Concrete and Clay – a Blog about Pavement signs.
Of course by ‘pavement,’ I mean what the USA would call the ‘sidewalk.’ To add further confusion Blog  will be about signs on the road surface – what the USA calls the ‘pavement.’ And both are linked to  Road re-surfacing.
You need to go back a long way to find the source of the title. Concrete and Clay was a single by the UK pop band ‘Unit 4 + 2’ from 1965. It was number one in the charts but was the only song from the group to meet with success.
Almost all of the signs I am going to look at are about the things that flow underneath us beneath the streets, such as water, gas, electricity, drainage and telephony and television. As always, I will pick a fairly random order. I am not aiming to be complete but will just what I have seen in a few months of wandering.
Hidden somewhere, perhaps under the stairs, all houses have a mains tap that controls all the water supply to the house. There is usually a meter there to measure intake for charging purposes. There is also another stop tap a few metres away under the pavement outside. I’m not sure why this is. I think it’s because the water suppliers are only responsible for external pipes and the house owner technically owns the bit between the two stop taps.
Anyway here is the cover of a water supply point, set into the pavement.
Before I tell you about NWGWB, here is a much less common sight, a cover to a larger water meter, measuring general water flow rates.
One trouble with water is leakage. Not all of the water measured by general flow meters ever gets to users, where it can be charged for.
Ok, it’s time for a short diversion. Long ago, when I was a boy, water supply was nationalised. Users were not charged for water supply but it was included within Rates. [Lots of things have changed. Rates were local government taxes. After a few changes we now have Council Tax, which is roughly equivalent.]
Back in 1985, water supply was privatized. New water companies were established. Cheltenham now comes under Severn Trent, which took over from about twenty water authorities. One of the old authorities was the North West Gloucestershire Water Board.
[We will find later that gas, electricity, telephones and television went through similar privatization processes.]
Back to Water
So now you know. The NWGWB shown in the first two pictures is now long gone. Much more common on the streets of Cheltenham now are stop taps from Severn Trent (STW, STWA or STWBB).
I can’t explain why there are so many different versions. They do cover about thirty years. I have two theories about these little covers.
I suspect that the round designs are more modern, with modern technology better able to manage circular holes in the paving surface.
I don’t think the blue paint has any significance to the water board. I think it’s done so that these covers don’t get missed when the pavement is resurfaced.
We also have water meters under the pavement, marked as Severn Trent, with their larger covers.
You will notice that larger covers also bear the name of the manufacturer. These are all by Thomas Dudley, marked as ‘Dauntless.’ This company still operates in the UK and it has supplied iron castings since 1920 but their only product now marked as Dauntless is made of plastic. (See below about gas covers.)
Here are two more pictures to show how these covers can proliferate!
There are also some covers identified as Cheltenham Corporation Water Works (CCWW). I am not sure whether these pre-date NWGWB or may have been used at the same time.
Here are two unidentified water covers.
I am pretty sure the last one is a water meter. Stanton & Staveley will appear again later. Their ironworks closed in 2007.
Electricity and Gas
I suppose electricity and gas connections are more dangerous than water. We don’t have connections outside every house in the street as we do for water.
But you do see the occasional cover for gas and (much more rarely) electricity. Electricity and gas have been privatized in the same way as water but both effectively have a national transport grid. They don’t seem to identify the electricity company on these covers.
The more modern gas covers are plastic and yellow and you may have spotted Thomas Dudley again.
Telephones and Broadband
There is a bit of an overlap here with telephony in Blog , but telephone and broadband cables also go under our pavements. This is another area affected by privatization. These sturdy manhole covers have outlasted many political and business changes.
Many years ago, when we had very limited telephones that could just about cope with local calls they were controlled by the GPO, (General Post Office) which also managed letters, parcels, television, pensions and a few other things. GPO covers are recognisable from their concrete facings.
In 1969 the GPO became just the Post Office and it continued to look after telephones.
From 1980 to 1991 the part of the Post Office responsible for telephony was renamed as British Telecommunications but they traded as British Telecom.
British Telecom used a logo that tried to look a bit like the letter ‘T’ with Morse Code dots.
Then from 1991 British Telecommunications stopped the British Telecom branding and became known as BT. The organization has been gradually sold off and privatized since then but it still dominates our telephone network.
The process of undoing the monopoly of telephony started in 1981 with Mercury Communications, a subsidiary of Cable and Wireless. Mercury did not last for long. They were subsumed back into Cable and Wireless in 1997 before disappearing. I was lucky enough to find two examples of their covers.
Although there were underground cables for the GPO, it used to be much more common to see telephones connected to houses via telegraph poles. We still have them. Now the ones I see locally are all clearly marked with a number that shows that they belong to BT.
Somewhere around the Nineties cable television came to Cheltenham. Cables were laid in most of our streets and all houses had the option to connect to what was then Telewest, in competition with developing satellite television. The cables also provided telephone and broadband services. In 2006 Telewest merged with NTL to form Virgin Media.
