Tonge & Taggart and the World Beneath Our Feet

Tonge & Taggart

Tonge & Taggart "Béal Tuile"

When friends of ours decided to get married sometime in the mid 90s, they asked me to look after the layout and printing of the missalettes. Of course I was happy to oblige, and the booklet went through a few versions before everyone was happy. At one stage the groom asked me to make sure the priest was mentioned in the line-up. His name was father Tonge — “as in Tonge & Taggart, you know, from the manhole covers”.

I have to admit that I had never heard of Tonge & Taggart, not having spent much time reading manhole covers. Since that day however, I notice the name every time I look down while walking Dublin’s streets — strange how a sewage drain can remind you of a friend’s wedding.

Tonge & Taggart Limited was a Dublin foundry which has since been swallowed up by the Smurfit group. If you’re in Dublin, you don’t have to travel far to stumble across, or even over, an example of their ironmongery. Chances are there’s a Béal Tuile cover right outside your front door, adorned with the three castles of the Dublin crest and the historic company’s name, of course.

Invariably, these iron Flood Mouths are complemented nearby by a small, usually round cover which hides a mains water stop valve. The majority of these little covers are Irish speaking, but more recent versions appear square and English speaking. There is even a bilingual version for those who are unsure about the difference between uisce and water. It is unclear which company provides these water valve covers — and there are far more players than Tonge & Taggart.

Once you start looking under your feet while crossing streets and pavements, you come across names such as Dudley & Dowell, Cavanagh, Conway & Sons, William Lacy and so on. Some are kind enough to put the year of manufacture on their creations; Conway Foundries appear to have been busy in the 1960s. Cavanagh have been providing manhole covers and other castings for 200 years and are still very much in business.

And it’s not just sewage pipes and water drains that are covered by these iron lids. The city has a vast array of tunnelled utilities buried underneath its streets, and the number of hatches, covers and lids that provide access increases dramatically as you get closer to the city centre. Water, gas, electricity, telephone, cable TV — they all fight for space in what must be a veritable spaghetti soup of pipes, wires and cables. Bus shelters and traffic lights have their own hatches and business premises have cellars and basements with iron trapdoors and grilles to add to the streetscape.

Bomb-proof manhole cover

Bomb-proof manhole cover

When the Queen came to visit Dublin recently, followed closely by the US President, all these metal covers on the street surface became potential hiding places for bombs and assassins. As part of a massive security operation, gardaí roamed the streets armed with spanners, yellow spraypaint and filler guns. Every single manhole cover, lid, hatch and trapdoor was inspected, sealed and marked with the yellow paint, using the spanner as a stencil.

Dublin’s manhole covers provide an insight into the history not only of its foundries and ironworks, but also of the companies that used their products. As a result we can now witness the scattered chronology of P&T, Telecom Eireann, Eircom and even Esat Telecom throughout the city. Apart from being a purely functional piece of street furniture, some are actually quite attractive — such as the rare Uisce covers with intricate celtic lace patterns and the cryptic acronym WSC-R. An example can be found on Mellifont Avenue in Dun Laoghaire.

WSC-R Uisce Cover

Pretty Uisce cover in Dun Laoghaire

However fascinating these unassuming objects that we walk on every day may be, I don’t think I’m ready to join the Flickr Manhole Cover Pool as yet. Surprisingly, that group has more than 1,000 members and almost 13,000 pictures — and you thought trainspotting was weird.

41 thoughts on “Tonge & Taggart and the World Beneath Our Feet”

  1. My Father worked in Tonge & Taggart and I was woundering if I can get a Book of Pictures of Manhole covers and one about Tonge and Taggart.
    Any information on where to get same would be greatly appreciated.
    Many Thanks
    Peter Nolan

    1. hi there
      when did your father work there Peter? I’m trying to trace someone that worked there bk in 1961 who was called John O’Sullivan or just John Sullivan? a total long shot but do you know any information on how to get in contact with anyone to find this out?? realise this is very vague request!

      thanks
      joey

  2. I have just come across your article on Tonge & Taggart, when I was looking up foundries as I am presently reading Strumpet City. I worked in Windmill Lane, Dublin in 1956 for about four years when Mr. Claude Tonge was Managing Director. My father, Harry Manley, was Company Secretary and worked there his entire life. There were quite a few other family members also working there which was the norm at the time. A great place to work but not overly well paid.

