Reading Abbey Ruins Dormitory
postcard - about 1900
Reading Abbey was founded by King Henry I in 1121. It was one of the principal religious foundations in the country, well endowed by the founder and his successors. The Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539. The Abbey became the property of the Crown and the Abbot’s house became a Royal palace. The destruction of the Church and monastic buildings began in 1548 after Henry VIII's death and continued for the next hundred years.
The process of protecting the remaining Abbey ruins began in 1833 when part of the ruins, including the South Transept and Chapter House, was purchased by public subscription for the townsfolk of Reading. The area between the Chapter House and the River Kennet, including the Dormitory, was purchased by the town in 1859 and by May 1860 had been landscaped.
The Victorian landscaping of the Dormitory area is shown in this postcard, looking north towards the ruins of the Chapter House, as a series of terraces with paths on four sides around a lower central area. On the right you can just see part of the outer wall of Reading Gaol. Also note the medieval carved stonework used as a retaining garden wall in the foreground. This arrangement was lost by the construction of an air raid shelter in the central area during the Second World War for nearby St James School. Immediately after the war the shelter was filled-in and the present arrangement created of a large rectangular central grass area with paths on its four sides.
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