There are inspection covers throughout our streets.
Wikipedia assures me that the abbreviation CATV is often used for cable television. It originally stood for Community Access Television or Community Antenna Television.
Fire Hydrants and Stop Valves
Apart from all the networks supplying the general public there are other networks and services under our feet fused by the Authorities.
There are fire hydrants to supply fire engines with water. The first one is Stanton again with its Ductile brand.
I am not sure but I think that sometimes Stop Valves (SV) are also there to help the Fire Services. You will see why later.
This a large SV cover, also Stanton Ductile.
It’s not helped by the water connections to our houses being called Stop Taps (See above) and even stop valves.
We don’t think about drains but they are essential. Drains serve two functions. They take away waste water and sewage from our houses and storm drains rapidly remove rainwater and prevent our streets from flooding.
On the streets they are not identified as drains. You will see Stanton & Staveley, Herbert & Young, Clark Drains and Glynwed identifying their products.
[I wasn’t sure about the last one but Wavin is an international company that still does storm drain systems.]
My pictures are almost all local but here’s a drain cover from Bournemouth – Stanton & Staveley again.
When we have blocked drains some of these covers have to be removed. These could be pavement covers but it’s usually similar drain covers on the private land by the house. The next two surprised me. I presume that they are provided by drain-rodding companies from times when they have been unable to find suitable access amywhere else.
You will notice in my blog about Telephony that the cables under our feet have connection boxes at the side of the pavement and this is also true of my two next topic. We have street lights everywhere and traffic lights are now common almost everywhere. They both need a network of electricity cable and controls under the street. I have put these two together because they seem to use the same network at times.
While most of the covers we have seen so far have been old and made of cast iron, many of these are modern stainless steel.
I did try to identify these but for Cooper Clarke, Wikipedia gives me a poet and for Hepworth I get a well-known sculptor. I did find Integrated Ducting Systems, who are still involved in traffic signals.
I have to admit that I am not sure about the next one. It looks like a storm drain and it was not near any traffic lights but it does very clearly proclaim ‘Traffic.’
Next we have three of the anonymous looking boxes by the side of the pavement.
You have to look very closely but here is the little identification plate at the top left of the last picture.
[These two pictures above were taken within seconds at the same place but one is in sunlight and one is in shadow.]
Some odds and ends.
All three-pin plugs have an earth [US: ground] connection. This used to be easy when houses could use the water supply system with its lead pipes. It’s more difficult now that we have so many plastic pipes. I can’t tell you anything more about Earth Rods.
This one is a … Monitoring Well! I found this one in Pittville Park quite near to a housing estate. I have no idea what it is for.
These are identified but they could be companies that have disappeared long ago. CCELW could be Cheltenham Corporation and SGE may be a gas company.
And some are not identified in any way.
I want to look now at the signs at the edge of the pavement and I have to admit to a great disappointment.
When I was young I liked to observe things and I had a few of the I-SPY books. I loved them. They cost sixpence each (2.5 pence in modern decimal money.) I remember I-SPY In the Street and I-SPY On the Road and their explanations of Fire Hydrants signs. So I searched the Internet and found the modern versions. I bought the 2010 version of I-SPY On the Street, which now costs £2:50.
Apart from one picture of an anonymous manhole cover it has nothing of relevance to anything in this blog!
So I went to Wikipedia and was not disappointed: ‘In the UK … yellow “H” hydrant signs indicate the location of the hydrants … mounted on a small post or nearby wall etc., the two numbers indicate the diameter of the water main (top number) and the distance from the sign (lower number). Modern signs show these measurements in millimetres and metres, whereas older signs use inches and feet. Because the orders of magnitude are so different (6 inches versus 150 mm) there is no ambiguity whichever measuring system is used.’
These signs, showing the location of nearby covers, are very common. Here are a few.
You can see the old and new types. They used to be on the small concrete or stone pedestals but some relatively new ones are sometimes put on railings or lamp-posts.
I think I knew about the yellow signs but I didn’t know about the others – and I-SPY didn’t help me.
My guess is that these are Stop Valves with the two numbers used in the same way as for hydrants. I don’t know why some are blue and some are not. And it looks as if they are also used by Fire Services because the two often appear together.
I have found just a few similar signs for gas pipelines.
I looked at some of the earlier topics chronologically but now I am going backwards in time. Many of the concrete signs are old and if you look carefully you can even find some that rely on letters engraved in the concrete.
You can see familiar GPO, SV and GAS. I think that LT (Low Tension), HT (High Tension) and EHT are electricity.
I have to end with two larger, much older stone signs. They must be milestones, probably showing Cheltenham as two or three miles away, but they are too worn to be legible.
The sidewalks in the street; The concrete and the clay beneath my feet; Begins to crumble; But love will never die; Because we’ll see the mountains tumble; Before we say goodbye.