Manhole Covers

In the late 1920s[1] the firm was producing at least eleven different variations of cast iron manhole covers. For a company that specialised in horticultural and heating solutions they must have seen a significant market opportunity, which is slightly surprising because at the time there were several well-known national suppliers. No sales records survive for these types of products and they might well have targeted a more local clientele, especially builders. This is evident by the fact that they were specifically advertising some of these as designs that met the requirements of both Leicester and Loughborough Corporations.

They produced at least nine models of airtight covers, including light pattern, heavy pattern, hinged and double seal, all either square or rectangular. These were probably targeted for domestic or industrial situations, although large numbers were also used as storm drain covers. The light pattern variety (Model 335) was offered in thirty-one different size/weight options, ranging from a 7in. square opening upto 42in. x 36in. The heavy pattern, was only available in one size, 24in. x 18in, but in three weight options, 154lb., 224lbs and 280lbs (Models 334A, B and C). Both the light pattern and hinged models (No. 378) were offered with the option of locking nuts. The double seal models (no. 379) had two interconnecting lips instead of the standard one as in the standard airtight model and came in 5 size options, with openings ranging from 18” square upto 36in. x 24in. They also offered three additional types of airtight covers and accompanying frames (Models 330, 331 and 375), of varying designs although all single sealed and each one available in a single but differing size.

Messenger’s offered four square or rectangular pavement covers and frames, (Models 320, 321, 322 and 323) which were available in airtight, non-airtight and ventilated variations. Pavement covers were unlike normal manholes in that they did not have a metal cover. They were essentially hollow, allowing the vendor to fill them with either wood or concrete, dependent upon their own requirements. Two of the models had internal metal framing in the cover so as to help provide additional strength. The most basic model (No. 321) was offered seven size options from 18in. square upto 63in by 16in., although they could and would provide any size required. The ventilated and airtight (with lifting handles) models (Nos. 320 and 323) were only available in one size, 30in. by 20in. and 29in. by 24in. respectively.

Manhole covers on public and private roads required a different solution. These had to be of a sturdier construction; therefore they were made of thicker cast iron. As a consequence they were very heavy weighing from 303lbs. upto a massive 611lbs. They were also circular lids so as to help eliminate accidental loosening and tilting of the covers, as vehicles ran over them.

They offered four varieties (Models 315, 316, 317 and 380), all of which appear to have been ventilated, or if not they were not sold as air-tight. All four had the same basic shape, circular covers, ranging from 17½in. to 20in. diameter, which fitted into the frame on an integral flange. The frames had square bases, with radiating strengthening ribs up to the circular opening. Messenger’s manufactured a non-rocking “Leicester Corporation Pattern” design (No. 380); one (No. 315) that was self-locking, had keyhole protector and a cover which could be fitted with wooden blocks.

The firm also offered a conical manhole cover and frame (Model 370), to a Loughborough Corporation pattern, that was apparently easy to fix and required no setts. This had a clear 20in. opening on a 31in. square or flanged frame and was offered in three weights, 448lbs., 490lbs. and 560lbs.

In additional to manhole covers, they manufactured manhole steps, used to access up and down the vertical access to the sewers. There were four types (Models 347, 348, 374 and 374A), with differing designs, sizes and weights.

In their catalogues in the late 1930s, they were still offering the same range a decade earlier, although most of them appeared to be by special order only. They were actively promoting a much smaller range, which included two airtight models, the light pattern, available in eleven different size/weight options, ranging from an 18in. square opening upto 24in. square. The same three options on the heavy pattern model were also advertised, as were the conical manhole roadway cover and frame and a ventilating circular cover.

Numerous examples of the rectangular covers can still be seen in Loughborough and the surrounding districts, no doubt an attribute of the number sold in the area. Some of them have Messenger’s name embossed on the cover, other have just the characteristic lozenge pattern and others have “Loughborough Corporation Storm Sewer” or “Loughborough Corporation Water Works”. Most of these occur on pavements and on private drives, paths, etc. Unsurprisingly fewer examples of the circular roadway manholes still survive and those that do exist are often in less used locations.


  1. Messenger & Co. Ltd.’s Manhole Covers and Frames, Builder’s Castings, etc. – Catalogue No. 29M.