Updated 9 Jan 2008

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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Earth toilets and coal fires

Some readers sent in these memories of running coal fires and using earth toilets. Anyone with similar memories, please send them to who will add them to this webpage if suitable. The subject began when the building plans for cottages in Matlock Dale in 1899 came to light. Each room seemed to have a coal fire, but no toilet, which must have been outside and earthen.

Emails on the subject

    Prunella I too remember making dens from clothes horses! Thanks for reminding me.
    My grandmother's `two holer` on John Street Clay Cross was usefully situated next to a sweet-smelling lilac tree. However we did have an inside loo, usefully sited near the back door, and white washed regularly so looking like the outside ones. My mother always assured my university friends when they visited that we had an inside loo!

    Now for my story about The Derbyshire Times and mother, with apologies to anyone who already knows it.

    Mother's task as the youngest of 10 was to carefully put a thread through the weekly DT (a huge publication) so that it could be easily read. One week she felt lazy so put pins in instead. Unfortunately she forgot its other use; every week the older DT would become the weekly toilet paper. Grandfather went out with it under his arm, and came back screaming, "Which b.. put pins int' paper 'cos it's b.. scratched mi bum to b.."

    Barbara Winder
    Hi everyone, I just have to say I have been enjoying these story's, I remember hearing similar ones from my Grandmother. I am only in my 30s and I grew up in Queensland Aust and we had an outside loo until about 1980 or 81 when my dad, who is a plumber, finally installed a toilet inside. I remember having to go outside at night before bed and having to walk through a backyard full of Cain toads to get to the toilet, in summer you would just hope that no snakes had curled up inside there either. With our hot summers over here they could smell pretty bad too.
    Victoria, Australia
    These stories remind me of a neighbouring farmer who still had an outside toilet up to 1994. His nephew offered to pay for a toilet to be built inside the house, as his expense, for his uncle's 70th birthday present.

    His uncle replied upon hearing of the offer from his nephew "why on earth would I want a mucky thing like that in the house. Its better off where it is at the moment, and keep all the germs outside at the end of the garden."

    His nephew did put one in, but his uncle still persisted in using the outside one until he passed away.

    Having seen your request for information on earth toilets (I am a silent 'watcher' of the list, having a keen interest but no time to do anything active prior to retirement in about a decade's time!) I had to tell you about my transit through Kiev 'International' airport in the late 1980's, when returning from a business trip in connection with the Chernobyl accident. My travelling companion was an Italian lady, and she made a trip to the ladies while I watched our bags. When she returned her face was green, and she announced that I really really didn't want to go there, as the toilets were holes in the ground. This in a large airport! I can't say that I visited them myself, preferring to wait for BA's in-flight facilities, but it was doubtless a missed opportunity. I'm afraid that at home in Chesterfield in the 1950s and 1960s we had sanitation, so I can't contribute to your Derbyshire memories on this occasion!
    Kind regards
    Stephanie (Haywood)
    Harwell, Oxon
    ----------37--email received 7 Jan 2008----------------
    Something that has not been mentioned as yet is the gas poker. My parents used to light the coal fire that way. It was hooked up to a gas tap beside the fire and lit with a match?? then stuck in the fire under the coal for a few minutes until blazing. We also had one in the kitchen, where we had a coal fired "stove" for the central heating ( 2 radiators in the bedrooms) and hot water. It was very small maybe 18 inches high and made of ceramic. There was a door in the front where you set the fire and a very long narrow flue coming out the top. It must have given off some heat as we always had 2 fireside chairs beside it, and no other heating in the room. The living room fire was only made just before you wanted to use the room.
    Elaine Buckley
    Does anyone remember roasting chestnuts?

    I remember the family all sitting around the fireside on a Saturday night waiting to hear the first "pop" so that we could start to eat our chestnuts that were roasting in the draw tray that collected the ash from the fire. It had to be emptied first, though.

