Drainspotting | Nether Edge | 16 September 2018
Every Autumn in Sheffield it is possible to witness people in small groups staring at the ground discussing little bits of Sheffield’s history. They are led by the very knowledgeable Calvin Payne who has dedicated a great deal of time discovering, researching and documenting the history of our city through it’s drains, access covers and other street furniture. On his guided walks he shares how significant aspects of the city’s past are revealed by ‘reading’ these much overlooked features. His knowledge extends beyond simple drains which carry water, to access covers used over the years by various companies operating and servicing the cities utilities.
Calvin kicked away the leaves (in the ninth photograph) to reveal the “Sheffield Local Board” drain shown in the tenth photograph. It was originally installed as part of measures to help combat Cholera in 1832. The first image above shows the ‘Sheffield Corporation 1935’ access cover which was used as an access point for workers to lower lights into the sewerage system for workers already operating below ground. Long disappeared companies were represented by access covers branded and used by The Sheffield Electric Light and Power Company Limited, Sheffield Water Works Company and J & J Dyson among others. The last photograph shows one of the many metal plates installed across the city by the Post Office. They indicate the site where either a post box or post office once stood. Other electrical access covers map the route of the old tram route through Nether Edge.
The history of an area can be revealed through studying architecture or natural features. An overlooked element of how towns and cities have developed and changed over time are the drains, access covers and street furniture. The social histories revealed through these features are as important as those contained in architecture and natural history. Overlooked, neglected and gradually disappearing, it is only through the energy and passion of people like Calvin that some of that history can be documented, shared and even preserved. The Drainspotting walks in Sheffield are part of the annual Heritage Open Days. It is part of the European Heritage Days programme which was set up to raise appreciation for Europe’s rich and diverse cultural assets and the need for their care and protection. Keep an eye out this time next year on the Heritage Open Days website (link above) to discover the fine art of Drainspotting.
The book Drainspotting – A Guide to the Pavement Features of Sheffield by Calvin Payne and Andy Cooper is available through Sheffield Libraries and can be purchased with free delivery from the Wordery HERE
There is a Drainspotting thread on the Sheffield History Forum HERE