17 Jun 2015

Around the Forbury Gardens

photo - archive collection Reading Museum Service
Although we lived some way out of my home town during my early years, my parents and I would walk to my paternal grandma's as her house was in east Reading.  In fact we didn't have a car until I was in my teens and we walked or used buses to get around Berkshire.  There was also trolley bus routes through the town.

However, life goes on and changes and on a recent visit to Reading I enjoyed seeing the new buses with their bright colours for each route and some of the interesting designs on the paintwork (which I featured on my May Scavenger Hunt photo challenge).

The usual walk to my grandmother's house or into town in dry months was often along the tow path by the Thames, eventually passing the streets of Victorian houses around Huntley and Palmer's biscuit factory  Then we could cross the River Kennet where it flowed into the Thames by walking over a horseshoe-shaped bridge and on through a recreation area into town or do the same by following the path along the waterway called the Chestnut Walk. This was an enjoyable route into town as we could go into Reading Abbey ruins and the public gardens of the Forbury. I've written about this here and here.  Perhaps the recent visit, my birthday and the coming Father's Day on Sunday which is always close to our wedding anniversary has triggered this off? Anyway, this time I wanted to write about The Forbury Gardens as I remember them and some of the recent changes in the area that I've noticed.

Chestnut Walk by the River Kennet.
This area was once part of the grounds of Reading Abbey.  Here there would have been a landing stage for travellers by water, a wharf for the activities of the abbey and the abbey corn mill which was next to a water channel called the Holy Brook. Excavations have dated the first mill on the site to the 12th century.

The River Kennet flows on through Reading town.

A small garden next to the Abbey ruins has been created as an outdoor seating area for those who work in the surrounding offices. Once there were warehouses, then offices and by the time we moved away from Reading many buildings had been demolished to make way for smart modern office blocks. It's an area I know well as I worked in this part of town before I was married.
These days it's not possible to go into the Abbey ruins or along a path that we used to get into the Forbury Gardens and instead on my recent times I've had to do a detour through these streets and then walk through the old Abbey Inner Gatehouse.

The Blade is a 14 storey office block in Abbey Street

The Abbey Inner Gateway

The Forbury was an open public space. It was used for grazing animals, for fairs, a cattle market and other events. Reading Corporation bought the site of the former outer and inner courtyards of the Abbey in the 1850s, transforming it into a public garden with a botanical character.  Help with the original planting was given by Suttons Seed Co. which had offices and a famous demonstration garden on the opposite side of the Forbury (now Forbury Square) until the company's move in 1962 to new trial grounds on the main London-Bath road. Much of the original plan of the Forbury Gardens remains unchanged.

A tunnel, which can be seen in the wall (to the right in the photo above) was built in 1859 to link the gardens and the Abbey ruins. Some carved stones from the Abbey site were used in the construction of both the tunnel and the arched stone shelter nearby. This is the path from Chestnut Walk that we would have used when I was a child. It was fun playing in the Abbey ruins, looking at the large stone information plaques that told the story in carved pictorial scenes of a place where kings and queens had come for important events.  I would run through the tunnel and try and create an echo as I called out to my parents or a cousin before racing on to the fountain in the gardens to look at the goldfish swimming in the water. The grassy mound in the gardens, Forbury Hill, doesn't look so impressive today, but it seemed an exciting one to climb and run around the paths in those childhood days.

the stone shelter

The fountain was in the centre that opened on Easter Sunday 1856.  The scallop shell is the emblem of St. James. St. James' Church and former primary school, now a pre-school, can be seen in the background of the photos (below). We've been to many baptisms, confirmations and weddings in the church and then taken photos of friends and family in the gardens.

Sadly the fountain wasn't working and this year the water was clogged up with water weeds and rushes.

I thought I would include this old photo of my late father and I by the fountain.


Forbury Hill

the rose garden

Herbaceous Border

Memorial to King Henry I who is buried in Reading Abbey

photos taken in  late Summer 2013

The Maiwand Lion commemorates the men of the 2nd Battalion of the 66th Berkshire Regiment who were killed in Afghanistan in 1880.

The Cenotaph
We would come to the Remembrance Day service there every November. 

Along from the Abbey Inner Gateway is the Old Shire Hall which was the administration headquarters for the county council before it moved out of town and is now an hotel. The Suttons Seed Company's original demonstration garden was in this area. In Forbury Square there are now modern offices, restaurants and wine bars.

I hope you enjoyed the walk and some childhood memories with photos taken during different times when on visits to Reading. I'll write about the area around the Town Hall, Museum and St. Laurence's Church (seen in the above photo) another time.