    I recall the taste was much better than the way that we have to do it now.
    I remember the stone hotwater bottles but when we stayed with my gran in Staffordshire, we were tucked up in bed with a shelf out of the range oven wrapped up in sacking material. She had a general store in her front room and also used the lovely tissue paper you used to get around oranges for the outside lavvy. Nice change from newspaper but not such a good read!
    Happy memories of the distant past.
    I remember an old village school which had earth closets, one in each playground for boys and girls.
    Each closet had a flap at the back to empty from time to time, the girls toilet flap being in the boys yard. Much fun was had in the nettle season by pushing long nettles up the passage, until one day we caught the teacher and suffered greatly.
    Best wishes for the New Year
    Frank Dunn
    I remember visiting, with my Gran, a great aunt and uncle who farmed at Bassenthwaite (Cumberland, for the uninitiated - well it was at that time, probably in the late 40s/early 50s) They had a two seater earth closet; I can't remember where it was in relation to the actual farm yard, but probably the smells from both mingled to produce what friends and neighbours always used to call "a very healthy smell"!

    They didn't have electricity then - those of you who live in beauty spots will remember the reluctance with which modern amenities were introduced to those places - they had oil lamps. Normally we didn't stay until the evening, so I only remember seeing them lit once and thinking what a strange idea it was

    As for coal fires - yes, the business of putting a newspaper in front of the grate to make the fire draw always held some danger, which could be lessened if you put the coal shovel in position first and the paper behind it. Someone must have mentioned having grates in the upstairs bedrooms; my sister and I were very ill in the winter of 46/47 and those fires were a boon, as whooping cough and pneumonia tended to linger in those days. I was off school long enough for the Attendance Officer to take an interest! Those not fortunate enough to have a coal cellar or a coal hole had an unsightly coal bunker made of metal, or of very rough concrete. The house we lived in in the late 1980s had central heating produced by the coal fire in the lounge, but the wretched thing had to be banked up every night - usually with the ashes from the ashpan below - so that the house was warmish in the morning. My parents kept one grate in the house free to take a coal fire, just in case the electricity and the gas failed at the same time!

    And who remembers those ghastly stone hot water bottles? Not very cuddly, but OK if you wrapped a towel round them; my Grandma had a metal one which could do you serious damage if you forgot how hot it could be Now who's going to start the dolly blue, washboard, copper and posser thread?
    Liz Owen
    We still use coal to heat the new house, we have been in now for 8 years, and I have nearly finished the building work. Very hard once you move in to complete the odd job. But we have a multi fuel stove running central heating as well, runs 24 hours a day no problems.
    Yes I to remember the newspaper ( was it softer then ? ) on the string hanging on the back of the toilet door, which was also up the yard, but never seemed to be a problem then. Even when my Gran died in the 1970's, she still had the same outside lav. Also remember blacking the grate, tin bath in the back room, one cold water tap and no bathroom, and how did we manage without a TV ?
    KINDERs Derbyshire
    In 1969 my parents and I moved from Matlock, Derbyshire to South Africa. In mid 1970 we moved to an area known as the Garden Route, on the south coastal area - George (Named after King George!). For about 18months mum and dad (I was about 13) lived and worked at a guest farm near Victoria Bay (a world famous surfing spot). At around 10pm the lights would go out until early the next morning!

    Then we moved to our own little farm cottage - no electricity whatsoever! This remember is in the 1970's and even in South AFrican terms it was primitive, but what an experience. We used paraffin lamps (Aladdin lamps), for light. The water in the bathroom was heated by lighting a coil of asbestos string in a container on the geyser filled with paraffin. Of course cooking was done on gas (bottled not piped). And outside was a water tank collecting rain water. About once a week, we had to manually pump the water from the bottom tank to the top tank so that it fed through to the house!.

    And then we had the outside toilet! Which Dad had to maintain / clean whatever was needed - I can't remember and maybe it's something I should be asking mum while she's still with us!

