London’s population has grown dramatically over the centuries, creating huge problems to provide its people with services & sanitation. Several times the situation deteriorated into health & safety catastrophes. The solution was to go underground.
London is now supported by a massive & complex subterranean infrastructure without which our standard of living would be impossible. If we look down, while walking through London’s magnificent streets, we will see an astonishing number of entrances into this concealed world.
Manhole covers are in place to provide authorized access to utilities, whilst stopping the public from falling into an infrastructure underworld. But these manhole covers offer more than just access to utilities, they are a doorway to London’s social history, London’s engineering history, and London’s artistic history.
The design of manhole covers has evolved over the years, mirroring changing fashions. This is true both of the manufacturing designs, the materials & structures, and the artistic designs. Indeed, in the artistic designs of manhole covers we can see the ongoing battle between function and form.
Human creativity has ensured that these ubiquitous covers are much more than blocks of metal & concrete. As we shall see, they are a fascinating reflection of our history, our civic pride, our ingenuity, and our artistic passion.