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Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Peek of the Abbey School

I recently made a short trip to Reading. Why? It’s not the most fascinating city as such – especially to someone as interested in history as I am – but it does have one attraction that was on my list: the Abbey Gateway where Jane Austen went to school.

I wanted to get a glimpse of the building where Jane lived at around the age of 10. This was the second time that Jane went to school, and it was to be her last – the education provided at home turned out to be more useful for Jane and her sister Cassandra than that provided at the Abbey School.

                                                                           Picture from

The school was kept by a Mrs Latournelle, who had a somewhat casual approach to education. Unlike the boys, who would spend hours cramming the classics, girls would study for an hour each morning and were free for the rest of the day. They were mainly taught accomplishments, such as dancing, drawing, French and needlework – subjects considered to be useful for girls who would never enter academics. Jane’s stint at the Abbey School ended at the age of 11, after just 18 months there, and she would never again receive formal education.

The Abbey School was situated in the Abbey Gateway, which was one of the many entrances to the medieval monastery. The monastery is now a ruin, but the Gateway has been heavily restored.

To reach the Gateway, I walked through the town centre to Forbury Gardens. The gardens are lovely and there is a small, quaint church, St James’s Church, on the other side. The gardens didn’t exist in Jane Austen’s days, when the area must have been covered by grassland and trees.


As I walked through the gardens, I could see the Abbey Gateway on the right hand side, right opposite the garden gates. It was in very good condition, yet it looked typically gothic, with the arched windows, towers and such. The abbey ruins themselves must have given Jane some inspiration for Northanger Abbey later in life!

As you can see, the surrounding buildings were a much more modern mixture of architecture.  You really have to use your imagination to picture the milieu as it was in the old painting with stone walls and trees.

The building looked quite small, and most of the lessons did take place in a building next to the Gateway. Unfortunately the Gateway is being restored and is currently not open to visitors, so there was no chance to see the interiors of the building. Perhaps next time?


  1. Did you go to the Reading festicval?

    Did you know Reading Gaol was where Oscar Wilde was incarcerated for "Loving," Bozy.

    He wrote The Ballad of reading Gaol while there. It was the start the decline in his health and the ruin of him socially. He went to live in Paris after being released from Reading. He became a recluse and he died in Paris.

    Reading University has a research department which studies reading. It's called, The Reading Reading Department.

  2. @Tony: I didn't go to Reading Festival this time, but would love to do that once! And I didn't know that this was where Oscar Wilde was jailed...he is one of my favourite authors, though, and I always felt so sad about the way he died alone.

    The Reading Reading Dept heheheh!! I don't believe you ...

  3. It is a bit of a joke about "reading" at Reading University but in their Education department they do include the study of reading in their syllabus.
    As a teacher of many years I have done a couple of in service courses in literacy at Reading University. We used to joke that it was called The Reading Reading Department.
    If ever you want to a do a university course here in England Reading is very good. However, we are lucky in this country to a have a lot of top class universities.

    Heres a link:

  4. @Tony: One would expect such jokes at Reading University!!
    I have done a course at an English university (York), but wouldn't mind doing one in Reading.
    By the way, I'm a teacher, too!

  5. Hi Anna. Many years ago I attended a Summer school at York University and had a fantastic time. Did you get a chance to look around York itself?

    What do you teach?

  6. Oh great to hear that, Tony! York is a great university and a lovely place to study. I spent 3 years in York so got to know the city pretty well.

    I teach ESL/EFL abroad. And yourself?

  7. Early Sunday morning here. Driving to Southampton to visit my mum and dad later.

    I am retired as a teacher now. I was a junior school teacher for thirty three years.I work freelance for a Canadian Company called Tours by Locals. I plan and lead individual tours of Southern England for families and friendship groups. Also I still do some supply teaching. I've kind of got the best of ALL worlds now. My wife still works full time as a teacher and we have four children. Sam is 23 and Abi is 10 in November. Alice is going to University in September and Emily still has one more year to go before she will apply for university too.

    I tend to have ,shall we say, a busy life.

    All the best,

  8. Anna, I just love your posts about your travels to England. I have linked to this one via Tony's post for Jane Austen's World.



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