Venting Draycott’s poisonous gases

If you’ve ever walked along Draycott Old Road, you’ll have noticed some odd little green metal posts. They used to be incredibly important – but they are redundant these days.
They are (were) sewer vents; and poisonous gases once issued from them.

Adams sewer-vent in Draycott Old Road

Adams sewer-vent in Draycott Old Road

Back in the day, the local council and/or water board was responsible for ‘venting’, ie clearing, sewers. In Draycott, in those days, the authority was The Staffordshire Potteries Water Board, but the Cheadle Rural Council would also have had a role to play. It was down to them to ensure that gases did not build up in sewers.
(Nowadays, it is the responsibility of householders. This is why we all now have tall waste-pipes on the outside of our houses – from which noxious gases can escape at the top).

By contrast, rainwater goes down a different system, usually to an underground stream.

As tall as lampposts

Problems with gases were especially worrisome in housing areas where the lie of the land rose into a hump. At such a high point, rising gases could accumulate in the sewers under the road, presenting possible danger. Methane gas (though non-toxic) is especially flammable.

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The housing along Draycott Old Road is on a hump – and that is why vents were needed there.

Vent at Styal Industrial Museum

Vent at Styal Industrial Museum

When vents were first installed, they were much higher – as tall as lampposts – and the gases would emerge from the openings at the top, and blow away in the wind harmlessly.

If you go to the Styal Mill industrial museum near to Manchester, then you may see two examples of the full thing, one restored (see pic, right), the other not.

The vents in Dryacott are thought to have been in use until the 1950s.
Older people in the village remember that the top sections were eventually sawn off in the early 1980s, and then the vents capped with concrete (for safety reasons).
The one at the top of Stuart Avenue was cut down in the mid-1980s.

More research to do

The puzzles are of course: why weren’t they cut to the base when they were finally decommissioned?; and why does Draycott have a few left standing when they are very rare elsewhere?

But they are not without interest still. Down the sides of the vents is the name of the maker – Adams.
This can either be the famous Adams & Son family firm of potters which had a 200-year history in north Staffordshire before the family finally sold up (to Wegwood) in 1966.
Or, more likely, it could relate to the equally famous Brittain & Adams plumbing company which was founded in 1833 in Tunstall, but sadly went bust in 2018.
Historians researching old sewage systems occasionally come by…

Finally, let’s hope the vents are left alone to slumber in peace. If nothing else, they are a reminder of our recent past, when Draycott was a different place.

[Thanks to Matt Pointon and GP for input & help on this article.]

We have tried hard in this article to be accurate, but if think corrections or amendments are needed, please email us with your thoughts.

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