    1. I knew your father very well. I worked as a wages clerk from 1967 until 1972.
      I still have the reference he gave me on leaving.
      He was a wonderful man and I still remember him with affection.
      I would have only been 17 when I joined and 22 when I left.
      I particularly remember his motor cycle and side car on which he traveled in every day.
      I think he would have been in his late sixties then.

      1. So nice that you have such good memories of my dad. He was
        in fact 74 in 1972. He retired the following year and died when he was 82. My brothers Dermot and Brian both worked for a time in Tonge’s, and my dad met my mother there in the 30’s.

    2. Claude Tonge was my father. I remember Mr. Manley well. I worked there on the switch board during my school holidays in the early 1960s. I am glad people have good memories of the atmosphere while working there, but it was a dirty/dusty environment which every foundry was. I have my father’s roll top desk and can still get the foundry sand smell from it when I open drawers.

    3. Hello Eileen,
      my father worked at Tonge & Taggart in the late 40’s to late 50’s.
      Christopher Cribbin he was born 1933 and started there when he was 14 years old.
      I wonder do you have any photographs of the building or workers from that time? Or do you know where I could get hold of anything from those times and that particular work place so I can show my father?

      Many Thanks
      Angela

  3. Claude Tonge was my Uncle & Godfather.He was the last member of the family to run the business,but several other members of the family continued to work there after his death, in 1968.
    The company at this time was a subsidiary of the Tonge McGloughlin Group of companies. The Group of companies was bought by a Smurfitt consortium in the early 1970’s, and was subsequently sold to the Cavanagh family of Birr, Co Offaly.
    The two foundries, at Windmill Lane & the “Pipe Connection foundry” on East Wall Road, closed in 1987. Mr. Tom Berry was the last foundry Manager.
    The business, which changed it’s style of operation several times over almost 200 years, was lead by four generations of Tonges and was originally passed to the first Thomas Tonge by an Uncle of his ,whom he came to work for in 1803.

    1. I worked alongside Tom Berry from 1967 til 1972 in the office at Windmill Lane.
      We did the wages for the two foundries.
      Great times.
      I remember Claude Tonge really well. A tall man with a spring in his step.
      A chap called McLoughlin took over on his death in 1968.

  4. I worked in East Wall from 1979 to 1986 when it went into volunary liquidation.

    I still dream of the place . Great job.

  5. I worked for T&T from 1966 until 1972. I started at East Wall Road as an office boy. I was then transferred to Windmill Lane and worked as a wages clerk alongside the great Tom Berry who I sill remember with great afection.
    I remember Claude Tonge, Harry Manley ( I still have the glowing reference he gave me, it has beautiful graphic,) There was an accountant nicknamed the butcher, Dan Breen, John and William Nutley. Martha, Celia and Monica were the office girls. I could go on and on.
    I can still visual everyone and remember everyone.
    It was such a great place to work I have many fond memories.

  6. My cousin Eddie Curran got me started there as a apprentice Fitter & Turner in Windmill Lane Foundry back in 1968. He worked on the foundry floor and I then progressed to the pattern loft and then as draughtsman. As I remember Harold Tonge worked in the pattern shop and Arthur Tonge was my boss. The Managing Director was Charles McGloughlin and then overtaken by a man called ? Cowman
    Nick Hodges was my boss in the fitting shop. Although a vary dirty place to work in it had a great family feel to it with a great bunch of people to work with. I left in 1973 and the windmill lane operation closed not long after that. Often wonder if anyone worked there still alive, love to hear from them. Thanks for posting.

