Context 152 - November 2017

22 C O N T E X T 1 5 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 7 the window of a hat shop, unwilling to risk compromising her modesty by standing on the open grating that lies between her and the window. In the second, a Hayward’s pavement light has been installed, allowing the woman to come right up to the shop window, and transforming the formerly gloomy basement below into a well-lit workspace. Another leading manufacturer of pavement lights was Hyatt, founded by the New York inventor and slavery abolitionistThaddeus Hyatt (1816–1901), who spent the latter part of his life in England. Many historical pavement lights remain, some in good condition, others worn or decayed. The glass may be cracked or missing, and is sometimes discoloured to a purple by years of ultra-violet light. Traditional metal pavement lights (and reproductions of originals) are still made. In recent years, for example, a series of large circular pavement lights replaced originals above the basement of the Drapers Hall livery company in the City of London. Kerbs and utilities Other iron on the street surface is seen in the form of cast-iron kerbs. Examples of these remain in Bristol (where they are particularly characteristic), Edinburgh, Ironbridge, Manchester and Shrewsbury, among other places. In most cases they are relics of a time when iron was locally cheaper than stone. Metalwork of interest is also found in utility covers that tell us something about the history of the place, such as those that bear the names of former local authorities or other barely remembered organisations. Wood-block paving Wood-block paving, once very common, is now rare in the UK. In London there is a short stretch in Chequer Street, Islington (how much of this is original and how much restoration is unclear) and a few wood-blocked drain covers, and small patches of wood-block paving, occasionally show through where the asphalt has worn away. There may be a few patches in other towns and cities. Ten thousand wooden blocks, dating from 1883, were exposed in 2011 during roadworks in the centre of Dundee.They have been removed and stored. Wood-block paving seems to have become common in London in the 1840s, to have declined somewhat for a couple of decades after that in favour of granite setts, and to have revived in the 1870s.The noise made by iron-shod horses and carriage wheels on granite could be deafening. An American observer wrote of London in 1878: ‘Some streets have complained that their noisy granite pavement has driven much of their custom into quieter streets, and this consideration is beginning to weigh quite heavily. In the future the contest for public favor is likely to be mainly between wood and asphalt. In spite, however, of the great difference in cost, wood pavement is now taking the lead. It has really no serious drawbacks, except in its cost; it is quiet, and gives good foothold for horses.’¹ Wood-block paving was particularly valued near hospitals (for its quietness), and where gunpowder or other flammable or explosive materials (such as jute in Dundee) would have been at risk from sparks caused by horses’ hooves striking granite. Many of London’s streets (including most of the main streets in central London) were still surfaced with wooden blocks in the 1920s. The evidence for this can be seen in Bartholomew’s Road Surface Map of London , published from 1903 at least until the 1920s. When a street was later repaved with asphalt, the wood blocks were usually either sold or given away.Alan (now Lord) Sugar recalls in his autobiography taking some of his first steps as an entrepreneur by chopping up the redundant blocks and selling them as firewood. Being treated in bitumen they burned well, if somewhat explosively. Wood-block paving may yet have a future. A develop- ment of four houses in London’s Notting Hill by the celebrated architect Peter Salter, completed last year, features a courtyard paved inwood blocks.The obsessively detailed scheme is, its developer claims, ‘the product of a decade of learning, thought and inspiration’ which ‘will appeal to the most discerning of buyers and collectors.’ Photos by Rob Cowan Rob Cowan is editor of Context. Reference ¹ The Manufacturer and Builder (NewYork), September 1878, quoted in the online Victorian Dictionary , www. An inspection cover in Southwark with woodblock paving (Photo: Robert Huxford) A short stretch of wood- block paving in Chequer Street, Islington (with detail far right)