The Good Old Days with a Coal Fire

The Good Old Days with a Coal Fire

But first. This is my second attempt to write my blog after I misunderstood some instructions that popped up. I don’t know about you but I do wish computer people would speak in plain English instead of coming out with phrases that could mean anything. Well that’s what I did, didn’t understand it and pressed the wrong key, which with a whoosh got rid of my blog that I’d sat ages typing. Not a happy bunny was I! Anyway, here goes on round two. This blog is all about the good old days with a coal fire.

The Good Old Days with a Coal Fire

I was looking on Facebook and saw this old photo of a woman holding a sheet of newspaper in front of the fireplace with a question as to what was she doing.

I knew, being of tender years, as it was something I saw my parents doing many times when I was young.

My dad was a miner. Simply because at the age of fourteen and in short trousers, he left school on the Friday and went down the pit on the Monday, to face the biggest shock of his young life. In those days unless you were ‘posh’ and had lots of money for further education you automatically took a job in whatever industry was near to you, which happened to be coal mining in my dad’s case.

As an underground worker on very, very poor wages, the one thing that helped was that they got concessionary coal, which was dumped on the pavement about every six weeks or so. That meant that, unlike people who paid for coal and had it delivered in sacks into the coal place, when you had done a shift down the pit you had to come home and get a ton of coal in.

It had to be barrowed up to the coal place and then shovelled into the coal place itself, which was like getting two tons in! (Can I just add that this picture is off Google, it isn’t my coal place!)

How you had your fuel delivered in the Good Old Days with a Coal Fire
How you had your fuel delivered in the Good Old Days with a Coal Fire

I’m digressing again aren’t I, I could go on all day about the ‘good old days’ so I’d better get back to the sheet of newspaper.

Drawing the Fire

Well it wasn’t for wrapping your fish and chips in that’s for sure, which is what you always got your supper in back then. It was to try and re-ignite a fire that was just about going out. It was known as ‘drawing’ the fire. Nothing to do with being artistic!

The paper made the chimney pull the draught up it from the enclosed space, which made the coal hopefully catch a stronger flame. I thought it was a bit of a dangerous thing to do and you had to be quick on your feet to make sure the paper didn’t ignite in your hands, or else!

Put some sugar on it…

Another thing my parents would do in the good old days with a coal fire would be to put some sugar on to it if it was nearly out, for example when you’d been out and didn’t want to have to empty the ashes and start making the fire all over. That was quite effective at getting it going again.

Many times I would hear the dulcet tones of my mother shouting ‘Christine, put some sugar on the fire’ so off I would trot to get the sugar bowl out of the kitchen and start putting sugar on the last remaining bit of red. It certainly did the trick as nine times out of ten you could get the flames going. Then gingerly and carefully you’d put a piece of coal on, bit by bit onto the glowing embers of the dying fire, and off you went, a job saved.

The Good Old Days with a Coal Fire for heat, hot water, cooking, rubbish disposal…

Not many people had central heating in those days and those who did had to have plenty of money to run it, so we had our coal fire which was always blazing like mad.

There was a back boiler underneath it for the hot water, which also heated the oven which was behind it in the adjoining kitchen. As a result downstairs was always warm but upstairs in the Winter, brrrrr, no double glazing, that was unheard of, so I would look in wonder at the frost patterns on the glass inside the window, it was so cold.

We had a fireplace upstairs in the front bedroom which was only used when someone was very poorly. Otherwise we just froze. We were used to it and didn’t think anything of it. I often wonder what children today would make of our super freezing houses, I bet they wouldn’t be amused!

I used to go to bed with blankets and eiderdowns piled on me, the old satin type, plus pyjamas, cardigan, socks and anything else you could find. When it was bitter, my mum sometimes put a hot water bottle at my feet which was nice for my feet but not the rest of me, and went cold very quickly so that you were left with a freezing rubber block at your feet. Oh for an electric blanket in those good old days!

The Good Old Days with a coal fire were hard work

An open fire meant a lot of work, as you had to first rake the ashes out of the grate and under it, so that you would end up with a zinc bucket full of ashes from the last fire. Then came the screwed up paper and then the sticks with coal placed carefully on top to let the air get to it. Some people would put the paper over the fireplace front then to ‘draw’ the draught up the flu to get it to burn better.

It was a very very dirty job, one that my dad used to do before he went to work. He would leave the fire ready for lighting when my mum got up (he worked peculiar shifts). In Winter when it was really cold it took at least an hour to get the room thawed through, so once again you shivered. Because it was a dirty job, your living room walls and paint got dirty all that more quickly, so cleaning the whole house became a bigger job too.

I myself can’t understand people taking a gas fire out, to put say a wood burning stove in, as they have to have the dirty work and dust which gets everywhere. I’ll leave my memories where they belong, in the past, and enjoy my central heating and a gas fire that I don’t have to clean.

Ironically my dad died suddenly while he was making the fire one morning in December, only a few days after his 79th birthday. He fell over with a heart attack, so when we found him he had ashes up to his elbows from raking them out of the grate. After spending all of his life connected to coal, it always seemed ironic to me that he died this way, and sad too.

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  1. Avatar

    My mum was never happy having to clean out the grate! We avoided her! It it was lovely watching the fire when it was lit and going well. As well as the ice inside the windows, I remember treading on the icy lino when I got out of bed in the mornings. Youth today – they don’t know they’re born!

  2. Avatar

    So someone can’ t understand why people would want to swap gas for a coal fire? How are their standing charges and their service/maintenance bills once a year as well as spare parts replacement? Has Putin turned it off yet? Have the Ukrainians tapped into the supply destined for Europe? Extended cold winter like the last one, and huge demand? Five per cent. gas hikes by British Gas?

    1. Avatar

      That’s all very true Joan. However, coal is not an endless resource either. Plus, it’s very difficult to run on a daily basis for anyone who is less able. I certainly wouldn’t be able to look after a coal fire. And a decorative coal fire that you light when you fancy is one thing – relying on it to heat the whole house all day everyday is quite another.

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