    We bought our milk from the main farm just a bit further up the farm track. It was my job to walk up with our container to collect the milk - but I was advised to wait until the we'd seen the cows pass by up the path!

    The waste soot was kept in its own spot in the garden and when needed was spread around the roses at the base in a circle about a foot radius

    Mum (who was the avid gardener in the family) would also use a small amount when potting plants up I seem to recall, she used to mix some in to the potting compost

    I know what you mean by accepting things as a child, many things "just were" and I often wish I had asked more when I could have

    Best wishes Nivard Ovington,
    in Cornwall (UK)
    It was only 30 years ago, and it was not a 'normal' way of life - most people would have chosen to live in the towns with all mod cons - but it was most definitely an experience.

    Our next home, did take us into town itself, but once again the only toilet was outside the back door on the small porchway - still part of the building and a normal flush toilet, but outside nevertheless!

    I am very grateful that mum wrote down her own life story (paper, pen and ring binder provided as a birthday present one year!) but I think it must be time I started writing my own story!

    And as a final query - thank you for reading thus far - Does anyone know if the Matlock Mercury has archives on line? Archives that is going back to 1960's? I wrote an "Auntie Jane" letter in 1969 once we'd moved to Cape Town which was published in its entirety in the Mercury !

    back in UK!
    I have similar memories of coal fires in my youth, using a piece of paper to draw the fire and getting the timing just right to let go as it caught fire, frost on the inside of the windows etc., but more recently, (8 years ago) whilst living in Scotland, we had coal fired central heating, but with an open fire as the source of the heat. We had not long been in the house, and to get any heat in to the radiators, you had to get the fire really white hot. The inevitable happened and the chimney caught fire, leading to a fire brigade call out. They had to demolish part of the chimney, and luckily for us they discovered that the chimney was in fact unsafe, and we could have had a bigger disaster if it had fallen down on the roof. So, courtesy of the insurance society, we got a new chimney with a steel liner. We decided to rapidly convert the heating system over to a gas fired boiler, but kept the coal fire, as it was quite cheery to have a fire once in a while on the long winter nights.
    From my very distant memory, my Dad used to have to empty the bucket in the earth closet into a big septic tank in our garden and every so often a big tanker would come and pump out the contents of the septic tank. We also did not have running water in the house at that time - it used to be a farm workers cottage - and all water was obtained from a pump in the garden. Woe betide us if we had not remembered to keep at least a kettle full of water overnight in the winter as the pump used to freeze and we needed the hot water to pour on it so we could get the pump working in the morning. My two daughters stared at me in disbelief when I recounted these tales as they could not believe that in the mid 1950's such primitive conditions still existed!!!

    It's great to read all these lovely memories

    I was born in '37 in Buxton, but grew up in Stockport. Our coal 'hole' was quite a way from the house and in we used to have a special skuttle which was always filled and put next to the fire in the evening - saved having to go out in the cold night. Nothing tastes nicer than toast made over a fire. Now live in Australia and on a visit to UK I was telling my Aussie husband all about the lovely fires we used to have - quite a let down when we arrived to see a gas fire in place. Not quite the same

    My mother, from Lancashire called it the Lancashire whipunder
    Vern Prescott
    This one brought back a memory of a party we had one Saturday night with about 30 people in attendance. It was held in a bar area we had set up in our basement. There was a lull in the festivities while we served food, when we heard our youngest son shouting at the top of his voice "Moooooooooom, wipe my bum" he was suppose to be asleep in bed......................... Now that caused some laughter.....................
    Mike Morris
    Toronto Canada
    Not quite old enough to remember frequent use of earth closets though my Dad's auntie in Lincolnshire still had one when I was young, a two seater it was in fact, I do remember the aroma, which in summer could be quite pungent! I did however spend the first eight years of life using an outside toilet with carefully cut up pieces of newspaper hanging from the hook on the wall. It was up the yard, quite a way from the back door, spidery in summer, cold and dark in winter, but only till after tea time then night visits were courtesy of the 'guzzunder'. From those little ones that couldn't wipe themselves yet, there would be a chorus of 'av dun' ringing through the back yards to bring mothers or big sisters to their aid!
    Yes many mornings we awoke to find Jack Frost had painted the windows

    You could make patterns in the ice on the window with your finger tips but yes it was very hard getting out of bed, good job we only had one bath a week then, I do not think we would have survived more than that!

