History of covers



The Clean Air Act in 1956 put an end to the use of coal ,and plates linked in large part to pollution, and health problems (smog), in favour of gas and oil.

Coal Hole Covers originated in the early 19th century for domestic heating in London. They consisted of a cast iron ring fixed in the roadway, with a circular cover, about 12 to 14 inches (30 to 35 cm) in diameter, slightly smaller than manhole covers. Their function was to supply coal to dwellings, via a hole in the pavement, and directly connected to a vaulted coal cellar (bunker)

The contents of the sacks were emptied manually from the street, without the need to enter the house, and all sacks were transported by horse-drawn carts.

Made mainly of cast iron, glass, solid or pierced, each plate is personalised, either with the coat of arms of the company that produced it, locally and associated with a text, or with a simple graphic. This also made them less slippery on rainy days.

The most important production were those made from 1848 by Hayward Brothers and produced at the Southwark Foundry Company, formerly Glover and Henly for London and the surrounding area. Alfred Syer who dominated the islington market from 1830 to 1960. 

Some of these, including the series produced by the sculptor Keith Bowler, will be made for a 1995 Bethnal Green City Challenge commission, these same plaques from which I will draw and revisit.

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