Reading-on-Thames Festival 2018
6 – 16 September 2018


A new arts and cultural festival for Reading

The inaugural Reading-on-Thames Festival took place in, on and around Reading’s wonderful waterways between 9 and 17 September 2017. Plans are now in progress for the 2018 festival. Check back on these pages in the New Year for details of the 2018 programme.

See below for highlights of the 2017 Festival progamme. See the gallery for images from the 2017 Festival.

A waterfront town

Reading’s early history as a river port was based on the confluence of the rivers Thames and Kennet here, and with the Holy Brook also flowing under the town, Reading has been a waterfront town for well over a thousand years.

A stunning backdrop for the arts

The first ever Reading-on-Thames Festival used Reading’s rivers as a backdrop and inspiration for a new arts and cultural festival, bringing national arts organisations to Reading and providing a platform for local arts and community organisations to showcase their talent.

Festival programme

River Stories by Walk the Plank - Caversham Court Gardens

Award-winning outdoor arts company Walk the Plank created a special theatrical event for the Festival, taking inspiration from the rich tapestry of stories of the River Thames and its cultural and historical significance for Reading. Working with artists and the people of Reading, the multi-sensory River Stories delighted people with lights, music, fire and pyrotechnics.

Supported by:
Arts Council England
Jacobs the Jewellers

SITELINES presents Playground Victories - Broad Street

SITELINES presented a Light the Fuse & Scribbled Thought production.Performers climbed, crawled, swung and stormed over a giant playground playing children, adults, teenagers, drunken students, single mums and even playground wildlife. Funny and physical, Playground Victories captured the highs and lows of our playground past, present and future from first snogs to pirate adventures.

Sponsored by:
Reading Business Improvement District

Reading's Royal Burial, The Life and Death of Reading's King - The Oracle Riverside

Henry I of England’s body was shipped from France to England in 1136 to be buried in one of Europe’s most magnificent buildings: Reading Abbey. Written by Elizabeth Park and directed by Olivier award-winning theatre director, Donnacadh O’Briain, Reading’s nationally acclaimed theatre company, Reading Between The Lines (RBL), created a unique production for The Oracle Riverside/River Kennet. The hour-long spectacle told the story of Henry I’s life and how he came to be buried in Reading. With music by composers Benjamin Hudson and Rosalind Steele and lighting design by Oliver Welsh.

Sponsored by:
The Oracle

Supported by:
Arts Council England

What’s the point of rivers, anyway?

A series of events curated by Amy Sharrocks in collaboration with Barton Willmore, University of Reading, Museum of English Rural Life and Two Rivers Press. Poetry along the river, children’s workshops, discussions and debates about city life in Reading, looking at how we use our river and tracing how water has shaped our thinking over centuries.
Find out more about the programme

Sponsored by:
Barton Willmore

River Writing

Following the Thames from its meeting with the Kennet at Horseshoe Bridge up to Kings Meadow, reflecting on the vivid imagery in Ian House's poem 'Masterstroke' reproduced in individual phrases along the riverside in Sally Castle's evocative hand-lettering. Walkers searched out the whole poem using the postcard guide to help and see the river in a whole new light.

Download the River Writing postcard

Abbey on Wheels - Caversham Court Gardens

Reading Abbey on Wheels popped up at Caversham Court Gardens to tell the history of Reading’s Abbey Quarter and the current Abbey conservation project. Included finds from the conservation project to date. Visitors put on a virtual-reality headset to be transported to the top of the conservation scaffold to get a unique perspective of the ongoing work.

Beautiful Creatures Theatre present Echoes Around View Island

A promenade across Caversham Lock to re-discover View Island, surrounding yourself with the watery words of poetry, prose and song from performances of the past. With a map and individual audio equipment, people took a secret journey around View Island whilst immersed in classic and contemporary texts, chosen to reflect specific locations on the island.

As part of Reading On Thames Festival 2017 we would like to make Echoes Around View Island available at any time. To experience this thought provoking adventure for one, download the MP3 files and illustrated map and embark on your journey.Please email Beautiful Creatures to receive your download link (Over 16s only)

Liquid History - Reading Museum

An opera walkabout inspired by objects found in the tidal parts of the Thames, performed by five singers representing the objects and the river itself. Gestalt Arts Liquid History uses song, physical theatre and carnival to tell the story of the river’s mouth and the objects from its depths. The project has been developed with the help of mudlarks from The Thames Museum and the physical manner in which The Thames churns and turns the objects round and organises them onto the shoreline.

