A few days ago, I wrote about a manhole cover in South London — not just any manhole cover though, for this is a work of art by celeb-artist Antony Gormley.


A few people joked that now I had written about it, someone would steal it.

Sadly, jokes have become reality, as at some point on Tuesday night, miscreants chose to manhandle the manhole cover and make off with its man inspired design.

I was made aware of the theft by a couple of unpleasant comments on the previous article, and a couple of messages elsewhere involving the use of fairly ordurous language. (and later, a half-page splash in the Daily Mail)

A quick return visit, and where there was once street art to delight the very few who knew about it, is a hole in the ground. Missing art.


Thames Water checked for me to make sure it hadn’t been removed by staff for maintenance reasons, and yes, sadly the objet d’art has been stolen.

The lack of other manhole covers being removed suggests this was specifically targetted because of its celebrity associations rather than for its value as scrap metal, and it will doubtless be sitting in someone’s room one day as a work of art that can never ever by shown off to anyone ever again.

A day later, what was a spot in the road with some art work in it, looked like this.


I have a somewhat ambivalent attitude to modern art, especially the ridiculous language used to describe it — I however love living in a city where these little jewels of delight are randomly scattered around the place. In public, for all to enjoy.

The artwork itself is almost irrelevant, it’s the fact that something unexpected has been placed there, hidden in plain sight for people to be delighted by when they stumble upon it.

I don’t want to live in a city where art can only be enjoyed in the hushed reverence of the holy spaces that are art galleries. I love to see bits of it randomly dumped all over the place. Even when I don’t care for the art, I like the fact that it is there. In public.

You can stomp on it, lean against it, laugh out loud at it — all the things you can’t do in a gallery. Sadly, you can also steal it. Although that happens in galleries as well on occasion.

London is enriched by public art, but not everyone is as inclined as myself to wander around always looking up and down, and never at the lamppost looming up in front of us — so someone has to write about the art. Say where it is, what it is, and tell people about it.

However, I also don’t want writers to have to censor what they say for fear that some moronic idiot will then turn up with a hammer one night and chisel it out of the wall, or the street.

Art needs to be shared, both by visitors to see it, and by writers talking about it. It is the sharing that enriches us, and the stealing that leaves not just a hole in the ground, but a hole in our hopes for a happier city to live in.

If art in a public space is stolen, don’t direct your ire at the person who wrote about it — direct it at the thieves.


Be the first to know what's on in London, and the latest news published on ianVisits.

You can unsubscribe at any time from my weekly emails.

Tagged with: ,

Article last updated: 25 September 2020 19:37


This website has been running now for over a decade, and while advertising revenue contributes to funding the website, it doesn't cover the costs. That is why I have set up a facility with DonorBox where you can contribute to the costs of the website and time invested in writing and research for the news articles.

It's very similar to the way The Guardian and many smaller websites are now seeking to generate an income in the face of rising costs and declining advertising.

Whether it's a one-off donation or a regular giver, every additional support goes a long way to covering the running costs of this website, and keeping you regularly topped up doses of Londony news and facts.

If you like what you read on here, then please support the website here.

Thank you

  1. John says:

    Well said. What’s the point of having public art like this if nobody knows it’s there?

  2. Nicholas A says:

    There is little point having “public” art, if it is hidden. Indeed, the fact that some public art has been hidden provides an excuse for it to be sold (eg Tower Hamlet’s attempt to sell “Old Flo”, and Barnet’s sale of its historic collections).

    Any blame for the theft of these manhole covers lies with the thieves, not with you.

  3. Sykobee says:

    The art only has value when there are people who have the money to pay for it from the people who steal it. So place the blame on those people as well, as there will be someone who will pay the thieves for it, and hope in thirty years time to sell it on for a massive fortune (“stolen artwork discovered” etc).

  4. Dominic says:

    This isn’t restricted to private citizens.

    Down the road from my office, there was a Banksy (a bi-plane doing a heart-shaped loop-the-loop). I saw *was*, because it was up for a few days before Tower Hamlets painted it over. You can see the outline of where it was, and it’s obvious once you’re looking for it.
    I know it’s a Banksy, because it showed up a few days later in a slightly different colour scheme elsewhere in the country.

    See, this is why we can’t have anything nice.

  5. Ally says:

    I’m very sad we have lost the lovely manhole cover. I definitely don’t want to lose the wonderful blog that brought it and so many other interesting things to our attention. Don’t be discouraged!

  6. Ronnie English says:

    I don’t think you can be blamed.

  7. Clary says:

    What a scummy thing to do. Sorry people are being awful to you about it.

  8. Lariel says:

    This is another well written post. I like your blog and I like that you tell me about things I didn’t even know existed. How anyone can suddenly equate your blog being the cause of some muppet to nick it I don’t know. People are, however, hopelessly stupid and it’s easy to pour scorn on someone through a computer screen while forgetting there is a real person behind the blog.

    Ian, don’t let the idiots get you down and thank you for your fab blog and newsletter. I’ve subscribed for ages and I can’t always get out to these places so its lovely to live vicariously through you 🙂

  9. Baldwin says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Lariel. Please don’t blame yourself and continue to inform us about art, trains or whatever you want. I love to read your post.

  10. Bridget Keam says:

    My feelings exactly. Well said!

  11. Rob says:

    If art in a public space is stolen, don’t direct your ire at the person who wrote about it — direct it at the thieves.

    Indeed. Sadly it seems you are an easier target than an unknown thief but it’s inexcusable to blame you for it being stolen!

  12. Rowan says:

    Tossers. What’s the point in having public art if you can’t tell people about it?

  13. Rashid says:

    Have just discovered your blog, via The Mail’s article.
    Agree with your article entirely.
    Keep up the excellent work

  14. david pickston says:

    This is an ongoing problem that has very little to do with bloggers talking about local street art. Streetart has always been vandalised or removed as it’s fame grew. I remember Spike Milligan turning transforming roughly pruned tree branches (care of the local council’s roughshod tree surgery) by carving them into little gomes and gargoyles out on Wimbledon Common. Vandals & the council put a stop to that ^^

  15. veronica says:

    Hi Ian

    Glad to see that you are not ‘blaming’ yourself but the fact that the theft happened shortly after your blog leads me to think that the thief could well be one of your followers. So I will open the topic and say ‘it wasn’t me’ and if everyone else who it wasn’t does the same then we may be left with who it was. Of course this won’t work because a thief is probably a liar as well.

  16. Judith says:

    I first heard about the Antony Gormley art when I saw it mentioned on the local news on TV, so therefore, more than likely, more people than you realise were aware of it, and it may be just coincidence that the theft occurred after your blog. Whatever reason and whoever it was, I hope they fall down the hole or at least drop the manhole cover on their foot, but mostly hope they are caught. It really is such a shame.

  17. David says:

    Sad about the loss – it is such a mean thing to do. As others have said I don’t think you can be blamed. Art works best when seen by lots of people. It would be nice if utility companies worked with young artists before they became famous – and livened up the street furniture out there. The EC1 telephony street furniture shows what can be done, and the Victorian coal covers can still bring a smile when walking through the streets of London.


  18. Darren Cullen says:

    It’s sad to see the greed of some affecting the gift of art.

Home >> News >> Miscellaneous