Jeremy Corbyn: Admirers of drains and manhole covers find a hero in the Labour leader

Labour leader’s passion for drain covers has put the spotlight on the pastime

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The Independent Online

Like stormwater cascading down a drain, the appointment of Labour’s new leader has sent a whoosh of excitement through the ranks of Britain’s “gridders”.

For years, the nation’s devoted admirers of drains and manhole covers lacked a really high-profile representative. Not any more: Jeremy Corbyn’s bold admission that he likes to photograph drain covers, despite the fact that “people think it’s little odd”, has put drains and the people who love them in the spotlight.

Mr Corbyn’s admiration for drain covers is widely shared, it seems. There are clubs dedicated to the hobby and several Facebook groups that discuss the finer points of cast-iron street furniture.

Drain-spotting is a broad church. Mr Corbyn might prefer manhole covers, but others favour drain gratings and some have a thing for the iron coverings of coal-holes.

Jeremy Corbyn’s bold admission that he likes to photograph drain covers has put drains and the people who love them in the spotlight (Getty)

Archie Workman, 60, became a drain spotter after being given the task of inspecting grids by his parish council in Ulverston, Cumbria. The council did not have a map of its drains so he began to photograph them one by one. 

He says Mr Corbyn’s decision to out himself as a gridder has bestowed a new status on a previously little-known pastime. “Jeremy Corbyn’s interest in manholes has helped to elevate me into professional speaking,” said Mr Workman. “There may even be a book about my life in the gutter. I’d like to meet him so that we can swap drain-cover stories.

“They are all different and I have come across drain covers from all over the country. They are part of our history. They were made by foundries that don’t exist any more,” Mr Workman said.

Drain-spotting is not a new hobby. An article published in a newspaper in the United States in 1962 declares that Britain “is full of operculists”, a term derived from operculum, meaning fish gill cover. The article also noted that the poet and art dealer Victor Musgrave actually collected coal-hole covers “like some people collect Picassos”. 

“My object,” said Musgrave as he showed off 40 of his choicest specimens at a gallery in Mayfair in 1962, “is to force people to look at coal-hole covers and to admire them. After all, our streets are full of them, and children use them for hopping and jumping games.

“Yet the average person never even notices them. Not until he steps into a coal-hole that is supposed to be covered and breaks his leg.”

Jeremy Melling, 52, a building conservationist from Brampton in Cumbria, who also admires coal-hole covers, said: “When you walk around towns, especially in London, you see them everywhere. They are interesting because coal firms used them as a form of advertising and printed their names on them.

“I like the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is talking about his interest in manhole covers. He risks being ridiculed by saying he’s interested in them, but it is good that he just doesn’t care about that.”

Now a group of gridders in Southport has invited Mr Corbyn to become a member of their society.

They began gridding after founder member Roland Grime, 50, sent a picture of an unusual grid to his friend Richard Johnson after he spotted it at a train station. The group’s Facebook page has 230 members from around the world.

“We’re just middle-aged dads,” Mr Johnson said. “There is a lot of silliness to it. Some of it has to do with an appreciation of lumps of metal in the ground, but it’s also about people who might not otherwise meet getting together and talking about nothing in particular over a pint.

“The good thing about gridding is that it gives you a moment to pause and take time to look at the world around you.

“If Jeremy Corbyn is doing that, then it’s a good thing. It’s a really good quality to have.”