Irony in the sole

03 Feb

aa1Sometime on my travels I realised, with a bit of a start and a bit of shame in that it took me so long, that the ironwork in the streets where I walked was worth looking at, and hence recording. Much of it was a form of local self-promotion, using city icons or logos to show off the charms of the locality. Other bits were just interesting, nice designs and possibly nicely placed in a framework of cobblestones or mosaic tiles. Sometimes they were crowded with weeds. . .So I started taking photos of them, and at the end of my 2017 northern European journey had several hundred. The best ones, discounting the photography, are dotted around this post.

The towns and cities whose ironwork I photographed include Malmo and Stockholm in Sweden, Kristianstad, Aalborg and Aarhus in Denmark, Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Berlin, Munster, Detmold, Gotha, Erfurt, Jena, Leipzig, Dresden and Meissen in Germany, and (I think) Prague in the Czech Republic.

Why do they do it? What is in it really for the town or city, or the designer, or the worker who sets them in stones or in a larger framework? The lowest motive I can figure is to discourage theft, but there is also – and I sooooooo want this to be true – satisfaction.
The one on the left is from Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city.  The central design is featured in a range of covers.



Last year the city was a European Capital of Culture along with Paphos in Cyprus, and it went all out. Along the shore new paving got a fine drain. Here are three images, each a bit larger to show the detail.




It just looks like an ashtray.













It isn’t one really. Nor is it a planter. It definitely breaks up what would be a boring feature footpath.









Here is another Aarhus round cover, much different from most:



Even the most pedestrian – sorry! – shape can be turned into something imaginative.


On the left is a grate for an air vent in Dresden.








And another grate for a drain.  Simple, yet elegant, no?









An arrangement of covers with a drain in a courtyard of an arts institute in Dresden. Rust was a feature here, unlike elsewhere.












A fire hose connection.








Trapdoor. . .nice!



Outside the Dresden opera house, a prosaic rectangle encased in a fine mossaic design.






Cut and place.


Just grate!



There is probably a totally functional reason why the inset in this square a shaped like a tear, or perhaps an alien. . .you may find out, but I suspect I shall never know. It’s just beautiful to me.






A mysterious design, hieroglyphic-like.












If you’ve had enough of these, here is a nice range of city logo covers:



































































That’s enough, you say? OK. There probably is too much of a good thing when it comes to street metalwork, though I am not really sure about that. If you don’t like it, as Dionne Warwick famously sang, perhaps with this in mind, “Walk on by,” but remembering, with Robert Johnson, that there are “stones in [your] pathway”.

Once I got started on this, I discovered that British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is also interested in what backward people call manholes. He allows this is “odd”. I don’t know. I don’t think it’s odd. Eccentric – fine. Jeremy, you may not believe this but you and I, geographically and otherwise poles apart, share an eccentricity! Electric rust forever!

There is more! As John Major supposedly exclaimed, “Oh yes!”

While these cast iron creations are interesting and often elegant, the Japanese have leapfrogged their European counterparts. For example:


Ironworkers of Europe! You have worlds to conquer!

Thanks for looking and reading:


*This is a pun on the title of a novel by Jean-Paul Sartre, Iron in the soul. If Jean-Paul’s soul is out there somewhere – I have my doubts – J-P, I’m thinking of you!


Posted by on February 3, 2018 in Uncategorized


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4 responses to “Irony in the sole

  1. Duncan MacGillivray

    February 4, 2018 at 12:13 am

    Wow! the photo’s are great Steve. I love the Japanese example at the end, after viewing all the iron crests and heraldry of Europe, they have a full colour comic book style water genie! – so like them, ha ha!

  2. Joleene Naylor

    February 21, 2018 at 10:39 pm

    I also enjoy manhole covers and have taken photos when I run into interesting ones – I just like old ironwork in general. I especially enjoy locating the company stamps to see where the piece is from. We have a doorway in Villisca on the side of the Rialto theater that was made in Burlington (where my brother lived once). I get a kick out of that. Great pics by the way! I think they make them decorative for the satisfaction of it, too. Though Villisca has recently paved over all their manhole covers downtown. That is going to be interesting when they need to access them. I think someone was not, well, thinking!

    • Steve Evans

      February 21, 2018 at 10:50 pm

      Wow! Nice to hear from this aspect of your endlessly roving curiosity. Paving over one’s covers is an unthinking thing to do. Perhaps sewage from beneath will rise up in revolt and ah shower them with glory!

  3. Phil Bonham

    March 10, 2018 at 11:43 am

    Sometimes I look heavenward and trip up…sometimes I look down to earth and whack my head…views of birds and people-hole covers are enjoyed either way. Thanks for the lovely street iron photos, Steve


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