Ever since we moved to Notting Hill I've been noticing what look like small manholes in the sidewalks, adorned by an array of unusual covers.
The holes, about the size of a dinner plate, are called "coal holes," and were made to provide a clean method of delivering coal into the basements of Victorian and Edwardian houses. Coal cart drivers could pull up on the street and load the coal directly into the hole, rather than traipsing it through the house leaving dust and smudgy footprints.
A pretty ingenious way to make something as filthy as coal a bit cleaner!
I don't know whether these holes are used for anything now. But they're all over the place, and I can't help but admire the decorative covers, which are objects of fascination for certain devoted fans.
I've noticed two in particular that are very unusual.
It turns out there was a public art project not too long ago to install decorative coal hole covers in parts of Notting Hill, carrying poems by well-known writers. This one is by Michael Holroyd:
This streetwise area
is dedicated to all
of Notting Hill
And here's one by John Heath-Stubbs:
your head, passer-by, and
peruse what you see
With some danger from passing
Not to mention incontinent sparrows and
Here is a long, thin thing coiling around -----
It isn't a centipede, but an unrhymed poem -
Free verse at that! What is it there for -
Only to prove what a cultured place
This town of ours is -- isn't it?