Trying to Keep Warm – a memoir scrap

June 4, 2019 at 3:28 pm | Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Australia, England, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Migration, Ways of Living | 14 Comments
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Before we came from England to Australia in 1954, we lived in a two-up, two-down in a row of terrace houses. These were built of stone, which made for quite good insulation in a Lancashire winter. We also had piped gas heating, an upgrade from the original coal fireplace. We could keep warm there, as well as dry the washing on rails that could be lowered to load then raised to get the benefit of the heat below the ceiling.

Our clothing and footwear were also designed to keep out the cold when we went outdoors in the ice and snow and the cold wind and rain. Although we girls had to wear dresses, I remember also wearing button-up soft leather leggings, woollen coats, gloves and socks and leather shoes.

In Australia, we lived for a couple of years in a tiny caravan before graduating to a tiny three-roomed cottage that Dad gradually added more rooms to. The cottage was constructed of asbestos fibro and weatherboard. It, like the caravan, was not insulated from either hot or cold.

Linda Confirmation.1958-350

Me on my confirmation day outside our house, 1958

For the first year or two, we didn’t have to wear heavy clothing for winter and we were rarely cold. However, as we acclimatized to the milder climate, we started to feel the cold of winter much more. We no longer had the thick jumpers, coats and leggings we had worn in England, nor did we have the warm gas heating we’d been used to there. Even more,  the wooden floorboards and the lack of insulation in the thin walls and ceilings allowed the cold to penetrate into every part of our home. It was darned cold, and there was nowhere to put in a coal or wood stove.

My parents did purchase a Fyreside kerosene heater, the name of which implied more heat than it actually produced. In the back of the heater, under the cover, was a thick glass bottle with a wire handle to lift it out with. You had to fill the bottle with kerosene from a tin you’d get filled up at the petrol station. You had to put the bottle in upside down, so that the kero would feed through to wick at the front of the heater You’d light the wick, then place the round piece with the coil in it on top. The coil would heat up and glow red. The heat thus generated would be reflected into the room by the shiny metal reflector behind the coil. All that was in theory of course.

The smell of the kerosene itself was bad enough, but once it was lit, the heater often generated smoke and fumes that would either make you feel ill or make your eyes sting. I’m sure it couldn’t have been very healthy, especially in an enclosed space. If the kerosene ran out and the wick went out, you had to wait until the heater cooled before re-filling the bottle (if you had some kero on hand), by which time the any warmth had been sucked out of the air.

Fyreside heater 1950-60s crop

The living room where the heater sat and kitchen were open to each other, so the area (even though not large) was too much to heat and anyway, much of the heat went up to the ceiling which had no insulation. The only way to feel any warmth was to stand right in front of it – and then it would burn your legs, but leave the rest of you cold. But there were at least six of us, and sometimes up to twelve people living in the house, so the kids didn’t get to stand that close. We still had to wear warm clothing and even coats inside.

The heater always had to be turned off at night, and any heat it had generated hadn’t reached our closed-off bedroom. I remember many a time going to bed with only two old, thin wool ex-army blankets and no upper sheet to cover me. I would shiver and never seem able to get warm. My brother and two sisters were the same. Then we would find anything we could to cover ourselves more – usually there was only our not-very-thick coat. We got used to being cold. Eventually, Mum could afford chenille bedspreads for us all.

I suppose the heater did make a difference, enough at least to stop us freezing, but I remember having chilblains on my toes for most of every winter. These heaters couldn’t be called safe, and caused quite a few house fires if left burning without supervision or if drying clothes were too close to the heater. Mum was always scared that would happen, so she only lit it when absolutely necessary.

With the cost of electric heating, these kero heaters were the cheapest source of warmth available at the time. Many people my age now recall them and their smell with a mixture of horror and nostalgia.

 

What kind of heating did you have when you were growing up?

 

(c) Linda Visman

 

 

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  1. We mainly used electric radiators, but at one stage we also had a kerosene heater, though it was rarely lit – mainly due to the smell. As you say, not very healthy…

  2. We had wood fires in loung room and wood burning kooka oven in kitchen. We played on the frosty lawns, a game we called skatey. Thanks for the trip dowm memory lane Linda

    • You were lucky to have had a wood fire Vicki. It wasn’t until I already had two of my sons that we moved into a school residence that had one. For the next 11-12 years we had one at all the small school residences we lived in. Certainly much better than the kero heaters!
      Glad to give you a good memory from back in the old days! 🙂

  3. We had a warm ray built into the fireplace. Also in the kitchen was a fuel stove. It was great in winter but not in summer when we were bottling fruit in the Vacola.I don’t remember feeling the cold much even though we lived near Bowral. Later we bought a Vulcan Conray (electric heater) which we moved from the lounge room to the bedroom each night. Even now I feel the cold as we have an open plan house with some high ceilings and an array of gas and electric heaters.

    • Those fuel stoves in the kitchen sure were great in winter, Linda. We had one in one of the school residences out west. I used to bottle fruit too. 🙂 The Warmbrite fuel heater in the lounge room of other houses we lived in were also wonderful.

  4. Thanks for your history of heating in two very different climates. In my childhood home we had a huge furnace in the cellar, which heated radiators on two floors. If the fire went out, we were cold. Fortunately, that seldom happened. 🙂

    • I have heard of those furnaces, Marian. I suppose they provided something like central heating. When I read about them in books when I was younger, I envied those who had one. How wonderful it would have been to go into any room and be warm! 🙂

  5. When I was growing up, we always had an electric heater in the living room, but we lived in a climate that never got terribly cold in the winter. Looking back, I don’t really remember feeling the cold. Now we have a wood burning fire in the winter, which I love, and we have recently put insulation in the walls of our house, which has made a big difference in holding in the warmth.

    • Ah, a lovely wood fire! 🙂 Insulation makes such a difference too. If we’d had it, even in the roof, perhaps we wouldn’t have been so cold. 🙂

  6. Living in different parts of Africa when growing up I don’t remember being cold as a child. It wasn’t until I lived in NZ that keeping warm became a full time Winter endeavour.

    • I think we get used to things when we’re kids that we find harder to take as we get older. My main memories are of being cold inside the house, and especially in bed. I think our outdoor activities kept us warmer during the day. 🙂

  7. The house of my earliest memories, in Exeter, never seemed cold. Only Nevys House, where I spent my ‘formative years’ seemed impervious to heat. It, too, was of stone, but large and ranging, and of course with no heat upstairs. Many a winter morning I woke with ice on the inside of my bedroom window. I was a kid, I didn’t mind too much. Those old houses still stand, but I guess they’ll be double or triple glazed and underfloor heated by now. It was all a long time ago.

    • Yes, modern heating and glazing in the old places would certainly make a difference, Frederick.
      If we’d had enough warm blankets, we wouldn’t have felt the cold so much. 🙂


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