Work Begins to Conserve One of Reading’s Oldest Gems

Reading Abbey - Work Begins

WORK has begun in earnest this month to conserve the Reading Abbey Ruins.

The Council’s main contractor, CRL Restoration, who specialise in the restoration, conservation and refurbishment of historic, period and modern structures, commenced works on site on Monday 13th February.

CRL Restoration have started erecting the necessary scaffolding in the Abbey Ruins. The conservation work will now commence in early March and will be carried out in four phases. Work to adjust the safety scaffold on the Abbey Gateway into a working scaffold will begin after the Reading Half Marathon (19th March).

Running in parallel to the conservation work, museum staff are planning the installation of temporary interpretation to inform the public of the work being carried out and the history of the Abbey Quarter, including a special temporary ‘Abbey Quarter: Then and Now’ exhibition that opens in May at Reading Museum. They have a varied events programme planned, providing opportunities to volunteer, learn and enjoy the Abbey Quarter.

Councillor Paul Gittings, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Culture, said:

“I’m delighted work has begun this month and we are even closer to fulfilling the long-standing ambition to open the Abbey up fully to the public, alongside an exciting programme of events and activities. I’m looking forward to following the work as it progresses this year.”

Councillor Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:

“It is fantastic to see the work we’ve been anticipating, begin in earnest this month. Reading’s heritage deserves to be celebrated, as does a site of such historical significance in the heart of Reading. By opening it up to residents and visitors the Council hopes many more people will have the opportunity to appreciate the Abbey and its history.”

Kevin Jones, Senior Conservation Manager of CRL Restoration, said:

“We are excited to be part of the Reading Abbey Revealed Project and to be working with Reading Borough Council, HLF and Historic England. Work is progressing well, with the installation of the scaffolding going to plan and the actual conservation work will begin in March.”

Stuart McLeod, Head of HLF South East, said:

“The 900-year-old Reading Abbey ruins and gate provide a visual connection to the important, but little known, role that the city has played in European history since medieval times. Our National Lottery investment to stabilise the ruins and open them to the public for the first time since 2009 will help people to rediscover the fantastic heritage on their doorstep.”

In December 2015, Reading Borough Council announced its successful £1.77 million bid for Heritage Lottery Fund support for the ‘Reading Abbey Revealed’ project. The award meant the Council could finally fulfil its long-standing ambition to re-open the Abbey Ruins to the public. The Council will contribute £1.38million in match funding to the project to reinvigorate Reading’s pre-eminent and nationally important heritage site.

There are plans for an exciting programme of events and educational activities to breathe new life into the Abbey Ruins, which sits alongside an extensive programme of conservation works to the Abbey Ruins and the Abbey Gateway, which starts this February. Site-wide interpretation of the Abbey Quarter will include a new display at Reading Museum.

The current project timetable is as follows:

March 2016: Project starts with the procurement and appointment of the main contractors for the capital conservation and interpretation programmes.
February 2017: Work starts on site and will take up to 2 years to complete.
20 May 2017: ‘Reading Abbey Quarter: Then and Now’ temporary exhibition opens at Reading Museum.
Early/mid 2018: Abbey Gateway reopens for schools and community learning use by Reading Museum.
Mid/late 2018: the Abbey Ruins fully open to the public, complemented by a programme of events and activities.

The successful HLF award means the accompanying activity programme will continue beyond the opening until the end of 2020.


Notes for Editors:

Photo call: There will be a photo opportunity at the Abbey Ruins on Thursday 2nd March at 10.30am with representatives from all organisations involved in the project. The media are welcome to attend.

On the morning please come to the main site office in Chestnut Walk. Please contact or call 0118 9373957 if you have any questions about the photo call.

To keep up to date with the project progress, people can follow the @RdgAbbey Twitter account or visit the Abbey Quarter Facebook page

People can also find out more about the Abbey Quarter project on the Reading Museum website

CRL Restoration will work closely with a number of specialist trades, who have long pedigrees in the field of conservation. These will include such works as a new roof to the gate house along with extensive conservation works to the ruins.

There is also good news for the site wide interpretation and public engagement side of the project, with two part-time project staff appointed in January: Abbey Community Engagement Officer, Jess Freeland and Abbey Volunteer Co-ordinator, Nicolette Evans.

About CRL

CRL Restoration, with over 60 years’ experience, is one of the leading contractors in the UK specialising in the restoration, conservation, and refurbishment of historic, period and modern buildings and structures.

CRL Restoration has the experience and capacity to undertake projects throughout the UK, either as the Principal Contractor, or as a Specialist Contractor, with values ranging from £5k to £5 million, either under competitive tender or through Partnering/Framework arrangements.
Clients include English Heritage, The Royal Household and National Trust.

To find out more about CRL Restoration, visit:

Follow CRL Restorations progress on the project:

Reading’s Successful HLF Bid

Following the announcement in June 2014 that Reading Borough Council had been successful in its ‘first round’ HLF bid, the Council began the process to developing detailed plans. It embarked on an extensive consultation with stakeholders and the public. More than 1,000 Reading residents responded to an online survey conducted earlier this year on the Abbey Quarter project, indicating widespread public support for the Council’s Reading Abbey Revealed project.

Conservation proposals for the Ruins and Gateway have been prepared following detailed condition surveys and trial repairs undertaken during the project’s development phase with specialists, architects and in close relationship with Historic England.

People will have the opportunity to learn about the Abbey Quarter through extensive and accessible new interpretation information that will uncover its hidden heritage and reveal its pivotal significance to Reading’s history.

A 5-year programme of events and activities in and around the site that will be coordinated by newly appointed specialist staff managed by Reading Museum, and in collaboration with a variety of organisations and partners. These activities will range from hard-hat tours during the conservation work to a high profile opening event.

Local people and visitors from further afield will also benefit from the Museum’s well known track-record in both community engagement and volunteering. The Museum has recently successfully renewed its ‘Investing in Volunteer’ status and will use this expertise to establish a wider Abbey volunteering programme that will actively engage 35 new regular volunteers who will contribute across a broad range of activities to care for and share the Abbey’s heritage.

The Abbey Quarter

Reading’s Abbey Quarter has been 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 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 Abbey Ruins and the Abbey Gate are also Grade I listed.

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. @heritagelottery

Victoria Nickless

For media enquiries about this release email or call 0118 937 3957