Every Day Living

Number 11 Factory Street, a typical house in the area.

Many of the houses were still without a mains gas supply and so oil lamps had to be used at night. They were hung from the ceiling and often filled the rooms with an unpleasant acrid smell. Soot from them would be deposited on the ceiling above, eventually producing a black mark. Often just a single lamp would be used upstairs, usually hanging from the landing ceiling, so as to illuminate the stairs, and light the bedrooms through open doors.

Coal fires were an essential part of life, and the chairs in the sitting room (often the kitchen) would be arranged around the fire in order to get the most benefit from it.

Coal was delivered by the coal man in 1cwt sacks, and tipped into the cellar through the coal hole, or stored in a coal house, or coal place as it was sometimes known. It would be stored in piles, each consisting of lumps of the same size. Bundles of kindling wood made from
off-cuts could be cheaply purchased from many shops, and were often stored with the coal.

Everyday, a bucket or coal scuttle would be filled and placed by the fire in readiness for use. The grate was swept clean with a small brush to remove any ash from the previous day’s fire, and a few crumpled newspaper pages and criss-crossed pieces of kindling wood were positioned in the centre. They were covered with smaller lumps of coal, known as “slack”, and larger lumps were placed around them. The paper could then be lit to start the fire.

Often a coal shovel would be fanned in front of the grate to produce a draft to draw air over the fire to quickly get it going. Lighting a coal fire is a practiced skill, something that we have almost forgotten today.

Throughout the evening, as the fire burned, other pieces of coal would be added. The quality of the coal could vary considerably. Good black coal often burned better, and at a higher temperature than the browner Lignite. Sometimes small pieces of fossilised leaf, or other stony material would be embedded in the coal. When they heated and expanded, they could shoot out of the fire and possibly put a burn mark on the carpet. Often a mesh fire guard would be used to prevent this, and also to keep small children safe from the fire. The larger lumps of coal, often including bits of shale were known as “bats”.

King Street, from an old postcard.

A large blazing fire would more than adequately heat a whole room, but as the evening progressed the state of the fire greatly changed. Later in the evening when much of the coal was consumed, the temperature would fall. Because of this people tended to sit around the fire, and their rooms were laid out accordingly. Occasionally the chimney sweep would be called to sweep the chimney and remove the soot which was a fire hazard. Soot burning in the chimney could cause a lot of damage, and a large build-up of soot could fall down the chimney and blacken everything in the room below. Coal fires were dusty and dirty and so rooms had to be dusted and cleaned more frequently than today.

Bath night usually occurred once a week because a fire had to be made to heat the water. People bathed in a tin bath, either in the brewhouse or in front of the fire in the kitchen. Because of the time taken to heat the water, the same water would often be used by several people, and topped-up with hot water as necessary.

A podging tool. Courtesy of Beryl Jones.

Carpets were a luxury. They were usually podged rugs (sometimes called bodged rugs) that were hand made using strips of old material, threaded through a course Hessian backing with a podging tool, consisting of a steel rod with a hook at one end and a wooden handle at the other. Most of the family joined in the rug-making which could be a good way to while away the long winter evenings. An old sack would be saved and washed to form the backing and a podger could be made from half an old clothes peg. They often used darker material which did not show dust and dirt, and sometimes formed a pattern from several colours. The finished rug would take pride of place in front of the hearth and would be a treat to walk on, especially when compared with the cold quarry tiles that frequently covered the floors.

Cooking was a very different process to what we know today. Some families were lucky as their houses were connected to the gas supply, and so might even have a gas cooker. Most would cook on the kitchen range, having to cope with the vagaries of the fire and the changing temperature. Pots would be hung over the fire, or placed in the small oven that usually formed part of the range. The fire also heated the kitchen, often the only heated room in the house, which usually doubled as the living room.

Some food would be washed and prepared at the sink in the brewhouse, before being carried into the kitchen to be cooked. Fruit and vegetables were seasonal and so homemade preserves such as jam and pickles were an important part of the diet.

Food was stored in the pantry, a dry, cool, and dark room, with a large stone slab and plenty of shelf space. If you didn’t have a pantry it could be stored in the cellar, which would be partitioned to separate it from the coal. Many families kept chickens in their back yard to provide them with a frequent supply of eggs, and meat on special occasions.     

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