    And we are talking eiderdowns and blankets here, you had so much weight on you it was hard to draw breath

    Best wishes Nivard Ovington, in Cornwall (UK)
    I heard a story of one man who became fed up with people stealing his coal after the cellar, or whatever it was called was filled up. The coalman used to fill up the hole sending the coal down a chute until the hole was filled. Agrill was placed on the top. Every time this took place, someone removed the grill and coal up to an arms depth went missing.

    This chap had had enough. It is told he put a detonator in a large lump of coal and waited.

    One day down the road there was a loud bang and part of a wall of a house was destroyed.

    The chap who had the coal stolen and who was reading a newspaper at the time simply looked up and said "thats him ".
    Oh, all these memories.
    I was born in 49 and my bedroom was at the front of our house.
    Still remember the coalman coming to deliver coal to everyones house on our street - a dirty, open backed lorry piled high with heavy sacks of coal.
    He would carry the sacks down our driveway and tip them into the 'coalhouse' which was just down from our kitchen door - this meant that whenever more coal was needed one had to go out (in all weathers) and bring the coal back into the house through the kitchen - our house was small and with three young children, Mum had a hard time keeping the house clean - bringing the coal in through the kitchen did not help....
    The coalfire made one room in the house lovely and 'toasty'.
    But manys a winter morning I woke up to find frost on the inside of my bedroom window ......made lovely, pretty patterns but boy, was it hard to get out of bed .......
    Carol Standish
    I remember my mother and myself going to bed at 8pm with 2 hot-water bottles to keep warm because the coal was running out. The man next door was a deputy and they had coal piled up right down the garden so his wife used to give us a bucket now and again when he was at work. My mother did some sewing for her and she paid her in coal.
    Rita in Germany
    I remember my Grandmother's coal fire well. She used to save the waxed paper off her bread. My job was to cut it into strips, roll the strips tight and pull the end out to make what she called a "spell" to use to light the fire. She kept them in a cup on the mantle. I remember that lovely red tile and black iron fireplace with its warming oven on the side which she used to air our clothes in so that we wouldn't catch a chill...clothes that included the dreaded liberty bodices (with rubber buttons) and tan cotton stockings. I remember being horrified on one visit to find that the fireplace had been replaced with a plain ugly (to me) brown one. My complaint was answered with "you didn't have to clean the bloody thing lass!" I remember snuggling up under a lovely green eiderdown at night and I remember the frost patterns on the upstairs bedroom window; I called it lace! What memories...
    Sally in USA
    Oh and the banking up at night with the slack to keep it going until the morning :-)....................................

    We also added the wet peelings from the veg to slow the fire down during the night hours. It formed a crust with the slack. This was 'poked with a poker in the morning and the still red cinders would be what you added the coal to to start the fire up again in the morning.

    One of the times I was in England visiting the south west of England, I noticed a person poking the cottage fire, but what was so strange about this was this eccentric chap was using a first world war bayonet as a poker................... that lad had no sense.

