…my true love sent to me: an Inner Distribution Road.
Reading’s Inner Distribution Road (IDR) encircles the town centre and has very few admirers but as a route around the town centre it takes in some of Reading’s most important heritage sites.
Construction began at the end of the 1960s and did not complete the circuit until nearly 20 years later.
The road crosses or borders four of Reading’s 15 conservation areas:
- Market Place/London Street
- Eldon Square
- Russell Street/Castle Hill/Oxford Road
- St Mary’s Butts/Castle Street
Let’s take a virtual heritage tour.
Travelling anti-clockwise from the foot of Southampton Street the road passes the Black History Mural and the Oracle, before sweeping past Queen’s Crescent (listed Grade II 1113563).
Turning north towards the Kennet, Reading Gaol (Grade II 1321948) comes into view, with Banksy’s ‘Great Escape’ now gracing the walls. Left onto Vastern Road is St James’s Church (listed 1113480) and the Forbury Gardens (1000586). It may be possible to glimpse parts of Reading Abbey ruins (1113477) as you pass. In the central reservation of the road is a wall that represents the plummery wall of the Abbey, the remains beneath are listed Grade II (1113482).
Sweeping round the roundabout to dive under the railway take note of the locally listed and now slightly dilapidated Rising Sun public house and this is more or less where the north gate of Reading Abbey once stood.
The IDR does not cross the Thames and turns left to pass north of the railway line with another locally listed building, the gateway to the Reading Electric Company on the right at 55 Vastern Road.
Now travelling south the route takes in the locally listed former Drews warehouse that was built as a maltings for Henry Pendlebury Dowson in the 1870s.
After the railway bridge there are two terraces of listed buildings, Regent Place 47-57 Caversham Road, Grade II (1113434) built 1847 and 29 and 31 Caversham Road Grade II (1113433) and then Grade I Greyfriars Church to the east (1321952).
We now enter into the excavated canyon section of the IDR, the first section to be built. We are most conscious of the destruction caused by the engineering of the IDR and clearance of the area where the new Civic Offices, Hexagon and Broad Street Mall (originally Butts Centre) were built in the 1970s.
At road level the roundabout linking Castle Street and Castle Hill and the St Mary’s Butts/Castle Street and Russell Street/Castle Hill/Oxford Road Conservation Areas, is barely noticeable. Just above to the east is Grade II* Holybrook House (1113420) which lost most of its garden during the construction of the IDR.
Exiting the canyon is the IDRs only pedestrian/cycle footbridge across the road from Coley Place to Willow Street. At a higher level again to cross the Kennet, to the north is part of the site of H & G Simonds brewery now redeveloped as housing. One of malthouses has been converted to flats and is listed Grade II (1155180) and a hay and corn loft also listed Grade II (1113473), right on the Kennet by County Lock, has been converted to offices.
Here the road now continues over the flyover but for many years in the 1970s this was known as the ski jump as construction stalled. At street level you can still see the change in the concrete where it ended.
This virtual tour, not quite a Pevsner Perambulation, has stayed alongside the IDR. There are many other historic locations to explore within a few minutes on foot on either side of the road beyond the town centre as well as within.
Season’s Greetings from Reading Conservation Area Advisotry Committee.