Meet Calvin Payne – the self-confessed ‘Grate’ Drain Spotter of Sheffield.
Calvin has spent the last year on the lookout for drains and vents which have a story to tell on the city’s streets.
And the 42-year-old has not been disappointed, having hunted down ‘grate’ examples of metalwork dating back as far as the 1840s.
Now, the local history enthusiast is on a mission to have some of these pieces of workmanship saved from being removed as part of the Streets Ahead programme.
Calvin, of Attercliffe, said: “We coined the term ‘drain spotter’ but we aren’t as boring as train spotters – honestly!
“You can get in a spot of trouble – me and a friend crawled under a car once to take a look at a drain and I guess what we were doing could have been misconstrued.
“I like doing this because it’s quirky but it’s also important. If these drains were to disappear in a road resurfacing scheme it would be very disappointing.”
Calvin’s interest in old drains was piqued one day when he was walking down Palm Street, Walkley, and saw three drains embossed with ‘Sheffield Local Board’.
The discovery left history boffins on the Sheffield History website – www.sheffieldhistory.co.uk – baffled, so they set about finding out more.
Research revealed the Sheffield Local Board was set up in 1838 after the cholera outbreak – and the drains are evidence of the first attempt at a proper sanitation system in Sheffield.
“We have reason to believe these were installed in the late 1840s. They’re certainly around 160 years old,” said Calvin.
“In drain spotting terms, this is the most historic street in Sheffield.”
Once you start looking down on Sheffield’s streets, you soon come across plenty of lasting relics of times gone by.
Along South Road in Walkley, for example, there are still cut-off poles and electric access points for the old tramway, which closed in 1956. And down a back street in Attercliffe, there is a National Telephone Company Ltd cover which dates back to a time when there were just 12 telephones in Sheffield.
“You’re more likely to see something ornate or interesting if it’s in your eyeline. If it’s on the ground it’s not so obvious,” said Calvin.
Coun Jack Scott, cabinet member for streetscene, said the Streets Ahead team is trying hard to retain heritage features where possible.
He explained: “We are restoring a number of old sewer gas street lamps and retaining old stone features, such as kerbs, where we can. We are upgrading road drainage across the city to reduce road flooding and, unfortunately, this will involve replacing many of the old gully grates.
“We need to do this because, while the old ones are solidly built, they are prone to blocking, are difficult to maintain and can create problems for cyclists.”