History on the Street

For a few years I have had a thing about our (Round Hill area of Brighton) cast iron lampposts.  We have samples of several designs on the streets, most made for gas lighting and later adapted for electric lamps.  The council recently acknowledged their importance by listing them as features of streetscape value.  Not a lot of protection comes with this, but its a start, and people do respond quickly when they see officialdom in hi-viz jackets looking at a post too closely.

lamppost (346 x 600)

In addition I rather like coal-hole covers.  Not as many styles locally, but there are some nice ones, and they refer to a time when coal played a big part in most homes.  Heating, hot water and cooking.  Every railway station goods yard had one or more coal merchants, and often used horses to haul black sacks of coal round the streets.  Coalmen wore a cap with a foreign legion-like cloth down the back to minimise spread of coal dust.

Hodges & Butler (600 x 492)

In Hull, when I were small, the coalman had to walk through the house to bring sacks from the front street to the coal shed (actually a room in the house between kitchen and scullery, next to the pantry).  That dark narrow room was also ideal for burning different metallic salts to see the distinctive colour each metal gave to the flame.  It never occurred to me that fire in a coal store might have been a bad idea – but coal was hard enough to light when you had to set a fire.  Lots of twisted and knotted newspaper and carefully arranged sticks, then part-burnt cinders from the last fire, then small pieces of coal.  And maybe three fires to light every day, if mum had friends coming.

But just recently I had my attention drawn to the arrival of the telephone.  Yes, I know they’ve been around a while, but the technology has changed, and I don’t mean the cellphone.  Whilst crossing British Columbia by train I saw scores of telegraph poles each with dozens of insulators attached, but wires draping loosely.  The same thing used to be seen alongside UK railways, but we are a small and tame enough place to tidy away defunct technology.  I have encountered domestic telephone insulators on a few houses I have painted over the years, and the memory returned when I was reading about an early hospital for women and children, staffed entirely by women, here on Round Hill.  It opened in 1905, and, although usually short of money, it did have a telephone installed in 1908.  I walked round to see if there was any evidence of this early phone on the surface of the building, but found none.  But I did find a few examples of paired insulators on other houses.  They were in pairs because early phones used two bare wires, which had to be kept apart for the phone to work.


21 Prin Cres insulators (600 x 532)

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