Reading is a town which successfully marries a powerful local economy – driving the whole of the Thames Valley region – with a unique sense of heritage and history. As you stroll around the town centre, is it easy to be distracted by the array of shopping outlets, restaurants and bars which attract so many people from outside our borough. But you also don’t need to look too far to find a host of hidden gems when it comes to heritage.
Just a few short steps from Market Place you’ll come across our magnificent Forbury Gardens and, behind that, our Reading Abbey Ruins, steeped in over 900 years of history. But much of our heritage is dotted around the centre itself and you may even pass by it every day without giving it a second glace.
There are numerous buildings, statues, and monuments on show, such as King Edward VII overlooking Reading Station and Queen Victoria majestically looking out over the town square. There’s an urban myth that Queen Vic had a dislike for Reading, which is why her statue faces away from the town centre. In actual fact, she never visited the town… but it would be a bit ridiculous if her statute simply faced the backdoor of M&S.
This February, the eagle eyed amongst you may notice large banners surrounding several of our monuments. Thanks to our High Street Heritage Action Zone project, four of our most treasured and historic monuments are receiving a thorough spring clean. This expert work is being carried out by an expert conservation team, Cliveden Conservation. A few years ago, they also worked diligently to restore, protect, and conserve Reading’s Abbey Ruins, and what a magnificent job they did.
The Queen Victoria Jubilee Statue, the Jubilee Cross and Zinzan Tomb in St Mary’s churchyard, and the Simeon Monument in Market Place are all set to be deep cleaned and, where it is needed, receive like-for-like conservation repairs. As with any external statue or monument of some age, they are at the mercy of the weather and sadly, in some cases, vandalism. Our expert conservation team will be working hard to give these statues and monuments a fresh lease of life so they can bask in their rightful glory and be enjoyed by generations to come.
This work sits hand-in-hand with the work the Council is also carrying out on the historic shop fronts along the Oxford Road and with the wonderful celebratory cultural work, including some beautiful murals and community exhibitions, that is also ongoing within our historic high streets.
If you get a chance, take a few minutes to read the banners which are placed around these monuments where you can learn a bit of history and get some information on the works we are carrying out to restore them. Next time you’re passing, you can impress your friends and family with your expert knowledge on Reading’s hidden history. It might even come in handy next time you do a local pub quiz!