Forbury Mound, Reading – one final mystery mound…

After two years of work, hundreds of miles travelling up and down the country, almost 200 metres of core samples, and 19 monumental mounds, we at long last near the end of the road: the final bit of fieldwork, the very last of our mounds. Having investigated mounds everywhere from the Sussex coast to the foothills of the Malverns, from the Wylye Valley to the Peaks, and from the Chilterns to the outskirts of Darlington, we end our journey at a small mound right on our very doorstep, in Forbury Gardens, Reading.

Forbury Gardens, Reading

Forbury Gardens, Reading. Forbury Mound is the area of raised ground to the left of the image. Andrew Smith [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite being one of the smaller mounds we’ve looked at as part of our project, which aims to explore the date, form and environmental setting of monumental mounds in England, the mound at Forbury is one of the most puzzling…The mound, and indeed the whole of Forbury Gardens, is included in the Reading Abbey Scheduled Monument which is an extraordinary multi-period site right in the heart of central Reading. As the name suggests it is the site of the 12th century Cluniac, and later Benedictine, Reading Abbey – the partial ruins of which are still visible and currently undergoing major restoration work. The Abbey was founded by Henry I, and it is rumored his remains may still be buried somewhere at the site; and King Henry is not the only famous visitor to Forbury over the years – the site is also home to the now defunct Reading Gaol, where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned between 1895-7 and about which he penned The Ballad of Reading Gaol. In between the founding of the Abbey in 1121, and the construction of Reading Gaol in 1844, the site of Forbury also managed to get caught up in two civil wars, both The Anarchy of Stephen and Matilda in the 12th century, and the English Civil War in the 17th century, before at last being extensively landscaped in the Victorian era turning it into the charming municipal garden that we see today.

So where does Forbury Mound fit in to all this history? The truth is that no-one really knows quite what ‘Forbury Mound’ is – or indeed when it was constructed. The possible explanations include:

  • An Anglo-Saxon or Danish burial mound, perhaps related to the Battle of Ashdown in AD 870. There is some slight support for this in the archaeological evidence as a few finds and some scattered burials dating to this period have been found around Forbury.
  • The remains of a Castle Motte which is recorded as having been built on the site by King Stephen during the turmoil of The Anarchy.
  • The remains of a Civil War defensive earthwork – indeed this is what the earthwork most resembles in an 1802 map of the area, the first to show “Forbery Hill” (see image).
  • Or perhaps even a previously unknown prehistoric monument – there are a few scattered prehistoric findspots known from around the mound, mostly dating to the Neolithic and Bronze Age.
Detail from 1802 map of Reading by Tomkins, showing Forbury Mound

Detail from 1802 map of Reading by Tomkins, showing Forbury Mound (marked as “Forbery Hill”) which here looks much like the remains of a Civil War era defensive earthwork.

It is also entirely possible that the Forbury Mound could be a combination of all these things, a monument that has been reworked and remodeled time and time again over the centuries. Documentary research can only take us so far, so the Round Mounds team are going to investigate and see if we can date Forbury Mound once and for all!

Forbury Gardens is part of a protected Scheduled Monument and is freely open to the public. Researchers from the University of Reading Department of Archaeology will be on site at Forbury Mound on Thursday 8th of June to collect core samples for laboratory analysis. During the work the site will remain open to the public as usual; people are more than welcome to come and say hello, but must be aware that we will be using some large (and occasionally noisy) equipment and so we will have to temporarily cordon off a small area around each borehole.

Once the fieldwork and subsequent laboratory analysis has been completed, a full technical report on the work at Forbury will be produced, submitted to the local HER and made freely-available online via OASIS.

Any intrusive work at a Scheduled Monument legally requires approval from Historic England and Consent from the Secretary of State before going ahead. 

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2 thoughts on “Forbury Mound, Reading – one final mystery mound…

  1. Pingback: Forbury Mound – a final mystery solved | The Round Mounds Project

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