Image of performance at the reopening of Reading Abbey at Reading Water Fest in June 2018.

Celebration Date Announced for 900th Anniversary of Reading Abbey at Water Fest

  • Reading Water Fest will take place on Saturday 19 June 2021, between 11am and 5pm
  • The free festival will celebrate the 900th anniversary of Reading Abbey
  • Stringent measures will be in place to ensure the event operates within current Covid guidelines

READING Council is delighted to announce the return of its much-loved Reading Water Fest on 19 June this year as the flagship celebration event to mark the 900th anniversary of Reading Abbey.


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. 

Water Fest is Reading’s largest free town centre-based community event. It will feature an exciting mix of arts, culture and heritage, through live and digital performances, activities and workshops. The Abbey’s illustrious history will be brought to life with the Forbury Civil War Camp and Medieval Village where people can experience the sounds and smells of the Quarter’s history. 

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. 

RBC Waterfest 2019 070

As with all events this year in the light of the ongoing pandemic, Water Fest will look very different from previous years. The event will be delivered in a stringently Covid compliant way.  Workshop and interactive activities will be booked in advance and numbers will be limited. Safety measures will necessitate a ticketed system, with reduced capacity and staggered arrival times. It is anticipated that there should be plenty of tickets to go around, but the public is encouraged to sign on early to avoid disappointment. During the event the gardens and abbey will be closed to the general public.

Details on how to book a free ticket at this event are on What’s On Reading A range of online activities will also be on offer to complement the live event.

Donna Pentelow, Reading’s Assistant Director of Culture, said: “We are pleased to announce the return of Reading Water Fest. This year is such an auspicious date for Reading and we want to celebrate 900 years of Reading Abbey, the jewel in our town’s heritage crown.

“As ever, the safety of the public, our staff and event volunteers, will remain our top priority. As such, the event will need to look very different to previous years. We will be operating a free ticketed system for timed entry. We will also be providing a plethora of great activities online to complement the live event.

"Ticket booking is available from

 “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 are also working with partners and the wider community to deliver a programme of supporting events and activities throughout 2021 to celebrate the 900th anniversary.

 “If you are interested in taking an active role in the celebrations - either as a volunteer, by performing at the event or running a stall or activity please get in touch with us.

 “All going well, and in anticipation that the further easing of restrictions will follow the current government roadmap, we are gearing up for a celebration of royal magnitude!”

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 Highlights Water Fest 2021

  • The Forbury Gardens will offer a whole range of historical workshops as well as displays, activities and exhibitions from wide range of local community and charity groups. 
  • Visit the Forbury Civil War Camp or Medieval Village where you can experience the sounds and smells of the Quarter’s history.
  • The Abbey’s dormitory will feature four unique artist-led workshops and still life drawing sessions, co-designed with Jelly.  
  • On the Kennet there will be a new floating stage (which will be one of four stages on the day) with local organisations such as CultureMix, Limpopo Groove and a whole host of local acts.   
  • South Street Arts will present a brand-new piece of site-specific theatre, as part of their award winning SITELINES programme, taking inspiration from the Abbey’s rich history.
  • Rabble Theatre Company will perform excerpts from their current production of The Last Abbot. 
  • Riverside Walk will be transformed into a large photo exhibition highlighting the history of the Abbey.
  • Chocolate Island will host an extra special children’s show throughout the day.  
  • A delicious selection of refreshments will also be available on Chestnut Walk courtesy of Blue Collar with the very best in street food and drink on the day.
  • Water Fest favourites will return - beautifully painted narrowboats will be moored along the length of the site who will also take part in two special parades throughout the day.   
  • Boat trips will be available around the Forbury loop.
  • Don’t forget the extra special annual duck race!

To take part either by volunteering, performing at the event or running a stall or activity please get in touch by visiting the following link: 

For further information on the 900th Anniversary of Reading Abbey visit:



Whilst Saturday 19th June will be a day of celebration of Reading’s history and heritage, importantly, the following day, Sunday 20th June, will be focused around a memorial to mark the one-year anniversary of the Forbury Garden attacks. Further details on this memorial day will be available soon.