    Mike Morris
    Toronto Canada
    I remember when Chesterfield went "Smokeless". My gran who lived in Ashgate had the most wonderful Yorkshire Range which I helped black-lead once a week. On that day she and I would get up before the rest of the house because it had to be done when it was reasonably cool, it came up better then. The newfangled thing that she had to have to replace it was ugly and a sort of beige colour so no more black-leading. I think the government must have given grants for it. We always had the Range lit and stoked it up at night. You'd "bank it up" at night by putting damp ashes on top to keep it smouldering all night so it wouldn't go out...that's if you were lucky, and Nan was always lucky. In the morning you'd "riddle" it out and add more coal to get a good blaze going again and heat the kitchen, then having established a good blaze gran would take a shovel and shovel some coals out and carry it carefully into the back room which we used as a lounge/diner and put the burning coals onto newspaper and some kindling sticks plus more coal on top. At this point the shovel was put up against the chimney piece with newspaper in front and I was left to watch it. The moment the paper started to go brown I would either attempt to lift it off myself or scream for my gran to come and do it. My greatest fear was when gran was carrying the coals from the kitchen range to the lounge in case some of the embers came off and caught fire to the carpet....which, occasionally, they did! With me walking a safe distance behind, I would immediately tell gran what had happened and she would put out the smouldering carpet by standing on it in her slippers!! No long term damage seemed to be done....and we all survived. The house is still there today and I would love to pluck up courage and ask if I could go in...perhaps, next time I am in Chesterfield I will do that!
    OPC for Street, Somerset
    As another, not quite so ancient one brought up with coal fires, the various parts of making the fire have been mentioned except the making of paper twists to assist the lighting process
    Made by rolling a page of the newspaper up into a roll about 1" in diameter then flattening it, then by folding it crossways one over the other you make a tight plaited length of fire lighter, a few of them with a few pieces of kindling usually worked first time, a few small pieces of coal when the kindling started burning then add a few larger bits of coal until it was going properly
    Just one of those jobs you had as a child, like taking the ashes out and spreading them on the paths in the garden, soot was kept for the roses
    Although there were fire places in every room it was extremely rare that a fire was lit in any but the front room
    For some reason chopping logs was one of those chores we boys enjoyed, more so than filling the coal scuttle on a cold night or early morning
    The using of a page of a newspaper to draw the fire up was an acquired knack, getting the timing right to take the page away before it went up when it started to go brown in the middle
    Another thing that I have not seen mentioned is watching the soldiers marching up the chimney before we went to bed, there was always something special about that (legging it to bed before the nine o'clock horses came of course :-)
    Oh and the banking up at night with the slack to keep it going until the morning :-)
    Best wishes Nivard Ovington, in Cornwall (UK)
    Don't knock the old coal fires - as a youngster my sole source of income was from carting loads of coal from the bottom of the back garden where the coalman dumped it, up the garden path and into the coalhouse at the rear of the our neighbours' houses. I think I was paid threepence a load - this was a full ton of coal, wheeled in a barrow if I was lucky or carried bucket-by-bucket if the 'customer' didn't have a barrow - but, if I was tidy and swept up the yard afterwards, I was often given sixpence.

    We never had an earth toilet but my Aunt did and I hated having to go to visit her because of it. You had to go outside to this dark shed and sit on top of this rough wooden 'table' with holes in it (is my memory playing tricks? - I could swear it was a 'twin' affair with two holes, side-by-side)

    Best wishes
    Don't forget before you got to the fire, the coal had to be 'got in' and as my father was a miner that meant the ton of coal being left at the end of the drive. I well remember holding the coal sacks for my father to shovel it into (could never get the hang of making the sack neck right) and why was my brother always missing when the coal was delivered?
    The good bit was toasting bread on a fork, burning your fingers as well, but oh the taste was wonderful. I told my grand daughter this year that the chimney was also good for sending your letter to Santa - she didn't think much of that.
    regards Nina
    You talk about earth toilets, my cousin in Lancashire still has an outhouse with a double seated in. When my daughter was little (only 24 now) we visited and he was having the house flags taken up to lay a proper floor. She wanted to go to the toilet and so the only one we could get to was the outside one. She was disgusted to think she had use that. We are motorhomers and it is only a similar thing we do but we use chemicals, but it still needs emptying.
    Now back to the coal days. We lived opposite an old slag heap and when the miners strike was on my father took bags and spade and went coal picking to keep the home fires burning.
    Those were the days and I am only in my mid fifties.
    Sue in Derbyshire
    Another 'ancient one' born '52 in Sheffield remembers coal fires vividly, front half warm as toast (which when I was left in charge of on the end of the fork, usually managed to burn) back half cold as ice! My Dad used to say I was a brilliant fire guard, kept the heat off everyone else's feet when in position sitting on the rug. But the pictures you could see in the fire and there's no other way to really enjoy a bed time story than sitting in front of a blazing fire in your jim jams. For all the health & safety freaks out there I can't really ever remember having a fire guard, I think we were just taught to be careful! Doesn't bear thinking about really but we survived, I know alot didn't. And yes I remember the smog. Having to go to school with a scarf wrapped right round your nose and when you wiped your nose you left the hankie black. When the clean air act came in we had a coke stove with back boiler, we had a little Border Terrier cross who used to run off with bits of coke out of the hod and eat them!

