Thieves steal valuable late Tsarist-era Tallinn manhole covers

A Tsarist-era sewer hatch recently found during work on the Vana-Kalamaja street renovation. This one remains in safe hands and will be displayed in a museum after restoration.
A Tsarist-era sewer hatch recently found during work on the Vana-Kalamaja street renovation. This one remains in safe hands and will be displayed in a museum after restoration. Source: ERR

Historical manhole covers dating to the late Tsarist era have been stolen from central Tallinn recently, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Thursday.

The latest mystery follows the major remodelling of Vana-Kalamaja, in the Tallinn district of the same name.

Some weeks ago, staff at the Kalamaja Museum got a call from a builder, informing them that a man had introduced himself as a museum employee, and had removed a hatch made in the Gudkov factory over 100 years ago from the building site they were working on.

One small problem – there was no such "man" employed by the museum.

Historian Andres Siplane told AK that the cover: "Dates from around 1900. In addition to the fact that it depicted the old Baltic train station, it was the last Gudkov hatch in Estonia."

The missing hatch was notable for its convex shape, at a time when many roads were cobblestoned, while cars had not yet started to be a frequent appearance. The hatch dates to a time when the site of the current Balti jaam train station was more surrounded by wooden houses than it now is, along with a substantial lawn (the original building still stands, but was redeveloped almost beyond recognition into the Balti jaam building we know today, in the 1960s-ed.).

Siplas, an expert in the field, said the Gudkov factory took its name from a St. Petersberg family, who were also noted sauna owners in St. Petersburg, from around the time of Napoleon, and into the Soviet era, while one family scion, Alexei Alekseevich Gudkov, served with the White Army in the Russian Civil War and looked after many soldiers, including Estonians, who were struck by a typhus outbreak, at the Kreenholm factory in Narva, Siplane said.

Most likely, he added, the thieves were not after the metal – a plague of modern-day hatch thefts hit Estonia early on in its independence for that reason – but were more likely history buffs who were going to attempt to sell their illicit haul.

Kristi Paats, head of the Kalamaja Museum, said the artifacts were definite museum pieces.

She said: "Given who made them, where they came from, this is all related to our urban space. They are a totally special thing to deal with, to study, and through which to open up history."

Another cover from that era, which was found recently and unexpectedly, was, perhaps unsurprisingly, dispatched quickly to the museum for that very reason.

Other cases of hatch-theft included the recent removal of a one-of-a-kind piece on the intersection of Suur- and Väike-Paterei, in Kalamaja, which dated to the end of the 19th century and was stamped with the "Zavod Novi" factory name.

Siplane added that while the thefts cause him much anguish, the recent additional find of a Gudkov hatch, during the course of construction work, was some recompense.

He also noted that his own walking tours may have drawn attention to the value of these manhole covers, but added that their theft would in any case be inevitable and dialogue on the issue was preferable sooner, rather than later.

The new find (pictured) will go under restoration work, and will be added to the collection at the Tallinn City Museum (Tallinna linnamuuseum).

The original AK slot (in Estonian) is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera

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