• Callums Night Photography

Vastern Ditch Culvert, Reading

Updated: Jul 24

Deep below one of Reading’s busiest streets lies a network of subterranean culverts going for miles.

Having already explored the Holy Brook(created by medieval monks) and Old Mill Stream Culvert (originally part of Courages Brewery), there was another I was keen to explore: Vastern Ditch.

I had heard stories that the area underneath Vastern Road and Caversham Road was hollow. That was hard to believe until I saw a photo online taken in the 1970s, showing Vastern Road collapsed and the Victorian brickwork of a culvert beneath.

Opposite the fire station on Caversham Road I had spotted an intriguing brick archway, but it was half full of freshly laid cement by the time I went to investigate.

Coates’ 1802 map of Reading shows a series of water filled ditches connecting to the Thames on one side, and this was one of them along with Plummery Ditch which seems to connect to the Vastern Ditch. It has an ancient past, In 1831 a Viking sword was found next to it along with the skeletons of a man and a horse, while workmen were digging a railway ballast pit. It was later covered over and became a culvert.

I climbed down into the darkness, not knowing what I was going into and if it was the right place.

I was amazed! After years of wondering, investigating and research, I had finally found it! Not many people know about this site, and I may even have been the first to get down here and photograph it. Sadly there is very little water in the culvert but it is deep with polluted mud, almost waist deep in places, which made it a difficult and dirty explore. The most interesting thing down there was the ceilings. They were all different, showing the different ages of construction, including some beautiful Victorian brickwork.

And yes, we did come across a fairly new part, which must be where Vastern Road collapsed into the culvert in the 1970s.

At the nearby roundabout is a junction, where the culvert splits off in various directions. After four hours exploring I decided to call it a night. I was very dirty but very happy that I had finally satisfied my curiosity about this hidden underground space, for now...

Map of Reading, from Coates' History of Reading 1802 showing Vastern meadows, and the River Thames (top right): Credit - Reading Museum
A map of Reading in the Civil War : Credit Reading Museum

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Callum Cromwell - Reading - United Kingdom - Callums Night Photography

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