We walk down the street every day, but how much notice do we really take of the history around us? I thought I was pretty observant until I spoke to Calvin about his hobby of ‘drainspotting.’
It turns out that there is more history under our feet than we think. And not all of it is burried for the likes of Tony Robinson and pals to dig up on Time Team! Cast iron manhole covers, inspection covers and drain covers are all over the place and some are still doing the job they were installed to do over 150 years ago.
A short walk between Commonside and Walkley in Sheffield revealed lots of historic iron embedded in the streets. The oldest was the ‘Sheffield Local Board’ drain cover on the left, which our friends over at sheffieldhistory.co.uk tell us date from the mid 19th century, when the Local Board of Health was set up do deal with Cholorea and other problems caused by dirty water and a general lack of sanitation.
Later covers are marked ‘Sheffield Corporation’ and helpfully include a date. Strangely though all of these seem to be from a three year period in the 1890s, which must have been a boom time for drain building in the area.
It’s not just drain covers that are a lasting reminder in our streets of times past. There are other items such as post boxes that carry the initials of long dead monarchs and classic red telephone boxes, which can still be seen in a number of places if you know where to look.
However my favourite finds are those enduring links to long lost transport systems and in sheffield that can only mean one thing… Trams.
Sheffield said goodbye to it’s first generation tramway on October 8th 1960, when locally built Roderts car 510 brought up the rear of the final procession through the city streets. Horse car 15 did return a few months later and was pulled up and down the disused tracks as a publicity stunt, which actually makes this the real last tram and something of which most people are not aware.
Of course there have been supertrams in the city since the early 90’s, but they lack the comfort, charm and usefulness of the old 4-wheelers, which used to go to places supertrams could never reach. One such place is Walkley and a look around the area will reveal all kinds of relics from the tramway even now, more than 50 years after it’s closure.
Walk down Howard Road and you will find a number of conduit covers, which gave access to some of the electric cables used to power the system. There are also electrical junction boxes still to be found. Today they are used be modern electricity companies to house their distribution equipment, but the one in Walkley looks suspiciously ex-tramway to me, although it lacks the corporation crest seen on other similar boxes. In certain parts of the city traction poles still stand in the street. And where they have been removed their bases can still be found, cut off like tree stumps on the edge of the pavement. In other places the tramway’s reserved trackbed still remains, although the rails have long gone. But through the middle of at least one traffic island original tram track can still be seen.
I’m now on the lookout for more tramway relics and when I find them this page will be updated.