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The Coal Holes Of London

March 23, 2024
by the gentle author

If you are at a loose end over the forthcoming Easter holidays and looking for an excuse for a walk, why not join me for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS on Easter Thursday 28th March at 2pm or THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF THE CITY OF LONDON on Easter Monday 1st April at 2pm?



These hundred and fifty drawings of cast iron plate covers for coal chutes were sketched by a young medical student, Dr Shephard Taylor, while studying at King’s College Hospital in the Strand in 1863. “I determined to try to reproduce them on paper, and, although I had no particular artistic skill or genius, I found no great difficulty in making a fair sketch of the more simple devices,” he admitted proudly. Whether Dr Taylor was a purist who omitted those with their maker’s names because he preferred abstract design or whether he simply could not do lettering, we shall never know.

Dr Taylor was ninety years old before his cherished designs were published in 1929 and he christened them Opercula, which means a cover or a lid. I will give a prize to anyone that can send me a photograph of any of these opercula drawn by Dr Taylor still in its location today.


You may also like to take a look at

The Manhole Covers of Spitalfields

4 Responses leave one →
  1. March 23, 2024

    Do these still exist? There are so many different designs, and I have never noticed a single one. Even if most of them have been filled in or paved over, there must still be a few in existence (although to go looking for them on the Strand or in Trafalgar Square would probably mean colliding with a few dozen people, at least).

  2. Robin permalink
    March 23, 2024

    Oh yes, they exist! I don’t have any photos from coal holes on the streets listed, but I do have several of the same or similar designs from the streets around Kensington Chelsea. Makers’ names include JAS Bartle & Co Western Iron Works Notting Hill; C.L. Hacking Kings Road.

  3. Catherine permalink
    March 23, 2024

    Some of the round ones would make wonderful designs for pie crusts!

  4. Ann Ranshaw permalink
    April 2, 2024

    When I was at University in London in the late 60’s it was not unusual for fellow students to take rubbings, like brass rubbings of these for decorating – covering up the damp patches and unfortunate wallpaper – in their student accommodation, mostly rented bed sits in poor repair.

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