    My husband's grandmother lived in South Wales and when we visited in the 70's she still had coal fires half way up the chimney from the coal allowance she had as a miner's widow.

    Living in Norfolk now still lots of open fires around, mostly logs but until relatively recently we have supplemented the logs with coal and enjoyed the romantic firelight. Not so romantic in the morning though when you have to clean it out.

    Best wishes keep warm
    Julie Nicholls
    I remember during the winter of 1947 (the mini ice age) when coal was rationed, we would queue up outside the Gasworks in Hulme, Manchester for hours to buy coke, not the stuff some snort, but a by product from coal. The queues would meander outside the gasworks for about a 1000 yards. It was bitter cold. There was a fellow selling hot tea from what looked like an Ice cream van. This was served in jam jars.................. I kid you not. The queues would take ages to move. So we as families took it in turns in the line, My dad would come and relieve me. When you finally got inside the yard you would see only two men shovelling the coke into a weigh scale/large scuttle. No wonder it was taking so long to wait in line. But surprise there was no grumbling, or fighting, just conversations and joking in the lines. The bombed houses near the gasworks were stripped of all their wood, All that was left was brick walls.

    As an additional fuel, people would burn peat logs. A local coal man was also selling aircraft tires cut up into log size. You can imagine the pollution they created and they spit molten flaming rubber onto the carpets. The ashes consisted of lots of steel wire that was used to reinforce the tires.

    It was during the late 1950's that 'Smokeless Zones' were being created and you could not use coal for the fire anymore or face being fined. The fuel of the moment was Coke. It was cleaning burning.

    Ah!! memories, I could tell you about the fog around Manchester created by these fireplaces and industry., but that's another story :))

    All my best.................. as I sit in a natural gas, force air central heated home... its was minus 17 degrees Celsius a few days ago.

    Mike Morris
    Toronto Canada
    In France, your house insurance requires that you have your chimney swept at least once a year, if you burn coal or wood. You have to get a certificate from the sweep to send off, otherwise you are not covered for fire! Good idea, I think.

    When we were in our first married home, in the late 60s, we had a tiny coal fire - coal was expensive! That was the only form of heating in the house. One evening, we were sitting watching television (which were even more expensive than coal!!) and thought how long it was taking an aeroplane to go over....then we realised that the chimney was on fire! Having been brought up in a house with a coal fire, I knew that salt would put the fire in the grate out, and then my husband rang to the nearest telephone box to call the fire brigade. Happily there was no damage, and we resumed our tele-watching after cleaning up the fallen soot. We got the chimney swept next day.

    How fondly I remember the pea-souper fogs we had in London in the 50s - apart from choking you, and making your eyes stream, you had to go up to front doors to check the number on the door before you could see which was your house, it was that thick.

    Ruth in (fresh and breezy) Hampshire
    Up until 5 years ago my only heating was a coal fire. I could get the fire to light first time, seldom needed a sheet of newspaper to get it to draw and could keep it in for 24 hours.

