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Reading Abbey Water Fest This Weekend – Countdown to Celebrating 900 Years

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THE COUNTDOWN has started for the return of Reading Council’s much-loved Reading Water Fest on 19 June – this year as the flagship celebration event to mark the 900th anniversary of Reading Abbey.

Reading Abbey Water Fest

2021 is an incredibly auspicious year for Reading – marking 900 years since Reading Abbey, originally one of Europe’s largest royal monasteries, was founded by King Henry I of EnglandReading Water Fest will be the focal celebration event for this landmark year. 

The launch of the event will include the unveiling of the completed Hugh Faringdon headstop carving on the Abbey gateway, to mark the 900th anniversary of the Abbey. Catch a sneak preview of the carving here as we catch up with the Cliveden Conservation artist, Alex Wenham:

This accessible one-day event will take place on Saturday 19 June between 11am and 5pm, within the Forbury Gardens, Abbey Ruins and along the River Kennet, celebrating the Abbey’s rich 900-year history and its environmental and heritage connections with Reading’s waterways. 

Event Entertainment

The event will host an incredible array of activities with live music in the Forbury Bandstand and the Abbey Ruin’s Dormitory, medieval and Anglo-Saxon re-enactments in the Forbury Gardens, live performances from Rabble, South Street, Cast Iron Theatre and the Historical Huzzahs. For the first time in the event’s history, there will be a floating stage on the day as well as performances on Chocolate Island!

Reading Abbey Water Fest Band

This timely flagship event will also celebrate and showcase the Kennet Canal in all its glory, along with the gorgeous and historic spots on its towpath, with the chance to spot beautifully painted boats and chat to boaters.

Pay a visit to Riverside Walk on the day to experience an exciting new exhibition ‘Abbey Visions’ by local photographer Chris Forsey.

Chestnut Walk will be lit up during the evenings of the 18 and 19 in celebration of the Abbey’s anniversary.  Located along a 27m stretch of Chestnut Walk, 8 motifs will be beamed onto the wall of Reading prison depicting the key moments of the Abbeys past. Forming an illuminated timeline along the prison wall, each beam will narrate, in text and imagery, the history of the Abbey and people who came to be there. This feature is accessible to the public without the need to book.

An exciting new ‘900 Steps’ virtual tour will also be on offer. Designed to be experienced using a smart device whilst wearing headphones, users scan the QR codes displayed onsite or online at Inspired by the concept of pilgrimage, the film captures Reading Abbey Quarter’s rich history.

On Tuesday 15 June, Reading Museum is launching ‘From Music to Magic: Reading Abbey’s most famous manuscript’ an online exhibition about “Sumer is icumen in” – thought to be one of the earliest recorded pieces of music, written in Reading Abbey:


Cllr Karen Rowland, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: “This year is such an auspicious date for Reading and I am so looking forward to the return of Reading’s beloved Water Fest. Doubling its return along with celebrating the 900th anniversary of Reading Abbey, the jewel of our town’s heritage crown – it will be all the more exciting. 

“However, given current pandemic guidelines, as always the safety of the public, our staff and event volunteers, will remain our top priority. As such, the event will look very different to previous years. We have operated a free ticketed system for timed entry. Don’t worry if you are unable to make the event or haven’t managed to get tickets though – we will also be providing a plethora of great activities online to complement the live event. We are also appealing to anyone who has reserved tickets but cannot now make it, to return their tickets for others to benefit from, by speaking with Reading Arts Box Office 0118 960 6060.

“There is so much to look forward to! This exciting event will be brim-full of history spanning the centuries – you’ll be able to chat with civil war soldiers and medieval townsfolk, as well as well-known historical figures such as King Henry I and Empress Matilda. There will be arts and crafts activities galore. We are also very excited about the introduction of a floating stage on the Kennet – one of four stages on the day offering live performances. Taking inspiration from the Abbey’s rich history, there will be theatrical performances throughout the day.

 “We have worked with partners and the wider community to deliver a programme of supporting events and activities throughout 2021 to celebrate the 900th anniversary.

“I’m also very excited to finally unveil the Hugh Faringdon headstop carving on the Abbey Gateway, as voted by the people of Reading, as a lasting legacy to mark the 900th anniversary. A special mention to Historic England for their support and advice through the Scheduled Monument Consent process to allow this to happen.

“A huge thank you to everyone who has made this amazing event possible, during these unprecedented times, including all the hard-working staff, volunteers and community groups. Thanks also to a generous event grant from the Arts Council, to the Culture Recovery Fund and to the National Lottery Heritage Fund through the Reading Abbey Revealed project, that has made this event and all the wonderful cultural celebration activities possible.”


The free event is now fully booked– although there may be returns available – visit for more information or call Reading Arts Box Office 0118 960 6060.

For anyone who hasn’t managed to get a ticket, there is a wide array of online activities available online at and Water Fest celebrations will be live-streamed on the Council’s Youtube channel:  with highlights on the Council’s social media channels – Twitter and Facebook @ReadingCouncil 

This year’s enhanced event has been made possible thanks to three generous awards; £15K funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England (ACE) to support the festival, £16K of National Lottery Heritage Fund awards through the Reading Abbey Revealed project funding the Hugh Faringdon carving and festival activities, and for the three commissioned artists commemorating the Abbey’s 900th Anniversary, a share of a £10,000 funding pot provided by the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage and distributed by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Reading Abbey Water Fest Further Information