Creating a historic plaque for Reading Abbey opening

26th June 2018

A PLAQUE marking the burial of King Henry I, youngest son of William the Conqueror, in the Abbey Ruins, has been recreated by Cliveden Conservation for the site’s opening on 16th June.

The plaque celebrates the important fact that the abbey, founded by Henry in 1121, was the final resting place of the king and his Queen Adeliza. The plaque reads:

Near to this spot
was buried
King Henry Beauclerc
who founded Reading Abbey
June 18.1121

It has the decoration of a bronze crown set into the stone above the text.

It was first installed on 18th June 1921 as part of the 800th anniversary of the foundation of Reading Abbey by Henry I in 1121. It is located on a wall of what was the part of the abbey church (now the wall of the Forbury Day Nursery) facing the ruins of the south transept.

The original plaque was in a very poor condition, with the stone and lead lettering beyond repair due to serious water erosion of the entire surface.

The plaque has now been expertly recreated by conservation specialists Cliveden Conservation. Despite the severe erosion on the original, the expert team managed to retain the original bronze crown which has been reinstated as it was on the original plaque.

As part of the restoration work, a protective stone shelf has been installed over the plaque to prevent future water damage.
Lewis Proudfoot, Stone Section Manager, Cliveden Conservation, said:

“The recreation of the Henry I plaque marks the culmination of over two years of involvement with the Reading Abbey Ruins project. Our team of conservators have helped consolidate the remains of this hugely important abbey, ensuring that they stay standing for future generations to visit for centuries to come. We hope that our enthusiasm for the preservation of historic buildings enables others to learn and appreciate their importance, and maybe play a part in the future conservation of these and others like them.”

The ‘Reading Abbey Revealed’ celebration will take place from 11am on Saturday 16th June 2018, following a three-year £3.15 million conservation project.

The re-opening festival coincides with Water Fest, Reading’s annual celebration of the town’s waterways. There will be a host of exciting activities and performances throughout the day, including the chance to meet King Henry I and other historical characters from the Abbey Quarter.

Cllr Tony Page, Reading’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Transport and Planning, said: “The team at Cliveden Conservation have done an excellent job of recreating this important plaque. As a town, I think we should be extremely proud that Reading was the final resting place of Henry I, the son of William the Conqueror.

“We know that Henry I was buried in the royal abbey that he founded in Reading. As part of this project we hope to celebrate this fact and also bring to life in people’s minds the lavish scale of what in the Middle Ages was one of the major Benedictine Abbeys in western Europe, and a regular place for royal visits and events.”

Cllr Sarah Hacker, Reading’s Lead Member for Culture, said: “People will get a chance to inspect the plaque up close from the 16th June. The Abbey Ruin’s reopening, coinciding with Reading’s popular Water Fest, will be the must attend event of the year! I’m sure, like me, many local people cannot wait to explore and enjoy the ruins again.”

Historically, the Abbey was one of the most important religious buildings in Europe, often visited by pilgrims and nobility from throughout England before its dissolution in the 16th Century.

Since the abbey’s closure this site has faced much disruption from being blown up during the English Civil War to Victorian looting. As a result, it is a mystery whether Henry is still buried here in Reading.

The ruins closed in 2009 as they were no longer safe to be open to the public. After 9 years and thanks to £1.77 million funding support from to National Lottery players and the Heritage Lottery Fund and match funding of £1.38million from the Council, the ambitious project to reinvigorate Reading’s pre-eminent and nationally important heritage site will be complete.