    I called the sweep in every spring and bought a new grate each autumn.

    Then I moved into a centrally heated house that gets too hot and stuffy most of the time because it's too well insulated. I have windows open all year round, esp in the bedroom.

    When the sweep came to our house in the late 1960's he said the price had gone up because he used this electrical gadget now - the fact that he was plugging into my electricity didnt seem to have dawned on him until I pointed it out. Rita in Germany where the sweeps are often employed by Local Govt. and they send you a PC to tell you when they will be coming and then tell you if anything needs doing. Even with oil-fired burners we still have to have the sweep bit there isnt much soot and that he leaves behind.
    Rita Effnert
    Ah the sulphuric smell on a winter's evening; Chimneys belching smoke, The 'pea souper' smog, Mum having to wipe the clothes line before daring to hang clothes out to dry That tin bath hanging up on the backyard wall Grandad home off shift and having his bath in front of the kitchen fire Houses breaking up because of mining subsidance

    Would anyone tolerate it these days? But at least in those days everyone had a job

    Hi there fellow ancient contemporaries

    John I have so enjoyed your recent posting which brought back many memories, and at the risk of being a bore -

    I grew up in War War II time England, in a village in the English Midlands, a village named Naseby in Northamptonshire - remember history lessons of the Battle of Naseby? My father was the Police Sergeant and we lived in a six bedroomed Police house - two cottages knocked into one. At a very early age (about seven! I am now knocking on 74) I used to get up early every morning to the ring of the telephone, answer it "Guilsborough 228" and put the phone down, the telephone (a tall black bakerlight stand with mouthpiece, and a separate hand held ear piece) would ring again, and I would answer it, and the telephone operator would answer at the other end "Guilsborough 228 testing" and I would confirm, and then go and light the fire and boil the kettle on the hob for my parents' first cup of tea.My mother and I would go 'sticking' in the nearby hedges and fields for dead branches and twigs for kindling, and newspapers would be folded, and refolded, for firelighters. Even though sugar was rationed, sometimes a spoonful of sugar would be sacrificed to encourage a reluctant fire to take hold. Remember those long, thin, paraffin wax tapers for lighting fires and paraffin lamps, and the tiny little 'tilly lamps' which lit us to bed, the fire-range heated bricks wrapped old woollen jumpers to heat our beds on cold winter nights, the 'Liberty Bodices' and the chilblains of the winter of 1942-43? You youngsters, take note, we are living history!!

    Re toilets: We had a 'bucket' toilet, in an outbuilding which had to emptied once a week - more often if one had visitors; a hole had to be dug in the garden, the bucket emptied, and if you were wise, you remembered where you had last emptied the bucket! Further down Newlands, Naseby, from us, they had a big pit under the wooden seat in the outbuilding, with, outside at the back, a big hole with corrugated iron over,and covered with soil, which hole was only emptied once a year. We had evacuees in the village, and one of these pits was being emptied. Two evacuees had never seen anything like this before, one I remember was named Leon, and he and his little brother clustered close to watch the proceedings, and fell into the year's accumulation of you-know what! They were hauled out, and a was bucket filled with water from the pump on the boundary with the next door cottage , and the War-Time issue 'stirrup-pump' was brought into use to hose the boys down. I wonder if they survived the war, and if they remember falling into the sewage??

    There are so many memories, evacuees from London, not knowing that milk came from cows, eggs from hens, apples from trees, German and Italian Prisoners of War working on local farms, with big circles of material stitched on to their uniforms, the Midland and East Anglian villages surrounded by Army and Air Force bases, and the American bases, large convoys of service personnel being moved around, the arms of the road signs being removed, iron railings disappearing, black out curtains at the windows, the window panes criss-crossed with something like masking tape to stop breaking glass impaling the inhabitants, our gas masks in the little cardboard boxes strung round our necks which we took to school each day, and the air raid drill when we all dived under our desks, and slogans, 'Dig for Victory'. 'Careless Talk Costs Lives', the Squander Bug, and Chad - Remember!

