Memory Post – Heating The House in Winter

We have just had a cold snap, not much of a cold snap, it only lasted for two days and the temperature barely dipped below zero’

Nevertheless newspapers were full of sob stories about fuel poverty, how some people can barely afford to heat their homes and calls for the Government to make emergency benefit payments. In the Yorkshire post this week one woman claimed that she was so unable to pay fuel bills that she was using a hair dryer in place of central heating.

To be clear I am not being judgemental here, just making a social observation.

When I was a boy houses were cold in  Winter, very cold indeed and it was just an inconvenience that was part of 1960s home life.

On the 29th to 30th December 1962 a blizzard roared across England and Wales and continuous freezing temperatures meant that the snow cover lasted for over two months and the winter of 1962/63 was the coldest over England and Wales since 1740 and there wasn’t another frost free night until 5thMarch 1963.

This would have been quite an ordeal I’m certain because like most people in 1962 we lived in a house without central heating and this was in the days long before double glazing and thermal insulation.  I don’t think we even had a fitted carpet!  The house had an open fire in the lounge and a coke boiler in the kitchen to heat the water and that was it.  Sitting around the fire was quite cosy of course but when it came to bed time this was a real ordeal.

Having a bath was a nightmare. Bathrooms were ice boxes – ours seemed to have an unfair share of outside walls. Hot water was limited and the tank (heated by the coke boiler) ran out long before there was enough in the bath for a proper soak.

I know that we had some electric fan heaters somewhere but Dad was reluctant to use these because he lived in fear of the quarterly electricity bill and we were only allowed to use them when temperatures got below well below freezing.

We certainly didn’t have anything such as this…

The bedrooms weren’t heated in any way and the sheets were freezing cold and we certainly didn’t go to bed without a hot water bottle and thick flannelette pyjamas and without modern duvets, as it got colder, we had to rely on increasing numbers of blankets piled so high that you could barely move because of the weight.

When the house ran out of spare blankets overcoats were used instead.  During the night the temperature inside the house would drop to only a degree or two higher than outside and in the morning there was frost and ice on the inside of the windows that had to be chipped off with a knife before you could see outside.  Our school clothes were stiff with cold.

I can remember the mornings well, first I’d hear Dad get up and after he had checked for frozen pipes and put the kettle on I would hear him making up the fire and raking the coke boiler ready for ignition.  He always did this job in his maroon and white check work shirt.  After fifteen to twenty minutes or so it would be time to leave the comfort of the warm bed and go and see what sort of a job he was making of it.

On a good day the fire would be well established and roaring away and the temperature in the house would be limping up towards freezing but on a bad day he would be fighting to get it going and would be struggling with a newspaper stretched across the grate trying to ‘draw’ the fire into life and the house would still be at the temperature of the average arctic igloo.

This was drawing the fire but it obviously isn’t my dad…

I can only imagine that this was quite a dangerous procedure which required maximum concentration if you weren’t to burn the house door and get it a whole lot warmer than it really needed to be.

The house would still be cold by the time we had had our porridge and gone to school or to work and then it would be mum’s job to keep it going all day so that by tea time when we all came home it was nice and warm again.

Only the living room of course so playing in our bedrooms was out of the question and the family spent the evening together around that comforting fire.

An interesting newspaper advert from 1958…

That seems like a good deal to me – a real bargain, a three bedroom house loft insulated for £5 5 shillings.  Dad’s salary in 1960 was £815 a year so I am certain that he could afford it.

I might be wrong here but I think Silver Stormax is sold today as Thinsulex Silver Multifoil and still seems fairly reasonable at £103.99 for a roll 1.2 x 10 metres.

61 responses to “Memory Post – Heating The House in Winter

  1. Growing up in Italy we didn’t have that kind of drastic cold . . . but, yeah, still cold. One of my chores was to wrap bricks that were heated (wood-burning stove) and put them in the beds under the cover. When we would go to bed, they would be moved down to the feet.

    . . . good times, eh?

    Liked by 4 people

  2. A story well covered. We never had cold like you describe but we didn’t have any modern conveniences at all until we moved from the country to the city when I was about fifteen. I remember hot water bottles were always good in the winter time.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I remember it well – especially newspapers to draw the fire – mind you, I was still doing that I the 80s, 90s, and this century in Newark. I was Treasurer of the rugby club in 1962/3 when we couldn’t play for 3 months and I therefore didn’t have to chase 5 captains for weekly subs.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I remember the first few flakes of snow falling on Boxing Day as I played “keepy-uppy” with what was probably my new Christmas football. And once the snow had arrived, it just froze and froze and froze.
    To add to the catalogue of hardships, I was wearing short trousers all the way through this. There were no long trousers for boys in junior school in those days.
    I’m surprised I didn’t have a career as a postman with all that training.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Oh, I remember all of this so well – the ice inside the windows, the difficulty of sticking a limb from beneath the covers in the morning. The Aladdin paraffin stove. And as you say, short trousers for you a skirt and knee socks for me. What were our parents and all those other adults thinking?

    Liked by 3 people

  6. It’s still very cold up here.

    I remember those pre-central heating days well and I am so relieved that I no longer wake up to ice formed on the inside of my bedroom window every morning.
    My dad also lit the fire in the mornings before he went to work and with a shovel and a newspaper to get the draw. I learnt how to light a fire at a very early age.
    Mum turned on the gas oven every morning and left the oven door open so we could have our breakfast in a warm kitchen.