All of a Twist - The Turbine House, Blake's Lock

Inspired by Reading's Victorian pumping station, this exhibition explored the science and technology of twisty turny stuff in, on, above and beside Reading's rivers. Turbines, watermills, spinning, willow, DNA, spirogyra, thermals, tornadoes and the rivers' flow itself have all affected Reading, its monks, red kites, rowers, canoeists and us one way or another.

Building Reading-on-Thames LEGO® Brick Big Build - Broad Street Mall

An awesome LEGO® Brick Building event at Broad Street Mall. Local LEGO® brick model-building company, Brick Galleria, constructed a scale model of Reading on the Thames out of thousands of LEGO® bricks. People of all ages were encouraged to build, from bridges and boats to Reading landmarks, all on the river.

Sponsored by:
Broad Street Mall

River heritage walks with Two Rivers Press

Reading’s own publisher, Two Rivers Press, originated in a protest to maintain the tranquillity of the riverside where the Thames and Kennet meet. Two Rivers’ books continue to champion Reading - its rebels and its traditionalists; the beauty of its rivers and the heritage of its industry; its art, poetry and history. The river heritage walks were supported by the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Heritage Open Days 2017

The Reading-on-Thames Festival has been planned to link with Heritage Open Days 2017 when many places of historic interest in Reading open their doors for England’s biggest heritage festival. Heritage Open Days offer the chance to visit a variety of magnificent heritage venues, many not usually open to the public. Enjoy a range of different events, activities and tours that bring local history and culture to life! All of the heritage buildings are FREE to explore!

Thursday 7 September – Sunday 10 September
See Heritage Open Day website for details of venues opening.



Running at weekends in July and August, the ARENA programme is a taster of things to come in the Reading-on-Thames Festival. The programme of free events takes its inspiration from Reading’s waterways and will include a street carnival from Culture Mix Arts, live orchestral performances at Reading Station by Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra, remakes of classic river films, from ‘The African Queen’ to ‘Wind in the Willows’ by Real Time, a giant puppet event featuring some of Reading’s cultural icons such as Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen and Arabella Fermour as well as a pop-up paddle steamer in Broad Street from Annual Day Dream Harvest and an artistic tracing of Reading’s hidden waterways with chalk drawings and hundreds of balloons by Jelly. Find out more information here.

From Sunday 2 July to Saturday 19 August


Sponsored by:
Reading Business Improvement District

Fry’s Island Swim

The Fry’s Island Swim was a 750m swim around Fry’s Island at Caversham Lock opening up our glorious river Thames for an early evening swim. Just a generation ago, swimming in the Thames here was commonplace. 80 people joined artist Amy Sharrocks for a celebratory swim to bring the Reading-on-Thames Festival to a close with a dip in the water, putting the river back at the heart of our city. Once around the island!

River Rhymetime! - Caversham Court Gardens

Staff from Reading Borough Libraries took their regular song and rhyme session to the river. The session included traditional favourites along with river and sea themed nursery rhymes and songs!

Jelly Children’s Workshops

Children of all ages were invited to join award winning Jelly and their team of artists to create a mixed media portrait of Henry I and artwork inspired by the River Thames most majestic resident - the swan.

Rivers of the World exhibition - The Weller Centre

This stunning exhibition featured the river-inspired art work of pupils from six secondary schools in and around Reading. Inspired by local rivers and in partnership with schools in Nepal, Rivers of the World is an international art and education project delivered by Totally Thames Festival in partnership with the British Council which connects pupils around the globe to their local river through environmental, economic and cultural learning and themes. As part of the first ever Reading-on-Thames Festival, young people from six schools were invited to take part in this global project, guided by professional artists to create huge artworks for public display. Find out more information here.

Sponsored by:
Thames Water
Reading Rescue (13 – 15 October)
Connect Reading


The Reading-on-Thames Festival is sponsored by R+, the landmark new office building opposite Reading Station and Reading UK CIC, the marketing and operating company for Reading. Generously supported by Arts Council England.

Programme sponsors and other supporters:

About us

The Reading-on-Thames Festival is organised by Reading UK, the marketing and operating company for Reading, with support from Reading Borough Council, Reading Arts and the University of Reading.

Reading UK were the lead partner for 2016’s Reading Year of Culture and are the organisers for the Reading Cultural Awards.

Nigel Horton Baker, Executive Director of Reading UK, said: ‘This new Festival came about as a direct result of 2016’s Reading Year of Culture. Reading’s vibrant arts scene is developing into a real asset to the people living and working in Reading as well as a draw to businesses and people considering relocating here. The Reading on Thames Festival will celebrate Reading’s riverfront locations and heritage and provide a great platform to showcase arts, culture and heritage in the town.’

Contact us:

Reading-on-Thames Festival Director. Email .