Sunday, 31 December 2017


An international survey of manhole covers

Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway, Sweden

Outside Europe: Japan, Morocco, Central America, Trinidad

In the small town of Comacchio, a little south of Venice, the International Manhole Museum put on a display in 2006. It gathered together examples of manhole covers from across Europe, revealing the civic pride in street furniture which exists in many towns and cities, and providing visual evidence of the work of many local industries.
Exterior of the Museum in Comacchio
International Manhole Museum display

Since learning of an exhibition of rubbings of coalhole covers in London in the 1960s we had retained an interest in such items of street ironmongery and were now inspired to seek out unusual examples of manhole covers during our travels. We have discovered that many of the early products of local foundries are increasingly being replaced by standard covers manufactured by foundries which are not necessarily even in the same country. In addition many manhole coveres are being stolen for their scrap metal - among many other places this happened in Alençon, Normandy, during 2010. It seems that in many parts of Europe our survey is recording aspects of the street scene that are fast disappearing.

Ian and Jill Maxted

Bergen. Exhibit by the International Manhole Museum, later seen in situ.
Preparing a manhole cover for photography, Ratzeburg, Germany

Together with fire, agriculture and the wheel, the efficient distribution of clean water and the safe removal of foul water are basic requirements for a civilised society. The techniques of water supply were highly developed by ancient civilizations across the world, for example in Rome or Sri Lanka, but largely fell into decline in medieval times.

Modern water supply and sewerage systems are a product of the increasing urbanisation brought about by the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Mechanised foundries were now able to cast water mains and manhole covers. The laying of water mains and sewerage systems for a large town, such as Bazalgette undertook for London in the 19th century, was a major engineering achievement, of which municipal authorities were justifiably proud, and inscriptions record the unveiling of reservoirs, pumping stations, fountains and in many cases the local authority even put its mark on individual manhole covers. It is therefore sad that local manhole covers are being increasingly swept away by the dull uniformity of the products of major foundries such as PAM-Gobion, whose products are to be found all over Europe.

The purpose of this website is to record some of the individual products of local municipalities and foundries before they are replaced, and to encourage local authorities to take more pride in the provision of these vital but hidden services, perhaps by commissioning special designs to enliven the local streetscape. In some countries such as Scandinavia, Germany or Hungary this practice is widespread, but it is an example that could be followed elsewhere.

Last revised: 17 March 2016