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Florence Cole as a child

The kitchen fire in a working class
house in the early 1900s

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Small kitchen range, such as found in working class kitchens in Victorian and Edwardian times

So far, the best picture I have of the small range that would have been in working class kitchens. Note the substantial fitted fireguard. Photographed in Milton Keynes Museum.

I am uncertain where exactly were the steel 'outer rims' that my mother mentions. If you can help, please let me know. Pat Cryer, webmaster.

The kitchen fire, as we called it, was really a small version of the larger kitchen range that was in the scullery. It is described in detail on its own page.

The word kitchen has changed its meaning over the years. In the early 20th century and probably before, it was the focal point of the house where everyday living took place. One reason was that there were comfortable seats there, but the other was that there was always a welcoming fire burning.

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Why a fire in a kitchen?

A fire somewhere was essential because coal was our only form of heating - to keep ourselves warm, for hot water and to cook with. The kitchen was where we settled ourselves for general living. So that was where the fire was.

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What was the kitchen fire like?

The photo shows a small kitchen range, also just known as a fire, such as we had in our kitchen.

Pots could be boiled on its hob and it had a small oven beside the open fire. Many a tasty meal has come out of such ovens which were well-used.

Also it was adequate for heating the irons for ironing because it had a pull-down tray in front of the fire on which the irons could be stood to heat up.

Consequently the larger range in the scullery was seldom lit. However it was common for some families to have nine or ten children, and they would have had to use their larger range.

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The work involved with a kitchen fire

There was always a lot of work with any coal fire, even ordinary ones in a regular fireplace.

Additionally my mother kept our range-style kitchen fire beautifully clean with black lead - a polish for cleaning and polishing cast iron.

The outer rims were steel and were always kept bright with emery paper.

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The smell of a kitchen fire

There was a smell that I associate with the kitchen fire, which is more than what you might expect of a smoky coal fire. It is of wet outdoor clothes being hung over the fire guard to dry in front of the fire. The fire guard was substantial enough to take the clothes, as explained in the page on drying washing on wet washdays.

In those days there were no such things as mackintoshes and, if it rained hard on our way home from school at dinnertime (lunch), we really had a soaking. So our coats had to be dried up quickly so that we could get back to school by 2 o'clock.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer

The smell that came from them was quite revolting. There were no dry-cleaners and no man-made fabrics, and the clothes had been about for years, having been passed down from one set of children to another. Woollen clothes were seldom if ever washed because wool always shrunk, often unevenly, making the clothes too misshapen for use. Dirty marks were merely sponged off.

It's strange how some smells affect us. They seem to disgust and yet fascinate. African marigolds have the effect on me, as do moth balls.

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