Sumer is Icumen In – could you hear it up on Katesgrove Hill?

A view of the Reading Abbey Ruins from the Forbury Gardens

A view of Reading Abbey ruins from Forbury Gardens

The Whitley Pump takes an interest in the current developments at Reading Abbey which should lead to its re-opening to visitors in 2018. When it was first built, the abbey would have been visible from the top of Whitley and Katesgrove Hill.

Mount Pleasant

View of the Blade from Mount Pleasant

Today the Blade helps us visualise how the Abbey would have dominated the skyline as we walk down the hill into Reading.

Following its dissolution in 1539, the Abbey was plundered for building materials and fell into ruin. About two hundred years later, the ruins of the Abbey are one of the features of the view shown in the 1734 print South Prospect of Reading. A hundred years after that, Mary Mitford described the view as it would have been from Whitley Street as including ‘huge monastic ruins’ [ref 1].

But there are more tangible links between the top of Whitley and the Abbey.  A water supply is thought to have come from a spring at the top of Highgrove Street, flowing through lead pipes to the Abbey. The spring still existed at the beginning of the twentieth century [ref 2].

Friends Summer Party

The afternoon of Sunday 19 June was the date of the combined Summer Party of Friends of Reading Abbey, Friends of Reading Museum and Friends of Caversham Court Gardens. The event was billed partly as a celebration of the award of a £1.77 million Heritage Lottery Grant which will enable the conservation and interpretation of the Abbey.

It was the occasion for the community singing of ‘Sumer is Icumen In‘ in the Forbury Gardens by a choir of around forty people. Singers participated in rehearsals in St James’ Church during the afternoon.

According to Friends of Reading Abbey:

This song, written in Middle English, was composed to be sung in the round, with four voices singing the same melody one after the other, accompanied by two lower voices.

The song dates from the mid-thirteenth century and is important because it was probably written at Reading Abbey and the manuscript is the oldest known of a musical round in English.

Singing of Sumer is Icumen In, led by David Owen Norris

Singing ‘Sumer is Icumen In’

The joyous and enthusiastic performance was led by David Owen Norris, the broadcaster and Professor of Musical Performance at the University of Southampton.

If you want to hear the song, there are many recordings available. Alternatively, you could pop into Reading Museum and at the back of the ground floor gallery, there is a booth where you can hear this and other songs and music associated with Reading Abbey.


  1. Mitford, Mary. Belford Regis.
  2. Margrett, Edward. The Old Conduit at Whitley. Berkshire Archaeological Journal 1908-1909
  3. Barnes-Phillips, Daphne. The Top of Whitley Revisited


  1. Reading Abbey Revealed project
  2. Friends of Reading Abbey
  3. Friends of Reading Museum
  4. Friends of Caversham Court Gardens
  5. Katesgrove Streets – Spring Gardens