Over 18,000 Visitors Help Celebrate the Abbey Opening Alongside Reading’s Water Fest


OVER 18,000 people came to the 29th Water Fest this year and helped celebrate the momentous opening of Reading’s Abbey Ruins.

The abbey’s re-opening ceremony, following a three year £3.15 million conservation project and after almost 10 years closure, was a focal point of this year’s Water Fest, Reading’s annual free celebration of the town’s waterways.

Reading’s Mayor, Cllr Debs Edwards and HM Lord-Lieutenant of the Royal County of Berkshire, Mr James Puxley, officially opened the ruins to the public with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The whole Abbey Quarter was transformed to bring its exciting 900 year history to life, with entertainment including medieval and civil war historical re-enactments and characters from the abbey’s past, including King Henry I himself, as the abbey reverberated with the haunting sounds of ceremonial bells and Reading Fringe Festival’s House of Sound installation.

Visitors also enjoyed all the Water Fest favourites, including parades of beautifully decorated canal boats, live music, refreshments, children’s entertainment and craft and community stalls, as well as the much-loved annual duck race.

Cllr Sarah Hacker, Reading’s Lead Member for Culture, said: “We knew the reopening of the ruins was going to be popular, and Water Fest is always a much loved well-attended festival, but we were amazed by the sheer numbers of people, exceeding 18,000, who came to enjoy the day!

“There is so much to look forward to this summer and autumn in Reading’s cultural calendar – including the return of the Progress Theatre to the ruins, their ‘spiritual home’, Reading Library’s Rhymetime in the ruins and many family fun days organised by Reading Museum. We also have two fabulous festivals still to look forward to with the Reading Fringe Festival the end of July and Reading-on-Thames Festival in September.”

Visitors to the Abbey Quarter now have an exciting series of events and activities on offer this summer, including:

Reading’s History Comes to Life! Meet historical characters from Reading’s past in the ruins Saturday 30th  June, 28th  July & 25th  August

Mikron Theatre – Get Well Soon – 1st Jul 2018 – 4:00pm in the Abbey Ruins

Creating Ruin – Drawing Workshops in the ruins 5th and 7th July 3:00pm – 5:00pm

Progress Theatre Much Ado About Nothing in the ruins 11 Jul 2018 – 7:45pm to 21 Jul 2018 – 7:45pm

Costumed tours in the ruins – 14th  July & 11th  August

Rhymetime in the Ruins, Friday 27th July.

Out in the Abbey – Let’s Go Fly a Kite, Reading Museum craft workshop for families, 31 Jul 2018 – 10:00am to 2:15pm

Out in the Abbey: Bug Club – Reading Museum craft workshop for families, 8 Aug 2018 – 10:00am to 2:15pm

Night in the Ruins, 8th September 2018 – details TBC

There are also plans to offer Abbey boat tours during the summer.

Reading’s cultural festival offering is also set for an exciting summer and autumn, with Reading Fringe Festival (24th to 29th July) and a whole host of events and activities across the town during Reading-on-Thames Festival (6th to the 16th September 2018).

Reading Abbey Revealed is a major project, made possible through £1.77 million funding support thanks to National Lottery players and the Heritage Lottery Fund and match funding of £1.38million from Reading Borough Council.



Find out more about activities here:






Reading Abbey Revealed

The Abbey Quarter in central Reading brings together nationally important heritage within the former grounds of Reading Abbey, once one of Europe’s largest royal monasteries.  The conservation of the Grade I listed, scheduled Abbey Ruins and Abbey Gateway are central to Reading Council’s vision to transform the Abbey Quarter into a unique historical destination.

Reading Abbey Revealed is a major project, made possible through £1.77 million funding support thanks to National Lottery players and the Heritage Lottery Fund and match funding of £1.38million from Reading Borough Council.

Reading Council appointed CRL Restoration as the main contractor responsible for implementing the conservation side of the Reading Abbey Revealed project in January 2017.

The ambitious scope of the project has conserved the remains of Reading Abbey and the Abbey Gateway, and has provided opportunities through events, volunteering and education. Site-wide interpretation of the Abbey Quarter has included the opening of the new Abbey gallery at Reading Museum and has included installing new information points across the town. The accompanying activity programme will continue beyond the Abbey opening until the end of 2020.

People can find out more about the project by visiting the Abbey Quarter’s website www.readingabbeyquarter.org.uk   Facebook Page www.facebook.com/ReadingAbbeyQuarter   or by following them on twitter @RdgAbbey

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. www.hlf.org.uk .  Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram #HLFsupported.

History of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust

The Kennet and Avon Canal links the Thames at Reading with the sea at Bristol, 87 miles away. Originally built to carry freight, the canal declined in the face of competition from railways and roads. By the 1960s many of the locks were unusable and the waterway was being overgrown by weeds. Closure seemed probable but, thanks to voluntary fundraising and physical effort by the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust and their supporters, the canal was gradually restored.  In 1990 through navigation was again possible along the whole canal and Her Majesty the Queen performed a reopening ceremony at Devizes where 29 locks take the waterway down a steep hill.

The Kennet and Avon Canal is now part of the national inland waterway system. The Kennet and Avon Canal Trust continues to campaign to maintain and improve the canal for quiet recreation by all kinds of visitors, whether on land or in boats, and to ensure a secure future for this wonderful waterway. The towpath is perfect for short strolls and longer walks and much of it is also part of National Cycle route 4. The Kennet and Avon Canal Trust also operates 4 trip boats on the canal, has visitor centres at Aldermaston and Newbury (plus 2 more further west) and runs the historic steam powered beam engines at Crofton, near Bedwyn, which can still pump water into the canal.

Please visit the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust stand at Reading Water Fest and/or our website www.katrust.org.uk for more details of ways to enjoy the Kennet and Avon Canal – Reading’s wonderful local waterway.


Victoria Nickless

For media enquiries about this release email victoria.nickless@reading.gov.uk or call 0118 937 3957