Carved Head to Commemorate Reading Abbey’s Anniversary

Cliveden Conservation was commissioned to create the carving of Abbot Hugh Faringdon, the last Abbot of Reading.

Project overview

Project overview
To mark the 900th anniversary of the foundation of Reading Abbey, Reading Council planned to unveil a new carving of one of the incomplete head-stops that decorate the outside of Reading’s Abbey Gateway. Residents were invited to choose from six potential sculptures, based on figures from the Abbey’s illustrious post-dissolution past. Cliveden Conservation was commissioned to create the new carving.

Summary of the conservation work carried out
Award-winning stone carver, Alex Wenham, prepared six initial design drawings, representing the six proposed identities for the online public ballot to select one. Abbot Hugh Faringdon, the last Abbot of Reading, gained the people’s vote.

With the actual appearance of Hugh Faringdon unknown, an artist’s impression was drawn. Specialist feedback advised that the beard and design of clothing would be unauthentic. Further discussions were held with various historians, heritage specialists and other stakeholders to revise the design.

Extensive research resulted in a new design drawing, showing a beardless Hugh Faringdon with more elaborate clothing and crozier. The pupils of his eyes were depicted as dark shadows to distinguish them from the 19th century head-stops on the Gateway which have blank, classical-statue-type eyes.

A full-scale model in Plaster of Paris was produced to establish a design which would fit within the existing block. Dimensions of the block were calculated using a bespoke photogrammetric method.

The design was carved directly into the existing uncarved Bath stone head-stop on the east side of Abbey Gateway over a six-day period. Cliveden Conservation worked closely with Reading Abbey’s media team and stakeholders throughout the project.

The completed Hugh Faringdon head-stop carving on the Abbey Gateway was successfully unveiled by the Mayor of Reading, Cllr David Stevens, on Saturday 19 June 2021 to mark the 900th anniversary of the Abbey.


Project details


Reading Abbey, Reading Council

Main Contractor:

Cliveden Conservation



What we did