While out walking the same streets day in, day out one starts noticing increasingly minor details. I have been discovering the world of street furniture, the access ports to gas, water and drains – the underground utilities, the silent world beneath our feet. I’ve been enchanted by the water mains, the individual covers of many have been cast with a specific date and the initials of the water works – the Gravesend & Milton Water Works Company, the Chatham & District Water Company, the Higham & Hundred of Hoo Water Company and others that I can’t work out.
The earliest I have found so far is outside Rochester Cathedral and dates from 1902. Beautifully worn by the relentless scuffing of tourists’ feet, the letters softened from municipal utility into a new life of beauty.
Enthralled by this I have begun to scour the streets of the Medway Towns for more examples. The 1930’s were a boom time with many examples readily available. I had begun to formulate a romantic notion that they revealed the tragedy of everyday life – I haven’t been able so far to discover any dated during the Great War, 1912 and 1913 then the gaping hole through which nearly a million British lives were poured into the sewer of war. I have however found evidence that the Second World War still saw the installation of water mains with the 1944 specimen I found on Rochester’s Love Lane.
This presents the perfect opportunity for urban drifting – roads taken at random for what the might provide – routes planned and abandoned on whim while searching for ideal streets to provide new cast-iron gems.