Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A very useful hole

This is a photo of a very useful hole in the wall of a house in Saltaire. Anyone know what it's for? Clue 1: these holes are only found in the walls of the houses that have doors that open straight onto the street. Clue 2: we do not have giant mice in Saltaire!

Answer: they're for milk bottles. At least, as far as I know, that's the ingenious reason behind them. In bygone days, milk was delivered daily to each house by the milkman - in returnable glass bottles. Of course, the glass bottles (full or empty, waiting to be collected again) were a bit of a hazard to passers-by. The pavements in some of the streets are quite narrow and not very well lit at night, so milk bottles would have been a sitting target for
unwary pedestrians, vandals or drunks (of which I'm sure there were a few, despite Sir Titus Salt's rules for his tenants). So some of the houses at the top end of the village (ie: those built later, as the village grew) have the refinement of these neat little recesses to stack the bottles in.

At any rate, that's what I have always understood the holes to be for. If anyone has a different theory, please let me know!


  1. A nice little bit of 'street archaeology'. I remember my grandmother's place in Sheffield also had the wrought iron boot scrapper outside the door. We still have out milk here delivered in bottles Sat/Tues/Thurs. Support the local milkman against the supermarkets.

  2. My first thought was that it might be the entrance to a "coal hole" but it is too small and it looks as though it is just an indentation rather than a hole which goes straight through. So did the terraced houses in Saltaire have coal holes? Now there is a cue for a future post!

  3. When the houses were first built; I think delivered milk was still ladled into a jug or pot provided by the householder rather than in glass bottles.

    I seem to remember being taught whilst at Albert Road Junior School that they were used for scraping boots in. Certainly several of the surviving holes have, or had, the remains of a metal bar in them (or the mounts at least still visible in the stones); so this may be likely.

    If you get chance, take a look at the streets which run along the village rather than up and down, like Shirley Street (where I live for almost 40 years) and compare the houses on the "top" side to those on the lower side.
    The top houses have steps and their "holes" intact, but the lower ones have virtually no step and, at best, only the top arch of the hole remains. This show how much the lower pavement has been built up and how steep the original camber on the road might have been. Though it is possible that the upper pavement was also a couple of steps up from the cobbles that surfaced the roads :)

  4. That's very interesting - you could be right about the boot scrapers. I will look at a few more holes and see what I can find.


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