A draining experience!

In this guest blog we hear from DCRT volunteer Antony Meadows, who talks about drain covers and what they can reveal about our catchment’s industrial history

Since I began volunteering with DCRT, I’ve found many interesting objects along the river banks and woodland areas where we have been litter picking. I’ve written before about the bricks I’ve found from many different manufacturers and the pottery finds that have been unearthed. This time, though, my attention has been drawn to something else we can
see every day but ordinarily we would take little notice of – the humble drain cover.

I’m rather later to this particular party; there has already been a book called ‘Drainspotting’ published devoted to Sheffield drain covers, but it inspired me to pay more attention to these useful objects that are all around us. When we are picking up litter from the riverside we are naturally looking down, and I found myself noticing the names written on the drain covers we all see on pavements and in the gutters. Many of these features appear rather old bearing names that have long since disappeared; equally there are many modern fixtures too (often these have no manufacturers name, or have an Internet address which dates it quite easily as a modern product).

Once I got interested I began to photograph as many as I could in my local area and beyond. Most prominent are covers from Guest and Chrimes of Rotherham, Stanton and Staveley (later Stanton plc), and Thomas Dudley. These three manufacturers I would say are nationally known and are probably found all over the country. The first two are – or were – local firms of course so I’d expect to find a lot of their covers around here. I’ve also found manufacturers from Stockport, Kilmarnock, York, Model Foundry Ferrybridge, Sheffield (Charlton Ironworks), and Elsecar. Only a couple of streets from my house I’ve found 4 or 5 different foundry names in one street alone, and that’s in a 1970s estate!

As well as the larger manufacturers I’ve also been lucky enough to find some much more local makers, and these will date back many years, possible a hundred in some cases. I’ve found one inscribed DR Hall, Iron Founder, Worksop, and one S Hall, Maker, Worksop. Presumably this is the same company with different family members in charge, or local rivals!

Apparently in the past local builders would have their names cast into drain covers next to the houses they’d built and I’ve found a couple of examples of those too (easily photographed from the pavement I hasten to add)! Other local manufacturers I’ve found are T Burnett and Co Doncaster (I believe they made railway wagons too), Markham and Co Chesterfield, Park Foundry Co Chesterfield, and slightly further afield, Naylor Bros Denby Dale. I was surprised to discover that some firms I had thought might have disappeared are still in existence albeit with slightly different names now.

Markham & Co of Chesterfield held a huge ironworks alongside the River Rother and manufactured tunneling equipment, mining equipement and even trains. In the early 1900s the works would have used waterwheels on the river Rother to power the ironworks machinery.

I’ve found this to be quite a fascinating subject though it might not appear so to most people! At one level it’s opening up another aspect of local and national history, not only how we began to improve sanitation for the benefit of all of us and helping eradicate disease, but highlighting local industries that I hadn’t been aware of. I hadn’t thought there had been an
iron foundry in Worksop for example. I hope it inspires you to look for some examples yourselves: I’m sure there are loads more out there!

Here are just a few of the names I’ve found over the past few months as they appear on the drain covers : Guest and Chrimes Rotherham; Glynwed Brickhouse; Thomas Dudley Ltd; SCWW (Sheffield Corporation Water Works); Dudley & Dowell Ltd, Crawley Heath, Staffs; Model Foundry Co, Ferrybridge; Charlton, Sheffield; Rock Mill Supplies, Sheffield; John Needham & Sons Ltd, Stockport; Glenfield & Kennedy Limited, Kilmarnock; The Beeley Fndy Ltd, Carbrook St, Sheffield; Adams Ltd, York; Naylor Bros Derby Dale; J Davy & Co, Elsecar Foundry; Stanton & Staveley; Ham Baker & Co Engineers,Westminster SW.