Monday, 15 August 2022

History of Reading Society

AT the April meeting of the History of Reading Society, Lindsay Mullaney gave a talk called “Henry I and his abbey”.

Why Reading and, more importantly, why Henry?

Henry was the ninth child and fourth son of William the Conqueror but was the only one born “in the purple”, that is after his father had gained the English throne.

Henry was knighted by his father in 1086. His eldest brother, Robert, rebelled against his father and fled into exile on the Continent, eventually becoming Duke of Normandy.

His next eldest brother, Richard, died in the New Forest and another brother, William jnr, gained the crown but he also died in the New Forest following an accident. Henry then acceded to the throne.

Henry was tutored by Saint Osmund, the Bishop of Sarum, the diocese which covered nearby Sonning.

The Bishop’s Palace at Sonning dates back to the 12th century so it is possible that Henry may have visited there with his tutor. The Anglo-Saxon name for Reading — Readingum — indicates it may have been two settlements as the suffix “gum” denotes a plural.

Reading belonged to the King as the Domesday Book states “128 hides in Reading over which the King has lordship”.

Records show that Henry was in Reading in 1102, 1108, 1110, 1111 and 1113.

Why was founding an abbey so important? The Cluniacs are a subdivision of the Benedictines and are named after the town of Cluny. Their speciality is prayers for the dead and the care of pilgrims.

Cluniac monasteries were not called abbeys but priories under the leadership of a prior who was directly led from Cluny.

The creation of an abbey could only occur in times of peace to allow for the planning and building to take place.

Henry’s father, William, had founded two abbeys in Caen in France as well as Battle Abbey in Sussex.

Henry came to the throne in 1100 when England was under threat from his older brother, Robert, Duke of Normandy.

Henry married Edith, daughter of Malcolm of Scotland and granddaughter of Ethelred the Unready, who took the name Matilda but died in 1118.

In November 1120, the barons of Sussex were notified that Battle Abbey was to receive the manor of Appledram “in exchange for Reading”.

Later that month the White Ship disaster occurred, which was thought to be the catalyst for Henry’s founding of Reading Abbey, although none of his contemporaries say this is so.

The following January, Henry married Adeliza of Louvrain and on June 18 that year he laid the foundation for Reading Priory.

The first prior, Peter, came from Cluny with seven monks and stayed for two years before returning to Cluny. In 1123, Reading became an independent abbey with the first abbot being Hugh of Amiens. The abbey was consecrated in 1164 by Thomas Becket.

After the talk there were questions about Henry’s burial place in the Abbey Church.

The society’s next meeting took place at the Abbey Baptist Church, Abbey Square, Reading, on Wednesday, May 18 at 7.30pm, when, Paul Joyce talked to us about “The black arts in Reading: The story of our local printing industry”.

Paul spent his entire working life in the printing industry.

Following the lifting of restrictions and severe taxation, Reading set up its first venture in 1723.

The growth of printworks continued in the town right up until the Sixties. Paul has researched the trade using original evidence.

Vicki Chesterman

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