In early 2019 we will reveal a new look to the ground floor galleries at Reading Museum. Work has started on fitting out these spaces, complementing the new Reading Abbey displays. The first part of the new Story of Reading Gallery was completed in February 2018. The Museum will remain open throughout the works, so don’t be put off by temporary hoardings, there is still plenty to see and do at the Museum!

What are we doing?

Preliminary work started back in 2010 when we first started thinking about the interpretation we needed for the wider Abbey Quarter. We soon realised we needed a new display to tell the story of Reading’s royal abbey and how it shaped our town. The best way to do this was to update the local history gallery on the Museum’s ground floor; our previous blog tells you more about this part of the project. This second stage continues the story!

The Story of Reading Gallery is part of wider changes across the Town Hall, including upgrading the café, shop, reception and toilets. The Register Office’s new ceremony room (for marriages, civil partnerships, citizenship, renewal of vows and naming ceremonies) opens on the ground floor next to the new museum galleries in December 2018.

The new look museum gallery will have two zones, a flexible welcome area for visitors and new displays that continue Reading's story after the abbey up to the present-day.

proposed ground floor gallery plan
Proposed ground floor museum gallery plan

Welcoming our visitors

The new welcome space will be the first impression for our visitors as they enter the Museum from reception, designed to help visitors find their way around the galleries and discover what’s on.

This space will highlight the full range of the Museum's collections and services to visitors. Objects have been selected that explore Reading’s global links through history. The space will include an area for hands-on object handling from our school loan boxes. It will also be used for pop-up displays, talks, family activities and workshops. Our community cases will be relocated into a more prominent location, ensuring we continue to give local community groups a place to highlight important or less well known aspects of our town’s past, like the recent trolley bus display and events. A dedicated area will display works from the Reading Foundation for Art collection.

Trolleybus display anniversary booklet
On the Trolleybuses community display

More than beer, bulbs and biscuits

The new Story of Reading displays will complete the work of telling the history of our town after the end of Reading Abbey. We have consulted with visitors and stakeholders to check our display ideas and ensure that we are telling the relevant stories, as we know there is more to Reading than beer, bulbs and biscuits (the 3Bs were Reading’s traditional 19th and 20th century industries, but they aren't the whole story!).

Since the new abbey displays opened in February 2018 we have gathered information and views through pop-up consultation displays for visitors, an online survey and focus groups with local historians and young people. It is clear that we should avoid too much generic history – people want to see Reading objects, images and stories.

We will make sure topics such as communication and transport, brickmaking, poverty, immigration, the lives of women and children are included. Reading’s architecture was by far the most popular topics from the online survey, chosen by over 51% of participants. Consultees felt that Reading’s heritage is rich, varied and important, and that the exhibition must not attempt to ‘dumb down’ to the point of being meaningless, and that it should make people ask questions, and think.

This has all helped our project team focus on creating five new display zones: ‘Our town’ - introducing Reading; Reading before the abbey; Market town; Red brick town; and Silicon city.

We will also be updating the existing cases within The Oracle Gates (Reading’s first purpose built poorhouse that opened in 1628) to explore poverty in Reading over the last 500 years.

visitor feedback board
We asked for visitor comments during 2018
table showing the most popular topics from the online consultation
The most popular topics from our online consultation survey

What next?

We have appointed a gallery fit-out contractor who started work on 12 November 2018. From December you will see hoardings in two areas of the Museum's ground floor. The new abbey displays will remain open throughout the works, as will all our other galleries including the Bayeux Tapestry Gallery on the first floor and the second floor galleries. The museum shop will move to a temporary location, initially, and then will move to a new permanent site at our reception in early 2019.

You can get a sneak peak of the building work from the Bayeux Tapestry Gallery above. Joiners, electricians, carpet fitters and other skilled people will be working on the displays, while curators and designers prepare the graphics and museum objects that will be the stars of the final show.

The new galleries and shop will open in early 2019. Watch this space for updates!