I would like to say that I have a research plan for theses posts on the history of domestic energy, but it is just random reading and looking for holes in the pavement. One source material is advertising. Until the end of the 1960s, domestic energy was about shovelling, either you did it yourself or you paid someone else to do it. For some, the 1960’s might have been the Stones, the Beatles and the summer of love but for my mother it was gas central heating and the removal of the coal bunker. As a family, we did our own shovelling but for some this was a problem to which this advert from the May 1931 edition of “The Sussex County Magazine” attempted to address.
The reference to “boilers” rather than “boiler” suggests that it was aimed at larger properties which probably included up-market blocks of flats with communal heating systems. Often, these were not a source of happiness either being too cold or too hot or broken down and always too expensive. Even in the depression, looking after one of these would not have been an attractive job.
The serious heavy lifting was done by the coal men, coal was delivered in bags weighing one and quarter hundredweight or 10 stones (roughly 60kg) which is the weight of a small adult.
Despite appliances being graded according to there energy efficiency, energy consumption in the kitchen is rarely the subject of today’s polite conversation around the marble worktops. However, some old “domestic science” textbooks take it seriously and pre-war housekeepers were expected to be aware of the amount fuel they were using. This is reflected in this advert from the June 1936 edition of “The Sussex Country Magazine”:
I’m guessing, but at the time this advert was published, coal fired stoves were competing with gas and electric cookers in the suburbs where a supply was available and coal/coke was cheaper per kwh than gas or electricity. The claim that the fuel cost was £1.00/quarter suggests that consumption was around one and half tons per year (assuming coke to cost £2.50/ton at the time). A ton of coal and it’s residual ash requires a lot of shovelling. The advert also features deferred payments, the gas and electricity companies also offered appliance hire and credit facilities.
The theme of shovelling is continued in the small ads. You imagine the look of surprise and delight on the face of someone receiving one of these:
However, a modest sized house with coal fires could get through several tons of coal in a year, if the task of shifting the stuff from the coal store to the kitchen, living room and bedrooms was eased, the bearer of the gift might be rewarded with a smile, unless the recipient had hoped for silk lingerie.
In the 1930s the use of mains electricity in the home was expanding with the acquisition of irons and vacuum cleaners, but there were a lot of battery powered radios in use. Typically these used lead acid accumulators to heat the cathodes in the valves whilst the high voltage they needed was supplied by multi-celled zinc-carbon batteries. Few homes had the facility to charge the accumulators, so shops selling electric appliances offered a charging service, adverts for this can be found in the small ads of the magazines.
In general, the classified ads in the county magazines are not much different from those found online today, they offer “facial rejuvenation”, building services, garment alteration etc.. Private tutors still advertise in newsagent’s windows, but they don’t seek out “backward” children.
Having gone through my small collection of country magazines, for the sake of completeness I thumbed through a 1949 copy of “Men Only”. The is some surprising overlap in the content, the same cars and lawn mowers are advertised, the men are dressed in similar style, some of the women are wearing slightly less, but both are part of the same world.