17 January 2017 | 1 °C

Londonist Loves…Coal Holes

M@
By M@ Last edited 131 months ago
Londonist Loves…Coal Holes
coal holes.jpg

No, really. And here’s why.

They’re everywhere, and yet have you ever noticed them?

They’re seemingly mundane, yet they come in a huge variety of styles.

They’re still around, even though they’ve been pointless for decades. (see also, here).

So we hope you agree that a small tribute is in order.

You can find them lurking in the pavements outside most Georgian or Victorian houses. Until as late as the 1960s, these tiny portals were used to deliver coal to the cellars of upper-class housing. Then came central heating and clean-air acts.

Today, the cast-iron covers are functionless pieces of street furniture, largely unheeded by the millions of people who tramp over them every day. (Except in Notting Hill, where they always have to go one better.)

But coal plates are not just featureless lumps of metal. Look closely and you’ll find bounteous variety. Every foundry had its own design, often containing intricate geometric patterns. Particularly in Georgian rows, each house can sport a different style of cover. (The houses often predate the holes, meaning that the covers were installed at different times by different companies.)

So London might not be paved with gold, but it’s got some beautiful cast iron. It also has a rather fine pub inspired by these little fellows.

You probably think we’re more than a little sad right now, but once you’re cognizant of them, you find coal holes everywhere and constantly look out for new patterns. Well, OK, we are a little sad. But Big Chief I-Spy is proud of us.

Last Updated 03 February 2006