Having carved its way from Caversham Road to the foot of Southampton Street, in the 1970s Reading’s Inner Distribution Road (IDR) stopped abruptly at the ‘ski jump’ where the Oracle roundabout now is. During this hiatus, Reading consulted and debated about whether and how to continue.
You can still see the join in the tarmac at the Oracle roundabout where the flyover and descent to Mill Lane was finally built. After the dramatic engineering of IDR stages 1 and 2, the two final stages were firmly at ground level using more or less the existing road network.
To prepare the way for the arrival of the IDR, Mill Lane and the junction at the foot of London Street had already been widened. Casualties included 42 terraced houses on Letcombe Street. Reading’s medical officer of health declared 26 of the properties ‘unfit’ and 10 ‘badly arranged’ and they were made subject to a clearance order. When the order was announced, residents of the street opposed it [ref 1].
At the foot of London Street, business properties were demolished leaving the wall on which the Black History Mural was painted. It illustrates a timeline of black history and includes depictions of some local people. It was completed and ‘livicated’ in 1990.
Proposals in 1969 would have resulted in an elevated roundabout at this junction taking IDR traffic on a road across a new bridge over the Kennet and through the Forbury Gardens before turning west in front of the station to meet Caversham Road.
The consultation booklet ‘Reading – London Street and the Distribution Road’ described how the roundabout would not affect the views down London Street into the town centre. This solution was described as preferable to a flyover at the bottom of the street [ref 2]:
A flyover and a roundabout of a size big enough to take all the cars, buses and lorries which would use it, if placed in the middle of London Street would mean about 40 properties in the area would have to be demolished. And that would be the end of London Street.
The proposals had already been discussed with Reading Civic Society, residents and traders of London Street and the Royal Fine Arts Commission. Comments were to be sent to the town clerk by 1 December 1969.
At the time, certainty that this route would be constructed was so great that Prudential’s offices were built where Suttons Seeds had been with the passage of the IDR in mind (see above).
There was a public enquiry in 1972 after which it was agreed that the Maiwand Lion would not be resited and that although the IDR would still go through the Forbury Gardens, it would be underground and covered over. These plans were to be submitted to the secretary of state for work to start in 1978 or within two years of approving the scheme. Meanwhile works on the Vastern Road railway bridge went ahead separately [ref 3].
The final, and constructed, alternative for the route from London Street was along Queens Road, over the Kennet at Watlington Street to skirt around the prison and Forbury Gardens before striking north towards the Thames.
After following Vastern Road on the north side of the railway station the IDR turns south on Caversham Road and is reunited with its 1969 self after completing a much longer loop than originally envisaged.
Reading rediscovers its heritage
Probably not for the first time, Reading rediscovered its heritage in the 1960s. The Civic Amenities Act in 1967 introduced conservation areas and this gave Reading the powers to designate the Market Place / London Street conservation area in 1972. This opportunity was looked forward to in the 1969 London Street IDR consultation.
Reading Civic Society was formed in 1962 “… to fight a wave of insensitive development that threatened to destroy much of the town’s historic centre.”
If the IDR had followed the original route, the Abbey Quarter as we know it today would not have been possible, but even so, some damage was done. The IDR’s circuit around Reading gaol and the Forbury follows the plummery wall of Reading Abbey. There had been a nineteenth century wall there, this now lies beneath the road [ref 4]. The listing description states that it probably incorporated the medieval wall; its position is now marked by a stone wall between the lanes of the IDR.
Other sights in this section of the IDR
In an anti-clockwise direction starting at Southampton Street (N=north, S=south, E=east, W=west of the road:
- (N) ‘Reading Corporation Tramways Power Station’ – stone which was above the boiler house, previously on this site,
- (S) Statues by John Ravera at New Century Place,
- (S) Queens Crescent (grade II listed 113563),
- (N) Terraced Queens Cottages by the Kennet,
- (S) Wesley Methodist Church (grade II listed 1321916),
- (E) Huntley & Palmers social club (from Watlington Street Bridge),
- (N) Vastern Road entrance building to Scottish and Southern Energy works (locally listed LL8),
- (W) Fire Station 1939,
- (W) Plaque to Father Dominic Barbieri who died at the Railway Tavern in 1849 (now flats),
- (W) Regent Place 1847 (grade II listed 1113434),
- (W) Cow mural near the old Cattle Market on Great Knollys Street,
- (W) 29 and 31 Caversham Road c1847 (grade II listed 1113433).
The IDR was completed in 1989.
The Friends of the IDR are campaigning for the whole route to be closed once a year so that it can be truly appreciated, not just from the pavements and footpaths but by walking the road.
Chairman of the Friends of the IDR, Reg Vastern-King, said:
The importance of the IDR to Reading and its residents has never been truly appreciated. People tend to look at it as a barrier to the radial routes out of Reading rather than a circular route with a logic and meaning all of its own.
References, bibliography and links
- Reading Chronicle 12 July 1968
- Reading London Street and the Distribution Road, Proposals which could affect you
- Report by the director of technical services on IDR Stage III 1975
- IDR Management: Environmental Scoping Study. January 2006. Peter Brett Associates. para 2.5.2.
- Reading Abbey Quarter
- Reading Bus Depot previously Reading Corporation Electric Tramways (Berkshire Industrial Archaeology Group)
- Borough Government and Politics, Reading 1835-1985. Alan Alexander. p227
- Ann Smith, Reading in the 1970s. Library publications
- History of Reading. Library publications
- Whitley Pump offers “a walk around Reading’s IDR” for Heritage Open Days 2018
- Map of the IDR
- Friends of the IDR
- Walk preview – IDR construction stage 2
- The IDR on the Whitley Pump