Saturday, 11 June 2016

An Exciting Moment

About three years ago Philippa Langley phoned me asking about Reading Abbey and its founder Henry I.  I said we knew that had been buried at Reading Abbey and that his resting place had most probably been within the grounds of St James', probably within the school area. 

My wife Lindsay and I are members and historians of St James' Catholic Parish so we talked to Canon John O'Shea, or Father John as he is known in the Parish. He was enthusiastic to help us learn more about this ancient Abbey so we invited Philippa to come and see the area for herself. Fresh from her work with Richard III at Leicester, Philippa was bringing her media contacts and expertise. We decided that this would be an exciting though challenging project - a project to place Henry in the context of this Abbey - a story which had all but been forgotten. 

At about the same time, by chance, I met Cllr. Sarah Hacker and told her about our meeting and ideas. Sarah was about to become the next Mayor of Reading and, as someone keen on the culture, arts and the history of the town, she saw the importance of the project and said she would be happy to learn more about it.

It has to be said that initially there was a great deal of doubt about aims of the Project. But Historic England thought it a worthwhile exercise and they would support a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey of the area.  Sarah and Tony Page, in whose ward the Abbey Ruins lie and as Deputy Leader of the Council, came to our first meeting and said the Council would likewise be happy to lend their support. 

It was therefore gratifying to see the Friends of Reading Abbey joining the group and settling on the desirability of a GPR survey. Sarah as Mayor offered the use of the Council's facilities for future meetings.

And so from just a small group of four the Hidden Abbey Project was created encompassing the Council, St James and eventually the Ministry of Justice as well as partners from outside the town represented by Philippa.

Personally therefore it was an exciting moment when on Friday 10th June, Lindsay and I went to see the first day of the GPR survey actually taking place. What we shall discover we do not know - maybe much, maybe little. As I write this all I can do is wait in hope that all our work will tell us more about the story of our town, about one of England's greatest buildings and about the King who was buried in Reading.   

John Mullaney