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At Home in Winter, in the 1950s

A shovel full of coals was brought upstairs, still merrily burning, to ignite the newspaper and sticks tidily laid in the grate.


In the 1950’s, hardly any homes had central heating.  Most people had a coal fire in the living room and that was all.  If it was very cold, people lit the gas oven and left the oven door open to provide a little heat in the kitchen.

The front room and bedrooms often had fireplaces but it was too wasteful and expensive to have fires in them on a daily basis.  This changed if you were ill in bed.  Usually a shovel full of burning coals from the fire downstairs was brought upstairs, still merrily burning, to ignite the newspaper and sticks tidily laid in the grate.  When you think about it, it was really dangerous.

When I think about it, all houses were cold.  Getting out of a lovely warm bed on a winter’s morning into a freezing cold bedroom was purgatory.  There was even frost on the inside of windows.  My mother used to tell me that Jack Frost had been in the night, to decorate the windows with his beautiful frosty patterns specially for me to see when I woke up.  I used to scrape my own patterns in the ice with my finger nails.

l lived in a terraced house and although it had been ‘modernised’, that is it had an upstairs bathroom, the only thing in that bathroom was a big cast iron bath – no toilet, no wash basin.  Everyone had to traipse downstairs to get washed, in the stone kitchen sink.  The toilet was outside too – through the backdoor, round the yard and into the little door next to the kitchen window.  The toilet, or ‘lav’ as we used to call it, often froze up as well.  When it was really cold we left a little paraffin ‘kelly’ lamp burning in there continuously, in the hope that it would keep the pipes from freezing.  Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.

Toilet paper wasn’t soft like it is today.  If you were posh, you had Izal toilet paper – clean, but quite hard!  Most people just used newspaper torn up into squares.  The news print made your hands black, I often wonder what our bottoms must have looked like!

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