Tuesday, 18 January 2011

England: coalhole covers

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In England the precursors of manhole covers are the coalhole covers. In the 19th century many buildings in larger towns had a coal hole in the pavement to allow the coal merchant to empty his sacks into the coal bunker, which was often in the cellar at the front of the house, without the need to enter the house. The hole was normally between 30 and 60 cm in diameter and was lined by a cast-iron ring and and covered by a cast-iron plate. This often advertised the name of the maker. One cover by J W Cunningham of 196 Blackfriars Road reportedly features a dog with his head in a pot, a sign is derived from the early trade sign for an ironmonger. They were normally given a raised pattern to prevent slipping and some include glass or concrete panels. Covers are more common from from the 1860s onwards but became redundant after the implementation of the Clean Air Acts. In the later 19th century Shepard Taylor was attracted by their varied designs and studied them, coining the word 'opercula' from the Latin for a cover. They have also inspired artists and even embroiderers and there have been several exhibitions of rubbings of coalhole covers. A recent limited edition book on the subject, with many illustrations, results from a project undertaken by the artist Maria Vlotides . It is called Pavement poetry and was published by Pedestrian Publishing in December 2010. See details on the Pedestrian Publishing website.

An attractive anonymous design. Seen in Judd Street, London
Safety plate improved. Seen in London.
Carron. Seen in London and Brighton
Durey, seen in London
Two examples of simple designs without information on the place of production, which are quite widely found.

In London coalholes can be found in areas like Bloomsbury, Kensington, Pimlico or Paddington. Gordon Square and surrounding streets has a good selection but they are often removed during street improvements.

Ashton & Green, London, Dublin & Bristol
Frederick Bird & Co engineers & ironfounders, London W. Self fastening plate
Brough, London. Seen in Ludlow
J.W.Carpenter Ltd, 188-190 Earls Court Road, SW
Clark, Hunt & Co, Shoreditch. Seen in Brighton
Hayward Brothers, 187 & 189 Union Street, Borough. Seen in Clifton. Hayward's products are widely found in London and the provinces. Apart from the patent self-locking plates, they are one of the few manufacturers to insert glass panels to provide light in cellars. Their large glazed gratings can be found in front of many Victorian buildings.
Hayward's patent self locking, Borough, London. Seen in Bristol
Hayward's patent self locking, Borough, London
Hayward's patent self locking, Borough, London
[Hayward] Brothers, 187 & 189 Union Street, Borough, 1854. Seen in Henley.
The Hope Foundry Co., 5, Upper Thames St., London E.C.
Nettleton & Co., Sloane Square, London S.W. Seen in Eaton Place, London
R.H. & J.Pearson's patent automatic action, Notting Hill Gate
Pike & Co, 168 Ebury Street Pimlico. Seen in Grosvenor Gardens, London
Pryle & Palmer, 40/41 Upper Thames Street
A. Smellie, Westminster. Seen in Eaton Place, London.
Clifton, Bristol
Blank coal hole cover, 1820s? Seen in Paragon, Clifton, Bristol. Early square example.
Decorative coalhole cover, 1840s? Seen in Clifton, Bristol. Compare the dated Ludlow example of a cellar trap-door below.
C.Hodges, Ludlow, 1846. With similar floral decorative features to early coalhole covers in Clifton.
T.W.Porter, Star Foundry, Brighton
Lewes, Sussex
Every Phoenix Ironworks, Lewes. Seen in Brighton
J.Every, Lewes. Seen in Brighton

Link to introductory page