    1. I remember you Michael didn’t you work with a really tall chap called Andy in the pattern shop.
      I remember Arthur Tonge really well. He was into vintage cars.
      I did the wages, costing, time sheets and time cards.
      Regards

      1. Hi my grandfather is Arthur Tonge. I am here with him now just reading out all these messages! He remembers some of the people but not all, his memory’s not great as he has just reminded me….lol but he is 95 next month so it’s understandable.!

          1. Great to hear he is well. Wow 95.
            Pass on my congrats. He was always cheerful.
            Tell him I was the hippy with the long blond locks who did the time cards, wages and costing with Tom Berry. I would have been in my teens/early twenties.
            I had to visit his work area when doing the cost estimates so got to know him very well. Always good humored and pleasant and a pleasure to work with.
            Best wishes, Patrick/Pat Kavanagh.

  7. My maiden name was Tonge. My paternal grandfather was Thomas Tonge, who I believe was born in Black Rock and served in the Royal Irish Rifles. His father was William Tonge, part of the Tonge & Taggart Foundry family. I believe Thomas had brothers named Richard (who emigrated to Cornwall and later California), William, John (Jack) and Harry, plus a number of sisters. My grandfather settled in N E England sometime in the 1920s, eventually marrying my grandmother before moving first to Sussex and then Leicestershire. They had two sons, Gerald (1931?) and Michael (1941). I would be greatly interested to learn about my grandfather’s family.

  8. i worked in tonges from 69 until closure—–i was the next tea boy after you paddy kavanagh ! .in the early days for me , gerry fitzgerald was my boss although the butcher (con howell )gave me the job. downstairs office staff were mr. howell-mr. taggart (sales rep)—gerry fitz—-myself—tom berry—paddy kavanagh—-john nutley—-john monaghan—-brian tonge—-mr. (harry ) manley –M.D. j.c. tonge (claude ) ladies—-celia-monica–martha–jean———–upstairs staff arthur tonge and andy keogh (long andy). andy married jean and both moved on ——-jc died and charlie mc gloughlin took over —-that did not last and kevin cowman was dropped in to run things by the new powers that took the reins——all changed totally—-and not all for the best. good men like brian tonge and later john nutley (who became a good friend of mine ) were moved out. faces did not fit the new set-up !——-the atmosphere changed dramatically and there was 3/4 years of constant disharmony——myself dave douglas (with his father charlie ) in constant battle with kevin cowman.—–i took a year out in 74 and rejoined in 75 to spend a great 12/13 years with good people until eventual closure.other names to make an impression on me—–lab guys eddie , owen and dermot—–nick hodgers—tony duffy—georgie o brien–cristy mc govern—-dan breen—harpo—andy doyle—–noes taffe—-tommy holder—-john dardis—–tommy armstrong—billy tanner—tommy long—joe glennon—-joh griffin—-mick mc keown —alan blanch—brian berry—–john chadwick—tom walsh—-all the fabulous young ladies in the offices–brigid-angela deirdre–adrienne–fiona—annette–geraldine–rosie—phyllis. and mick sewell.——apologies to those i have surely omitted.——–different times but all in all an experience not to be missed. tabhair aire agus slan anois. paul folan

    1. Remember you well Paul. A fellow long haired former T&T colleague .
      I started at East Wall in 66 and went to Windmill Lane 67. I left in 1972. Still remember the place with affection.
      I moved to the UK, in 72 to pursue a career in the music and although I had some success never made the big time.
      I stayed in the UK working in retail management for 27 years and moved back to Ireland in 99 working as an auditor for Tesco until I retired a year ago.
      I now live in the kingdom of Kerry which I love.
      I still play music locally and write poetry and short stories some of which have been published.
      Whatever happened to Eddie Johnson whom you didn’t mention
      He was a right cocky sod who worked with me and Tom Berry on the wages .
      Is Tom Berry still with us. He was a fantastic boss and I still remember him with great fondness.
      It was great seeing all the names you posted. Myself and Harpo
      played some music together.
      Did you know Phil Lynott worked as an apprentice at East Wall for a while in 67

