Vote for your favourite Abbey Gateway carved head

Closed 1 Mar 2021

Opened 8 Feb 2021

Overview

2021 marks the 900th anniversary of the foundation of Reading Abbey, once one of Europe’s largest royal monasteries, by King Henry I.

As part of this year’s anniversary celebrations, we are running a project to carve one of the incomplete head-stops that decorate the outside of Reading’s Abbey Gateway.

The Abbey Gateway, located along Abbot’s Walk opposite the Forbury Gardens and next to the modern day Reading crown Court, is one of only two complete buildings that survived the dissolution of the original Abbey back in 1538. It was restored and reopened in April 2018, as part of the £3.15 million Abbey Quarter project.

A stroll around the gateway reveals around 24 sculptures across its exterior – some weathered unrecognisably, but others including a dragon and a fox – remarkably surviving from medieval times. You can spot others such as a Knight Templar, a nun, King Henry I and Queen Matilda, dating from the restoration of the gate by George Gilbert Scott in 1861 and in 1900 funded by local philanthropist Dr Jamieson Hurry.

There are two uncarved bath stone head-stops on the east side of the building, that date back to 19th Century restoration – which were left due to budget constraints. We have shortlisted six potential sculptures – based on figures from the Abbey’s illustrious post dissolution past.

Our contenders are:

  • Hugh Faringdon – the last Abbot of Reading, accused of treason by Henry VIII, and publicly hung, drawn, and quartered outside the gateway in 1539.
  • Queen Elizabeth I – who used the abbot’s house and gateway as a royal palace the 1560s.
  • Jane Austen – who studied in the gateway from 1785 to 1786 when it was used as a classroom for Reading Ladies’ Boarding School.
  • Sir George Gilbert Scott – the leading architect who restored the gateway back in 1861 after a thunderstorm caused the archway to collapse.
  • Dr Jamieson Hurry – a local historian and philanthropist who gifted 12 carved heads in 1900
  • A modern stone mason – based on a female member of the team that worked on the recent restoration of the Abbey.

Why we are consulting

The project aims are:

  • To commemorate the 2017-18 conservation project and the 900th anniversary of Reading Abbey in 2021
  • To continue the tradition of decorative stone carving on the Abbey Gateway with a 21st century addition to the exterior
  • To celebrate the gateway’s post dissolution history
  • To encourage public interest in the gateway’s historical connections
  • To ensure that the head stop design is appropriate to its location on a Grade I, Scheduled Monument, adding to its historical and architectural significance

For more information on the 900th anniversary celebrations, please visit this link.

Areas

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