John Painter, of the Friends of Reading Abbey, spoke to the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group on 4 February about the Abbey from its foundation to the present day.
The Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121 in a location easily accessible from other major towns – Windsor, Oxford and Winchester. The king was buried in the Abbey, although his body has probably been dispersed by later disturbance of the ground.
In 1539, the abbey was seized by the Crown, the Abbot having refused to surrender it. King Henry VIII continued to use the abbey as a palace when hunting until 1548 when it was transferred to the Duke of Somerset who asset-stripped it. Stone from the building was incorporated in other buildings, such as St Mary’s church and stone removed when Royalist defences were built during the Civil War was used to build Conway’s Bridge in Park Place, Remenham.
Some of the Abbey buildings found other uses. For example, the Hospitium housed the grammar school, which survived the abbey, and the Gateway, restored by Gilbert Scott in the 19th Century, was used by Abbey School. Land to the east was the site of the prison, built in the 1780s and enlarged in the 1840s. Recently an extensive restoration project of the Abbey ruins has been undertaken and they are now open to the public.