Plans to breathe new life into Reading’s historic heart by creating an Abbey Quarter for the town reach the next stage at the end of the month, when Reading Borough Council expects to hear if it has been successful in its initial bid to receive a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
In November of last year, the Reading Council submitted a funding application to the HLF under their major grant scheme. If successful, HLF will award the Council a development grant of £285,500, this money would enable the Council to prepare for a Stage 2 bid to take its Abbey Quarter Project forward.
A new Reading Abbey Quarter would pull together a number of important historic sites, buildings and structures. It would include conservation and stabilisation work to the Abbey Ruins, Abbey Gateway and other historic elements including St Laurence’s Churchyard and wall, the 1943 air raid memorial, Reading war memorial, and Queen Victoria’s statue.
The Council expects to hear by the end of April if it has been successful with its Stage 1 application. A report will also go to a meeting of Reading Borough Council’s Cabinet on Monday April 16 which outlines the way forward should Reading be successful in that bid.
A delegation from the HLF visited Reading on the 30th January where they met Deputy Leader of Reading Borough Council, Tony Page, and the Lead Councillor for Culture and Sport, Marian Livingston. The group also toured the site with Council officers, after which the delegation met with the project Board members and partners including representatives of the Youth Cabinet, Friends of Reading Abbey, Friends of Reading Museum, local businesses and Reading UK CIC.
Cllr Marian Livingston, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Culture and Sport, said: “We believe we have a really strong bid in place here at Reading which will help us transform this much-loved and historic area of our town. We are rightly proud of our heritage here in Reading and the Council, through this bid, wants to create something unique for residents and visitors to enjoy. We hope the news at the end of this month will allow us to develop the project and eventually allow us to bring the wider Abbey Quarter project to fruition.”
As well as the development grant from the HLF, if successful, Reading Borough Council will contribute £31,747 to the preparation process.
The Project focuses on the multi-layered urban heritage of Reading’s Abbey Quarter, the traditional civic and ceremonial heart of the county town of Royal Berkshire since the 12th century. The Quarter is defined by the medieval streets and rivers that outline the precinct of Reading Abbey. This area contains the substantial standing remains and buried archaeology of Reading Abbey, telling its story from the foundation by Henry I in 1121 to its dissolution by Henry VIII in 1539.
The Reading Quarter shows evidence of all periods since the Abbey’s dissolution: a royal residence, civil war defences, Jane Austen’s school, the impressive municipal buildings, Victorian public gardens and Oscar Wilde’s infamous Reading Gaol. There are buildings by famous architects including Sir John Soane, A.W.N. Pugin, Alfred Waterhouse and Sir George Gilbert Scott. Significant public sculpture within the Quarter includes Simond’s Maiwand Lion and statue of Queen Victoria, and contemporary artworks such as the Oscar Wilde Memorial Walk.
Reading Museum is also located within the Quarter and has important collections relating to the heritage of Reading and the Quarter, particularly Reading Abbey and later Victorian industrial heritage.
The current Abbey precinct area has piecemeal protection under several local and national designations and policies. Key parts of the site are a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and as such are protected under the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979; the site is also Grade I listed.
Reading Borough Council