Forbury Gardens and Abbey Ruins in Reading

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Address: Reading, RG1 3BB

Entrance: Free

Just over 40 miles west of London lies Forbury Gardens, a delightful public park in the centre of Reading, Berkshire. Having recently undergone major restoration, the Victorian town garden is well worth a visit at any time of the year by staying at park grand paddington in London.

Forbury Gardens are located next to Reading train station, between the town centre and the ruins of the 11th century abbey. Despite the urban location, they are a quiet, peaceful place, with the ornamental gardens fully walled.

What is in the Park?

Forbury Garden

The park is home to the famous Maiwand Lion statue, which commemorates the deaths of 329 men from the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment of Foot who lost their lives in Afghanistan between 1878 and 1880. Next to the 31-foot statue lies the bandstand, which hosts live music events every weekend throughout the summer months. There is also a fountain, rose garden and kiosk, which serves coffee, ice-cream and light lunches.

A key feature of the gardens is the Forbury Hill, which is accessible by two winding footpaths accessible to wheelchairs. A single plane tree stands in the middle of the mound, with seating positioned around it, offering views of the park.

Since the gardens reopened in 2005, following a year-long revamp, it has won a Green Flag Award every year, plus annual accreditation as a Green Heritage Site. Forbury Gardens has also emerged triumphant in the Best Regional Park category in the Britain in Bloom competition.

History of the site

Forbury Gardens stands on the site of the outer court of Reading Abbey, which stood in front of the Abbey Church. The abbey was founded in 1121 by Henry I and dominated the town for the next 400 years until its destruction during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. The buildings were plundered, with lead, glass and facing stones removed for reuse elsewhere in Reading.

A century later, during the English Civil War, both the Roundheads and Cavaliers occupied the site of the Forbury at different points. A Royalist garrison caused further damage to the remains of the Abbey, while Forbury Hill – which lies within the walls of the park – was used to hold guns.

Throughout the Napoleonic Wars, the gardens were used for military drills and parades, while festivals were staged three times a year during the Victorian era. The Michaelmas Fair, held in September, was the most famous of these.

Reading School used the gardens as a sports ground in the first half of the 19th century, while the area remained in private ownership. A partial sale in 1855 saw the Pleasure Gardens open, with a tunnel built to link the grounds to the Abbey ruins. Further land was purchased over the next 15 years allowing the park to be extended, and in 1873 Forbury Gardens officially opened.

Reading Abbey today

Abbey Ruins in Reading

Many of the the ruins of Reading Abbey still stand today within the town’s Abbey Quarter,  The inner rubble cores of a number of walls remain intact, although the only remnants of the Abbey Church are fragments of the piers of the central tower, along with parts of transepts. Parts of the the vestry, chapter house, infirmary passage and dorter cellar are extant, helping to form an impression of what the grand abbey would have looked like in its heyday.

Due to safety reasons, the abbey is currently closed to the public. Restoration work is being undertaken on a number of parts of the site, including the cloister arch, chapter house and treasury, in a bid to fully reopen the ruins and preserve them for future generations. Local residents have been consulted on the project.

Getting to the gardens

With Forbury Gardens and Abbey Ruins being located so close to the railway station in Reading, many visitors choose to take the train. Regular services leave London Paddington for Reading, with express services taking 24 minutes.

By road, it takes just over an hour to travel from the centre of the capital to Reading, subject to traffic. The M4 offers a direct motorway route west from central London, with Reading accessible from the A329(M) or junction 11 of the M4.