The Abbey Gateway, Reading
Publisher: Knight Brothers (British Mirror Series)
The Abbey Gateway was originally the inner gateway of Reading Abbey, which today is a large, mostly ruined abbey in the centre of the town of Reading, in the English county of Berkshire. The gateway adjoins Reading Crown Court and Forbury Gardens and is one of only two abbey buildings that have survived intact, the other being the Hospitium of St John the Baptist. It is a grade I listed building, and includes a porters lodge on the ground floor and a large open room above the gate. The gateway marked the division between the area of the abbey open to the public and the section accessible only to monks, with the abbot’s lodging just inside the gateway. The gateway thus became the meeting place between the abbot, who commanded considerable powers within the town, and the people of the town.
“Reading Abbey gateway”, by Rev. Thomas James Judkin, 1788-1871 (Wikimedia Commons)
The Abbey Gateway divided the monks’ private living quarters from the more public areas of the abbey. In the 1560s, Queen Elizabeth I turned the abbot’s house, which stood just through the gateway, into a royal palace. After Elizabeth’s death, the palace fell out of use and eventually new houses were built alongside the gateway. In the 18th century one of them was home to the Reading Ladies’ Boarding School, which used the gateway as a classroom. From 1785-86 a particularly talented pupil studied here: the future novelist Jane Austen. In 1861 the Gateway collapsed in a storm, shortly after funds had been raised for vital conservation. Instead the Gate had to be substantially rebuilt. This work was completed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, a Victorian architect known for his Gothic Revival work.