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Conservation in progress Reading Abbey

Lying at the heart of Reading, the Abbey Quarter has witnessed almost 900 years of history. The burial place of King Henry I, it later became an Elizabethan royal palace and Civil War defence. Jane Austen went to school in the inner gateway and Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in the infamous Reading Gaol, all within the former precinct of the Abbey.

The remains of Reading Abbey have been closed since 2009 due to their deteriorating condition being unsafe for the public. ‘Reading Abbey Revealed’ is a major project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Reading Borough Council, that will conserve the remains, install new interpretation across the town and will introduce an exciting engagement programme. We are currently conserving the Abbey ruins and gateway ready for us to re-open next summer!

There are three main elements to the work in the ruins:

  1. Re-pointing of existing masonry - Using the ancient, but revived technique of hot-mixed lime mortar, our conservation team are re-pointing the existing masonry to secure the flint and to prevent pieces falling out in the future.
  2. Restore fallen flint where possible and necessary - Since Reading Abbey closed in 2009 a vast amount of flint has fallen from its walls. Through detailed stone-loss monitoring we have kept track of areas that have suffered worst. We are able to restore some of this fallen flint, and in some areas it is a necessary part of maintaining stability.
  3. Cap the tops of the walls - The deteriorating condition of Reading Abbey has mostly been due to water entering the core of the walls. Today's standing remains are the flint and lime mortar rubble centre of the original walls that were never intended to be exposed to the weather. Trial repairs highlighted that a sedum capping would be most effective. The sedum seeded in turf will absorb the majority of rain water, preventing it entering the core of the wall.

Work has already been completed on the south transept including the founder's chapel, and is almost complete on the chapter house. The masons are currently working on the refectory and will then move on to the dormitory.

Within the Abbey Gateway there has also been considerable water damage. A new roof will solve this issue. Asbestos has been removed and the inside of the gate is being updated and reconfigured to allow for a better use of the space.

The conservation is progressing well and we look forward to celebrating the re-opening of this prestigious site in 2018!

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