A few coalhole covers still remain

Photo:Coalhole cover in Trafalgar Terrace

Coalhole cover in Trafalgar Terrace

Photo:Coalhole cover in Tidy Street

Coalhole cover in Tidy Street

Photo:Coalhole cover in Queen's Gardens

Coalhole cover in Queen's Gardens

Photo:Another coalhole cover in Queen's Gardens

Another coalhole cover in Queen's Gardens

They led directly to the coal cellars

By Andrew 'Coalhole' Coleman

Brighton is lucky to be stuffed full of fine buildings, many of them reminders of the (first) time it was the most  fashionable resort in England, if not the world. This means that’s it often easy to overlook the reminders of when Brighton was also an industrial town and the North Laine was its industrial heartland. The reminders I particularly love are the circular iron plates found in pavements – coalhole covers.

A messy business

For much of the 18th and 19th centuries coal was the main way of heating houses and fuelling stoves. Delivering it was a messy business. To make things easier the Victorians built coal cellars and put circular coalhole covers in the pavements. The cover would be lifted and the coal shot straight down into the cellar, from where it could be taken by the householder or servants to the hearths and stoves of the house.

A form of Victorian street art?

The covers were given patterns to reduce the chances of slipping on them and over the years the manufacturers or occasionally ironmongers would put their names on them as well. They also developed self-locking mechanisms as there were occasionally nasty accidents when people fell down them. The patterns evolved into very pleasing forms of Victorian urban street art.

There are coalhole covers in Queen's Gardens and Tidy Street

As coal gradually stopped being used as a means of heating or cooking and councils re-surfaced pavements, coalhole covers largely disappeared from view. However, North Laine is one of the best places in Brighton to find them and they also give a glimpse into the area’s history.

Foundries

As many North Laine residents will be aware, there were foundries in the area, including the Regent Foundry on (err) Foundry Street, the Star Foundry on Bread Street and the Eagle Iron Foundry in Gloucester Road. Of these, I’ve only seen coalhole covers by the Star Foundry (see picture). There are other Brighton (Every & Newman, C&J Reed) and Lewes foundries represented in North Laine as well as the massive Haywards foundry from London.  Many coalhole covers have gone from the North Laine area, but good streets to look for them are Queen’s Gardens and Tidy Street. Unfortunately there are none in Foundry Street.

Rubbings and photos

I have taken rubbings from some coalhole covers and started photographing them in 2003. Recently I’ve started a blog (coalholecover.blogspot.com) and put photos on there from Brighton and London. I’ve also found there is a healthy (or some would say, unhealthy) interest in coalhole and manhole covers out there on the internet.

Can you add to this information?

I’ve heard rumours that some people in North Laine still use their coalhole covers and I’d love to put photos of them in operation on the blog. I’d also like to hear from anyone who knows more about the other Brighton foundries that made them. So please leave a comment below if you can add to the above information.


[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 217, July/August 2012]

This page was added on 02/08/2012.
Comments/reviews:

I live in Tidy Street and we still get our coal delivered into the cellar through the pavement. Due a delivery soon...

By Hugo Butterworth
On 17/10/2012

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