bombing raid in 1943. 

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I crossed the bridge at Caversham Lock, where there have been locks since the 15th century, although these appear to have been flash weirs. In 1777 it was decided to build a pound lock, the first one using fir wood. The owners charged a toll of two pennies per ton to merchants taking their barges through the lock. In 1778, a new lock office was built ‘for the keeper to receive his money and put in his tools for the necessary opening of the pound.’ The little brown building is the lock-office. Caversham is tended by a female lock keeper, of which there are apparently only 3 on the entire length of the River Thames. 

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I crossed over the river at the Caversham Weir and onto View Island, continuing along the pathway towards Caversham.

 

The weir has been in operation since 1903, and is about to undergo upgrading with the installation of two Archimedean Screw Turbines, expected to generate 380 MWh of electricity for the area each year. Apparently George and Amal Clooney have a home in Caversham, but I wasn’t about to go house hunting!

I spent some time watching a heron fishing in one of the small estuaries along the river, until an aggressive swan chased it off, then made my way down towards the main river and along the Thames Path, a walkway alongside the river, heading towards Christchurch Meadows, a public recreation ground is used for a variety of events. 

Duck House on Heron Island 

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The cable-stayed Christchurch Bridge, originally known as the Reading Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge, is a pedestrian and cycle bridge over the River Thames. It has a 68m long river span, and is supported by 14 pairs of cables from a 39m high mast that is asymmetrically placed on the riverbank. Both walkway and mast are illuminated by 234 LED lights, of which 39 can be programmed to change colour.

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The Reading Fire Department, in 1773 as a volunteer fire department, was known as the Rainbow Volunteer Fire Company. By 1914 the department had grown to include 14 separate volunteer companies.

I meandered along the river side, through the city and back to the accommodation to put my feet up. I’d had a long walk, but a great day out! A much better way to see Reading than from the seat of a wheelchair!

 

The weather held, thank goodness and only started raining once I was safely ensconced in my bed, with a sundowner in my hand and a movie to watch! 

 

One response to “Playtime for a day – footloose and fancy free…….”

  1. Cheryl Wilkinson says:

    Very interesting S! Thank you for sharing this with us, your pictures are stunning as always! Take care x x

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