Friday 16 September 2016

Stinkpipe Days

Reading this interesting piece on London's lost rivers (which has been shared on The Dabbler), I was intrigued to come across the phrase 'Victorian stink pipes'. It took me back (like a rather less fragrant madeleine dunked in linden tea) to the autumn of 1959, when I arrived from Ealing, the alleged 'queen of suburbs', at my new home in the Surrey suburban demiparadise of Carshalton. Here was a streetscape - and water-woven parkscape - notably unlike what I had been used to, and it had its mystifying features.
 Among these were the tall, green-painted cast-iron columns that decorated so many streets. A number of these had ornate crowns, some with wind vanes, some with three or four trumpet-shaped openings. What on earth were they, and what were they for? None of my schoolfriends seemed to know, but there was a quite plausible theory that during the war they had housed air-raid sirens.  Gradually I began to realise that they must in fact be some kind of ventilation system, presumably for sewers or underground rivers - but by then they were mysteriously disappearing anyway (I never saw one being taken down). Now I know just what they are/were - 'stinkpipes', aka 'stenchpipes', both good no-nonsense names which we schoolboys would have relished had we known them. They are so popular there is even a blog devoted to the stinkpipes of London.
 Pictured above is a surviving ornate stinkpipe just down the road from where I live.