Hello, I'm Chrissie. I can't get over how lucky I am to be living at the seaside - I still love living at Cleveleys after being here for more than 15 years. I hope you enjoy my slightly cock-eyed look at life - come back regularly for a look at living beside the seaside, our mad family life and my view on local and topical current affairs. The weather often features, along with the very different things that you get to see and do when you live somewhere like this.

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The Good Old Days - Coal Fires

'Getting the coal in' and 'drawing' the fire... back to the good old days in todays blog

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 been sitting ages typing. Not a happy bunny was I! Anyway, here goes on round two.

The Good Old Days

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

Drawing a fire with newspaper

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 add that this picture isn't my coal place!)

Coal delivery

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.

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!

Another thing my parents would do would be to put some sugar onto the fire 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.

Put some sugar on it...

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 and then gingerly and carefully put a piece of coal on bit by bit onto the glowing embers of the dying fire and off you went, a job saved.

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 all 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, so otherwise we just froze and 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!

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) but 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 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, It always seemed ironic to me that he died this way, and sad too.

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Published: 10th November 2017
Modified: 10th November 2017