Manhole Covers of Spitalfields by The Gentle Author

Here is an article shared from http://spitalfieldslife.com/2011/01/05 with permission from The Gentle Author. I have only included six covers.  Visit the website to see all of them.

Ever since I wrote about sculptor Keith Bowler’s Roundels, describing how he set new manhole covers into the pavements of Spitalfields with motifs to commemorate all the people, cultures and trades that have passed through, I have been noticing the old ones that inspired him in the first place. This one from the eighteen eighties in Fournier St is undoubtably the most snazzy in the neighbourhood with its dynamic sunburst and catherine wheel spiral. So much wit and grace applied to the design of a modest coalhole cover, it redefines the notion of utilitarian design. In Bath, Bristol, Brighton and Edinburgh, I have seen whole streets where each house has a different design of coalhole cover, like mismatched buttons on a long overcoat, but in Spitalfields they are sparser and you have to look further to find them.

Clark & Hunt Sunburst from the eighteen eighties in Fournier St

Clark & Hunt Sunburst from the eighteen eighties in Fournier St.

There is a second example of this Clark, Hunt & Co sunburst, that I like so much, in Redchurch St, just a hundred yards from the former showrooms at 159/60 Shoreditch High St of this company who called themselves the Middlesex Iron Works – founded in 1838, proud contractors to the H.M. War Office, the Admiralty and London County Council. And like many local ironworks, gone long ago, but outlived by their sturdy cast iron products. Alfred Solomons of 195 Caledonian Rd is another name I found here in Spitalfields on a couple of manhole covers, with some rather fetching, almost orientalist, nineteenth century flourishes. I discovered that the Jewish Chronicle reported the birth of a son to Alfred’s wife Celia on 18th December 1894 at the Caledonian Rd address, so these plates commemorate them personally now.

Covers remind us of their long dead makers’ names more effectively than any tombstone in a churchyard. There was rain blowing in the wind yesterday but when the sun came out afterwards, the beautiful old iron covers shone brightly like medals – for those who had the eyes to see them – emblazoned upon the streets of Spitalfields.

Meanwhile Hayward Brothers of 187 & 189 Union St, Borough, are the most ubiquitous of the named manufacturers with their handsome iron artifacts in the pavements of our neighbourhood. They were founded by William & Edward Hayward, glaziers who had been trading since 1783 when they bought Robert Henley’s ironmongery business in 1838. As glaziers they brought a whole new progressive mentality to the humble production of coalhole covers, patenting the addition of prisms that admitted light to the cellar below. You can see one of their “semi-prismatic pavement lights” illustrated below, in Calvert Avenue. Such was the success of this company that by 1921 they opened a factory in Enfield, and even invented the “crete-o-lux” concrete system which was used to repave Regent St, but they ceased trading in the nineteen seventies when smokeless zones were introduced in London and coal fires ceased. Regrettably, Spitalfields cannot boast a coalhole by the most celebrated nineteenth century manufacturer, by virtue of their name, A.Smellie of Westminster. The nearest example is in Elizabeth St, Victoria, where I shall have to make a pilgrimage to see it.

Unfailingly, my fascination with the city is deepened by the discovery of new details like these, harbouring human stories waiting to be uncovered by the curious. Even neglected and trodden beneath a million feet, by virtue of being in the street, these ingenious covers remind us of their long dead makers’ names more effectively than any tombstone in a churchyard. There was rain blowing in the wind yesterday but when the sun came out afterwards, the beautiful old iron covers shone brightly like medals – for those who had the eyes to see them – emblazoned upon the streets of Spitalfields.

19th Century coalhole cover by Alfred Solomons

19th Century coalhole cover by Alfred Solomons

In Fournier St, a nineteenth century coalhole cover by Alfred Solomons, 195 Caledonian Rd – I was informed there are similar covers in Doughty St and around Bloomsbury.

Hayward Bros Cover Semi -Prismatic Pavement Light

Hayward Bros Cover Semi -Prismatic Pavement Light

Hayward Brothers’ “Patent Self-Locking Semi-Prismatic Pavement Light”Calvert  Ave.

At the Rectory in Fournier St, this early plate by Hayward Brothers of 187 & 189 Union St, Borough, which is also to be found in Lower Richmond Rd. IMG_8432

At the Rectory in Fournier St, this early plate by Hayward Brothers of 187 & 189 Union St, Borough, which is also to be found in Lower Richmond Rd.

Bullseye in Chance from Spitalfield.com

Bullseye in Chance St

In Middlesex St. LCC – London County Council was abolished in 1965. Can it be only co-incidental that this old manhole cover in Petticoat Lane Market, in the former Jewish quarter, has a star of David at the centre?

The Manhole Covers of Spitalfields was originally published on JANUARY 5, 2011, by the Gentle Author, however the information is still fascinating. Have you seen any of these covers?  Your comments are welcome.  Thank you Gentle Author for sharing.

www.spitalfieldslife.com

from → Past Life, Street Life

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