Monday, 2 March 2015

Yet more manhole cover madness… with sad echoes of the Great War

I recently discovered, as I wrote 
previously that Budleigh Salterton still has splendid cast iron manhole covers bearing in many cases the name of a local builder and the town’s name.

Not quite so many as there used to be, judging by the number of driveways to houses where the owners obviously felt that a metal plate in the middle of their new brick paving would look out of place.

Encouraged by the Otter Valley Association’s Nicola Daniel I’m going to show you a few more. 

The above Pantoll was actually sent to me by OVA member Martin Smith who seemed to share my enthusiasm for manhole covers: he told me that he has four  Pantolls in his garden.  I’ve yet to find out about J. Pantoll but that shouldn’t be a problem; the building firm J.E. Pantoll & Sons is still operating in Budleigh

Palmer is a name that crops up again and again. A manhole cover by J.C. Palmer was included in my earlier piece on the subject. 

John Copplestone Palmer is listed in the 1902 Kelly’s Directory for Budleigh Salterton as a builder, cabinet maker, upholsterer & undertaker, decorator & general furnisher. He had works at East Budleigh and an office on Budleigh High Street. He was Chairman of the Urban District Council and a churchwarden at All Saints Church in East Budleigh. 

Above is another Palmer, a J.W.

And here’s a different pattern by the same builder.

But who was CJ? 


These Palmers were a singular lot, each insisting on his own name to immortalise his work. 

CJ even chose to have his name in a vertical format.

And here’s a manhole cover by a different builder, but no less special.

L.H. Pearcey must be a member of the well-known fishing family of Budleigh. When I spotted this one in the garden of a house on Meadow Road I politely explained to the occupant that I had this weird hobby of noting manhole covers and asked permission to photograph his. I explained how precious they were for Britain’s heritage, but I think I detected a sarcastic tone in his voice when he said he would take special care of it.

This final one, located by the ladies’ loo at Steamer Steps, comes not from a Budleigh builder but from further away. I noted it not just because I used to live in the Peterborough area but because of the firm’s remarkable story.  

Clarksteel Ltd was founded in 1963 by Francis Clark and his wife Dorothy who were looking to buy a manhole cover. At that time they were quoted a 12 to18 month delivery time! So instead of waiting, they set about making a cover by themselves. That first cover set new industry standards as it was made from steel rather than the usual cast iron. Sadly, Francis passed away in 1998 and Dorothy in 2014, but family members continue to play key roles in the business, which has an excellent website at  where I found the story.

I’m sure there are many more special manhole covers lurking in the undergrowth of Budleigh gardens or lying mutely unnoticed, uncomplaining and underfoot, but I’ll leave the task of spotting them to other observers now that I’ve drawn attention to the dear things.

In some cases, a name has meant something special to me.  When I came across an Alfred Demant I remembered that his son’s name appears on Budleigh’s war memorial; he was killed in action on 12 June 1915, almost 100 years ago.   

Seeing the name of J.C. Palmer reminded me that this well-known Budleigh builder received news of the death of his son Tristram Copplestone Palmer, killed in France on 28 August 1918.  

I’ll be writing about both men in due course at


  1. Brilliant! I've just this evening stumbled upon your blog as I was Googling 'Jack Rattenbury' (as you do) and I'm scrolling through it. I laughed when I came to this particular post regarding manhole covers as I take note of such things also - but then I'm employed by South West Water so it comes with the job. I just wanted to say your blog is excellent. I've lived in Otterton, Budleigh and now I'm in Exmouth; and I too am interested in the history of these places and all their quirks and oddities. My children attend St Peters in Budleigh also, so again I was interested in in the bits on your blog referring to there. Keep at it, you're doing a very interesting blog. I very much doubt if I'll have time this evening to scroll through all your past posts but I fully intend to, so I shall be returning.
    Photos of manhole covers! I'd never have thought I would find the subject of interest. You're a brave man asking people if you can take a photo of theirs. The guy on Meadow Road who told you he'd take special care of his probably phoned the police after you'd left. It made me laugh.

    1. Thanks for the warm words, John. Devon is a great place for writing about quirky odd stuff.

  2. is an introduction to Garton & Kings' contribution to Manhole Madnes - and not just in Budleigh Salterton but throughout the Westcountry and beyond.
    Many of the examples you show were cast by G & K Ltd, or Willeys or Parkyns (in Exeter), also Exmouth Foundry and others. It was not unusual for a Builder or Builders Merchants or Ironmongers to have their own name cast in a cover or, indeed, a cast iron lamp standard or pavement gulley. (Damerells and Ottons of Exeter certainly did this) Good and enduring publicity for the undertaking. Talks about the 300 + year History of Garton & King can be given for a reasonable charge details on the Home Page.
    Richard Holladay
    PS If you ever find a G & K Cover WITHOUT the Ltd on it it'll be pre 1925 and an image would be appreciated.