      1. just saw your post paddy—–yeah totally forgot eddie johnson from maryland—no idea how he ended up—–tom berry still going strong and living in the same house in artane—–we had a big reunion about 5/7 years ago and caught up with a lot of the old faces ( a few of whom you would know )—–hope your doing well——im still in the watermain pipe business—running my own business as a supplier to the water industry.
        tonges was a great place to learn in and it still stands to me.——-tabhair aire agus slan anois

  9. I didn’t know there were reunions! My father (and grandfathers) rolltop desk still in everyday use. My first grandson is named Thomas and my son wears my father, Claude’s, wedding ring. Was down that area last year in a taxi and could not recognise the whole neighbourhood.

  10. I seem to recall a Fr.Tonge at St Kevin’s Harrington St. adjacent to Synge St. in the early 1950s. Was he connected to Tonge & Taggert? And, was Charles McGloughlin an in-law of the Pearse family (Emily Mary,half sister of Patrick etc.).

  11. Fr Tonge was a brother of Claude Tonge, the last Tonge managing director of Tonge & Taggart Ltd.
    Fr Tonge was I believe the Chief Chaplain to the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland.

    1. Tom Berry, Thank you for yours of 10/11. I’m curious to know more about Fr.Tonge ! Could you point me in the right direction? I was a pupil at Synge St.CBS between 1948 and 1952 and like the others found Fr. T “easy” in Confession – especially when one had “biggies” to confess like Fibbing,late for Mass,sticking hat-pins in the girls during choir practice. And he could get through the Mass like greased lightning much to the delight of his congregation and altar boys,too.An age of innocence for some. T.C.

      1. Hi Tony. I do not know much about Fr Tonge. I only came across him because I was an employee of Tonge & Taggart Ltd and Fr Tonge was a brother of our managing director. I notice that a Nigel P Tonge is a contributor to this site. Nigel would be a nephew of Fr Tonge. I am sure he would have information that he could pass on to you. I hope you are successful in your search and I remember the age that you describe very well.

      2. Fr. Alfred Tonge was my uncle, a gentle and loving uncle (jelly babies and Smarties always remind me of him!) I had his punt for his fishing boat in Skerries for many years and then passed it on to my cousin Eugene as his children were younger than mine. He was a great fund raiser and was sent to any parish that needed a new roof or a heating system! His last parish was Terenure and worked on there even after he retired. Died in Roebuck Manor, Clonskeagh.

  12. Tom, Thank you and a very good morning to you. In 1951,aged 12 and a bit I went to Confession at St.Kevins and got bawled out by the P.P. My first time at St.Kevins. I wrote a short story about my experience and years later discovered Frank O’Connor told a similar story,a quality story “My First Confession”

    Fr.Tonge became my Confessor thereafter. He was a gentle person and drew young and old to his Box in great numbers on Saturday mornings.Four full pews was a regular for him. Not so with the P.P. The

  13. Tom, Thank you and a very good morning to you. In 1951,aged 12 and a bit I went to Confession at St.Kevins and got bawled out by the P.P. My first time at St.Kevins. I wrote a short story about my experience and years later discovered Frank O’Connor told a similar story,a quality story “My First Confession”

    Fr.Tonge became my Confessor thereafter. He was a gentle person and drew young and old to his Box in great numbers on Saturday mornings.Four full pews was a regular for him. Not so with the P.P. Tony

  14. I have one very nice photo of staff at Tonge and Taggart on my “Pearse Street” facebook page with some ladies and gents I would love to put some names to the staff and maybe a photo shared or two. I am happy to email the one I have if you don’t use facebook

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