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What Is a Coal Hole?

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  • Written By: Alex Newth
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2016
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A coal hole is a circular hatch found on many sidewalks in England; it looks similar to an American manhole but is meant for coal storage instead of sewage. The average coal hole has a diameter of 12 to 14 inches (30 to 35 centimeters) and primarily can be found around historic homes. Coal can be very dirty and cause staining in houses, so this hole was used as a way for merchants to deposit coal without tracking dirt through a house, and it made storing coal much easier. Coal holes rarely are used anymore because of laws in England that favor cleaner energies. To ensure the hatch does not get easily damaged, most are made from thick cast iron, though some have glass.

During the 1800s, coal was sold to houses by coal merchants who would come directly to the house to deposit the coal. This could be very messy, because any coal that fell off the merchant could stain floors and other things in the house, making storage difficult and business a challenge. To alleviate these problems, the coal hole system was developed. Merchants just opened the hole, deposited the coal and the homeowner would retrieve the coal from the deposit area, known as a bunker.

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When first made, coal holes were commonly used, but use has decreased because of laws and a lack of coal use. England has laws that restrict dirtier sources of energy, such as coal. As a result, coal is rarely used and, by extension, the coal hole mostly fell out of favor.

The average coal hole is from 12 to 14 inches (30 to 35 centimeters) and can easily be seen from the street or sidewalk. This normally is only seen around historic houses, because few new houses are made to access a coal bunker or even to use coal. During use, coal smoke often will rise up through the hatch and into the air through air holes drilled into the hatch’s panel.

A coal hole experiences many different people stepping on it throughout any given day, so it has to be made from a durable material that does not easily break. To satisfy this, most coal holes are made from cast iron that is very heavy and durable. While most are only cast iron, a few have glass around the air holes, but the glass does not add any functionality to the hatches.

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