    In 1976, my husband and I moved here to the farmhouse and we finally had a home with central heating, for the first time ever I enjoyed a winter without chronic bronchitis

    In1980, We bought a cottage in Otley and renovated it for my mum and dad so that they could be nearer to us. They asked us not to put in central heating insisting it would be too expensive to run and they didn’t need it!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Oh that first picture reminded me of my old New Jersey in the 70’s. Never again you can take all the white one away! We hava cold spells here now but no snow, great! Cheers!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Us oldies are all on your side, Andrew! Icicles on the window, no fun at all. I still do like weight on me in bed. Must stem from those days. I have a duvet and a light quilt on at presenrt, and have resorted to dressing gown before today. And that’s in sunny Portugal!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Fantastic post Andrew. When I started reading I was thinking ‘ice on inside of windows’ and ‘newspaper across fireplace’ but you got those. The newspaper sometimes scorched but I never saw it catch fire because it was so hot you couldn’t hold it there for long. Remember making ‘firelighters’ out of screwed up newspaper to put under the coal, and chopping wood for sticks to go on top of the newspaper but under the coal? You could also buy fatty firelighter blocks in the shops. We had a portable gas fire which connected to a gas tap beside the hearth, and at a friend’s house they had the ultimate luxury, a gas poker for starting the coal fire.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. My Nan’s house – Mickleover, Derby – I would stay over in the “little bedroom” as a child, the one where the window didn’t quite shut properly. In the morning, if I had slept facing the wall, there would be a small patch of light frost on the wallpaper where my own breath had condensed and then frozen.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. A further thought (you’ve got us talking here) is that people wore suitable clothing. No one went from centrally heated houses into cars with pre-warmed seats so they could dash into a warm shop wearing low cut skin tight jeans and a jacket cut short enough to reveal a strip of bare skin at the back. Coats were long. trousers (and underpants) went up to your chest, everyone wore hats, and everything was made of wool or wool fabrics.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Who could resist adding their five-pence worth of comments to the above? You’ve all left out the chilblains! I can’t have been the only one to suffer from them, on heels, toes and fingers, and this despite woolen knee-socks and woolen gloves. And no daily shower either, it was get dressed under the bed-clothes before daring to put feet on icy lino before washing face and hands in cold water. I’ve just realised, I’ve had a harsh and deprived childhood!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. What a great trip down memory lane Andrew. I actually loved the frost patterns on the windows. We got a gas fire and storage heaters in 1967 – oh the luxury! People just don’t know they are born these days – and tell me how economical is it to use a blooming hairdryer?

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Seeing you own breath when you wake up in the morning was common for me for many years. We used to pretend we were smoking!

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Even with central heating, I recall never being warm except when the heating cycle started and I was by a vent. I think my father just kept the thermostat low to save costs. Even then, my memories of the years growing up in the 50’s and 60’s hold nothing to what you guys endured in GB! Gad! Our blizzards were more severe and frequent, but we could keep warm inside at least. Girls in my school were required to wear skirts or dresses no matter how cold, and one spell in the -20’s F, they still had to wear dresses or skirts instead of warmer clothes! School administrators can be idiots.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. Pingback: Memory Post – Heating The House in Winter – Nelsapy

  17. It was very cold in the farmhouse in Canada too. Some morning we had to break the ice in the water bucket before we could use it. Brrr!

    Liked by 4 people

  18. Oh yes, I remember! Made worse in our case because we lived in large Victorian manses for much of my childhood. I think we spent most of our lives in what would have been the servants’ quarters, then there was an awful lot of freezing cold house to run through to get to bed.

    Liked by 5 people

  19. Pingback: Memory Post – Heating The House in Winter – Dushyant kumar

  20. Great writing! You sure brought up some cold memories Andrew, yes my experience was very similar to yours, in Belgium I well remember the winter of 1963, even the walls inside our bedroom had some ice on the inside, the windows full of ice flowers, and we had no hot water bottles, no duvets, overcoats, which people used to wear in those days were piled on the bed if there were not enough blankets. We slept with our socks on! One room only heated in the house which was three stories high. We survived it all right, it was just a way of life!

    Liked by 3 people

  21. Oh I remember those cold winters at my grandparents in Wales. As a retired miner he still got coal for the fireplace but it was bone numbing more than a few feet away from the fire.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Andrew I appreciate your perspective here, that there are so many whiners today, demanding the government step in and take care of every little complaint. On their own, the stories seem tragic, but then when we take five minutes to remember how we grew up, today’s stories seem just plain silly. Thank you for all the memories! Hot water bottles, piles of blankets, clouds of breath inside the house, dreading to leave the cocoon of the bed in order to get up and put on cold clothes and then walk to school. It makes me shiver even now. I did not know about drawing the fire, but of course it was needed. I heat my home with a wood stove, which is designed to make drawing easier, but still with a cold chimney the smoke prefers to come into my face rather than go up. It had not occurred to me how challenging this same task would be with an open fire!

    Liked by 3 people

  23. I’ve just come back re ‘drawing’ the fire. My mother used to throw a handle of sugar on it to make it draw, and I’m sure this was very dangerous. At difficult times, when the ‘slack (remember that?) was damp and the coal wet, she had recourse to pink paraffin to help it along but we had all to stand well back. Now, you must excuse me, I’m just off to turn up the heating as the temp has dropped a few degrees.

    Liked by 3 people

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  25. It’s been a testing winter with prices in the UK running our heat pump, so we’ve gone bivalent with the heat pump running alongside our HVO boiler. Crazy times:


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