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Visiting Reading, England and its Medieval Abbey Hospitium: restored building linked with the later Reading University
Historic structure close to the church of St-Lawrence-in-Reading
This Abbey originated in the Middle Ages, but fell into disuse after the Reformation.
Some history and features
In 1892 an event occurred which proved to be pivotal for university education in Reading in the county of Berkshire. Christ Church, Oxford, a college already known for its successful extension lectures, founded what became known as Reading University Extension College. It was based in a restored building of the Abbey known as the Hospitium, in Valpy Street, Reading.
Formerly known as the Hospitium of St John the Baptist, it was constructed in the 15th Century, with restoration carried out in 1892. Given the relatively narrow streets in the immediate vicinity, this building is relatively inconspicuous to the uninitiated visitor to the town, but the cleanly restored lines of its stonework and its historical associations with the Medieval Abbey make it a valuable part of the Borough of Reading's, and the university's, heritage.
The educational facilities begun at this extension college were subsequently greatly expanded. Among the scholars associated with University College Reading were geographer Sir Halford Mackinder and composer Gustav Holst. Reading University eventually received its charter of incorporation as an independent university in 1926; for many decades the study of agriculture has been a particularly distinguished field. The 19th century origins of the university thus give evidence of the thoroughly mature nature of university-level scholarship in Reading.
The Hospitium, which has subsequently been put to a variety of commercial uses, is situated close to the church of St. Lawrence-in-Reading. This striking stone building once served as a chapel for the Abbey. St. Lawrence-in-Reading has a tower dating from 1438-50. The building underwent significant restoration in the 19th century. From time to time some Reading University public functions have used the facilities of St. Lawrence-in-Reading church.
Interestingly, the stonework of St Lawrence-in-Reading incorporated a shell motif, which, together with features from the arms of Christ Church, Oxford, was adopted into the arms of the University of Reading.
Some other aspects of Reading Abbey ruins
Other, more ruined remains of Reading Abbey may also be seen in the vicinity. Interestingly, after Reading Abbey was dissolved at the Reformation, some of the disused stone from the Abbey was used in Windsor Castle (a principal residence of The Queen).
The nearby Forbury Gardens provide a peaceful haven within a now thoroughly urban environment in the vicinity of the Reading Abbey ruins.
Also worth seeing
In Reading , the University has a number of distinguished buildings, including the Great Hall and the University War Memorial on London Road (permission to view may be required from the porter's lodge), and Wantage Hall and St Patrick's Hall.
Oxford (distance: 43 kilometres) is easily accessible from Reading; with many outstanding visitor attractions, including Christ Church (linked with the origins of Reading University), the Bridge of Sighs, the Sheldonian Theatre and Oxford Castle.
How to get there : United Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Distance from Heathrow Airport to Reading is 49 kilometres. A regular bus link exists between Heathrow Airport and Reading. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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