    Cheers, and a Happy New Year to One and All,

    Tauranga, New Zealand
    Well I don't yet consider myself ancient but in my youth coal fires were the norm and I can also remember the sweep coming (about twice a year) and that musky smell that hit the back of the throat when the soot come down, although he had a kind of huge sheet he worked behind to try to minimise the dust. He had different sizes of brushes for different widths and shapes of chimneys. In our area, Clay Cross, most miners got subsidised coal, which annoyed mother as my father worked at Clay Cross Company, and I think builders were encouraged to build coal fires and chimneys even into the 80s in that area. I remember when my parents moved to newish warden controlled bungalows in Clay Cross in the late 70s, they still had a coal fire. Oh and I also remember the paper in front of the fire to help it draw and the lovely heat when it worked, although it was a skill to remove it before it also caught fire.
    I remember my mother pushimg paper up the chimney and then setting it alight - it saved having to have the chimney sweep she said. Down would come a load of hot soot but she knew how to deal with it - she came from a mining family.
    Rita in Germany
    Hey John! I'm not sure about the 'very ancient' bit. I wasn't born until the 1950's, and I remember setting fires like this, and my parents were still doing it after I left home about 1970. Your account has the details, but don't forget the chopping of wodden blocks into sticks for lighting. And taking the hot ashes out several times a day. They did wonders for the clay soil in my father's garden though.
    When lighting the fire, we had a large metal plate with handle (known as a blower) that used to cover the top part of the fireplace, so that air was forced to come from below, through the paper, sticks and coal. That soon got it going if the coal was dry, but if the coalman delivered damp coal it could take ages. I have seen a sheet of paper used instead of a metal plate. You would know when the fire was alight because the paper would catch fire. You needed to be pretty quick letting go then, but making sure it didn't get sucked up the chimney or there was risk of the soot in the chimney catching fire.
    There were other drawbacks. A high sulphur content in the coal qould result in sulphur dioxide, and the smell caught the back of the throat; pieces of stone that had come with the coal would often cause mini explosions, causing the fire to spit, and if there was no guard then you had to move quick to limit the damage only to a small burn in the rug that was always in front of the fire - you didn't wanf to burn a large carpet, small rugs were cheaper to replace.
    Finally, if you were slow in sweeping your chimney, you would get a fall of soot into the fire - and black dust all over the room.

    I'm 68 - I don't know if that counts as very ancient! I can well remember cleaning out the fire, riddling the ashes and starting a new fire, in the early 1950s in my home in Devon. It takes about 20 minutes when you are used to it. The time-consuming part, which was never asked of me, was black-leading the grate and surrounds. And yes, you are right, the kind of cottage you are describing would have had an outside earth privy. Best wishes
    Alice Clarke
    --------------------1--email sent 4 Jan 2008----------------
    Hello Folks,
    Does anyone know if these 3 cottages still exist between Matlock Bridge and Matlock Bath? See the builder's drawings top left photo on webpage: www.wirksworth.org.uk/X392.htm
    Each cottage has:
    Living Room 13' x 13'
    Parlour 11' x 9' (RH cottage only)
    Scullery 11' x 11'
    pantry 6' x 5'
    fuel room 5' x 4'
    and two bedrooms upstairs.
    No indication where the Toilet is (outside?).
    Each room seems to have a fire, a large amount of time must have been devoted each day to clearing out last night's fire, taking away the cinders, relaying today's fire, lighting it and getting it going with a newspaper over the fireplace. Paper, sticks, coal and matches, a scuttle and fire-irons are needed. Also regular visits from the coalman and the sweep. When we go on holiday in the Outer Hebrides, this has been my job, its a knack but very time-consuming.

    Does any very ancient reader have memories of running fires in their youth? Today we just have central heating with gas from Russia.

    Best wishes,
    John Palmer, Dorset, England
    Author of Wirksworth website

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