The Search for a Real Life King Henry I is on!

READING Museum is once again on the search for outgoing volunteers interested in taking on the role of costumed historical characters in the Abbey Quarter over the summer.

In particular, the museum is keen to recruit male volunteers to take on the role of medieval monks. They are also looking for Tudor women, a Georgian school pupil and someone to take on the leading roles of Jane Austen and King Henry I.

If people are more interested in a supporting role, the museum is also looking for people to get involved behind the scenes as wardrobe assistants to the historical characters.

The volunteer recruitment drive follows on from the successful debut of the historical characters last year, where King Henry I, Empress Matilda, Queen Elizabeth and a medieval laundress, amongst others, helped bring the history of the Abbey Quarter to life at its reopening in June.

Reading Museum Costumed Interpreters
Reading Museum Costumed Interpreters

The role of ‘costumed interpreter’ involves interacting with visitors to the Abbey Quarter, to help bring the rich history of the area alive.

By role playing the characters, volunteers will help people understand and empathise with the lives of the people who lived, visited or worked in the Abbey Quarter.

Volunteers will be given replica period costumes to wear, as well advice on how to carry out research into their character and learn fact-based historical information to share with the public.

No experience of drama is necessary, although the role is suited to enthusiastic, outgoing and friendly people, who like working as a team, are happy to wear a costume, stay in character and interact positively with members of the public.

The role would involve a flexible commitment over some Saturdays and on the occasional weekday.

Empress Matilda Historical Interpreter
Empress Matilda Historical Interpreter

Jen Woodhams, who volunteer interprets as Empress Matilda, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to do something completely out of the ordinary. I like the fact you can do as much or as little as you can to fit it in around your everyday life. I find the research side fascinating as you get to understand so much about the period your character comes from. I also love the way the museum encourages you to develop the role independently as it gives you a great deal of creative scope. The best part is engaging people and bringing Reading’s history to life for them and of course, it is immense fun dressing up in such a lovely costume!”

View an interview with Jen here:

Cllr Sarah Hacker, Reading’s Lead Member for Culture, said: “Our historical characters were extremely well received by visitors to the Abbey Quarter last year, and we are keen to expand on this success again.

“This is a great opportunity for people to get involved in the Abbey Quarter and really help us bring history to life. If you think you could share your love of history with our visitors, this volunteer opportunity has the potential to offer loads of fun and a great experience.

“I’m also delighted that the Museum has once again received its accreditation as an Investor in Volunteers, this time as part of its partnership working with The MERL.”

Since 2011, Reading Museum has proudly held an Investing in Volunteers accreditation (IiV) which it has successfully renewed this month. The museum greatly values its volunteer team and uses best practice to support its volunteers in their roles including providing inductions, support and training as needed.

To find out more contact  or call 0118 937 3400

To find out more about the volunteer roles on offer visit:



Reading Museum offers costumed interpretation as part of its exciting ongoing programme of events and volunteer opportunities linked to the Reading Abbey Revealed project.

Funded jointly by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Reading Borough Council, the project started in 2017 with the conservation works to protect the Reading Abbey Ruins and bring the Abbey Gateway back into use.

Costumed interpretation helps the museum team share Reading’s history to residents and visitors alongside other project work to display more historical information around the Abbey Quarter and town centre.

Find out more about volunteering at Reading Museum here:

View the Museums Partnerships Reading Investing in Volunteers report here:

Case Study: Empress Matilda – Jen, from east Reading.

I have always loved history and this role combines that love, and my love of dressing up (I did amateur panto for many years!). I have a great character to play – Empress Matilda.

I really enjoyed researching her character and gaining so much knowledge about her life. You start out thinking she’s a privileged person being an Empress, but her story is actually quite a sad one. You really start to empathise with your character when you learn about all the challenges they went through. Matilda, for example, was married off at the age of 8 and for much of her life she was used as a political pawn by her father, King Henry I.  The museum is very supportive when you are starting out but they also allow you a great deal of freedom and creativity in bringing your character to life, so you can really make the role your own.

I love that you never know quite what people will want to talk about. One of the funniest things I’ve been asked was a bemused child asking me in hushed tones whether or not I was ‘dead’! I tactfully told that them I personally am not – but the lady I represent is!

Case Study: Becoming Queen Elizabeth – Victoria, west Reading.

I’d loved drama at school, but hadn’t really done anything since then. I had experience in teaching and a keen interest in history, so when I saw the museum was recruiting historical interpreters I jumped at the chance to let out my inner extrovert. I’m actually naturally quite a shy person, but I’ve found taking on the role of a character can be very liberating!

The museum has provided a number of training sessions to help build our group’s confidence in bringing characters to life. It helped that I have always been fascinated by Queen Elizabeth but before doing the research for my character I hadn’t appreciated the strong links between Elizabeth and Reading. Getting my costume custom made by the museum’s talented sewing group was also a real highlight of the role.

The role is flexible, so you can do as much or as little as you are able to spare. I have a full time job and a small child to look after, and this role fits in perfectly with my other time commitments. Last year I was involved in the Abbey opening celebration day, school sessions, organised history tours and in general open days interacting with visitors to the ruins.

You have to think on your feet as you never know quite what people are going to ask you but that is part of the fun. I especially like the reaction I get from children, who absolutely love the queen’s outfit and also want to tell me everything they know about the Tudors.

If you are looking for something a bit different to put on your CV, or even just want a new unusual hobby, I’d recommend you get in touch with the museum to find out more!

Victoria Nickless

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