The Joy Of Historical Wood-Block Paving, And Where To Spot It

M@
By M@
The Joy Of Historical Wood-Block Paving, And Where To Spot It
The camera is low to some wooden paving, with a green and white truck in the background

Here's a rarity for you to spot around London: wood-block paving.

The section above is the largest remaining example we know of in London, found on Belvedere Road near the London Eye.

This stuff was once everywhere in London. It served as a cheap, easily laid alternative to cut stone and had the benefit of being quieter and smoother in a time before pneumatic tyres.

By the early 20th century, much of central London was paved in wood. The material fell out of favour after the war, when the city's roads were rebuilt with asphalt.

The old wooden blocks were either covered over, or else dug up for fuel. According to anecdote, Alan Sugar began his entrepreneurial career by chopping up old blocks and selling them on as firelighters.

Ian Visits has written a fascinating (yes, really) history of wood-block paving, so we won't retread the same ground. Instead, here are a few examples we've chanced across.

1. Chequer Street

A wet pavement with double yellow lines

The most famous example (though fame here is relative) lies just west of Bunhill Fields, off Old Street. A short section has been preserved (or perhaps replaced) on Chequer Street, in the shadow of the tower where the Kray twins were finally arrested. This is often touted as London's last remaining section of wood-block paving (we've been guilty), though this is clearly not so. This photo on a rainy day highlights one of the shortcomings of wooden paving — it got very slippery.

2. Belvedere Road

As already noted, Belvedere Road contains a sizeable stretch of wooden paving. This section seems to be a little more cracked and belichened than the slabs of Chequer Street, and is covered in places with stony aggregate. It's probably original.

3. Colliers Wood

Woodblock paving looking like chocolate beside more conventional paving.

This short section of wood-block can be found outside the (excellent) Charles Holden pub opposite Colliers Wood tube station. Other examples can be found further along the high street at the entrance to Wandle Park. This is not historic wood-block, but was added during a 2016 streetscape improvements. Wood-block makes a comeback!

4. St James's utility cover

A utility cover in the road with wooden infill. Some feet circle it

The most central bit of woodblock we've found is at the northern end of St James's Street. Here the road is entirely tarmac apart from 12 inlay panels within this utility cover. Indeed, most wooden survivors are of this form. The road might have been asphalted over long ago, but the old utility covers, with their wood, remain. I believe one of those pairs of feet belong to tour guide Peter Berthoud, who first introduced us to this oddity.

5. Brentford blocks

A small coal hole cover full of wooden blocks

Brentford is one of those parts of town that looks superficially modern, yet conceals history on every corner. One example is this small manhole cover, which retains the much-weathered wooden blocks of yore. Several more of these wooden manholes have been documented by Jane's London.

Spotted some wood-block around town? Let us know in the comments.

Last Updated 15 March 2022