Based on experiences in Edgware, north London in the 1940s.
When I was young in the 1940s, coal was so widely used for heating and
gas production, that depots for receiving,
storing, and delivering it were common sights.
Coal transportation and The location of coal yards
In the 1940s goods were almost entirely transported by rail - as they had
been since the development of the railways around 1840. Coal was no
exception, and it was quite common to see goods trains loaded with coal
passing at a station or snaking round the countryside. Coal trains were
always much longer than passenger trains, as it was presumably most
cost-effective to move coal in bulk. Sometimes, as a child, while standing
on a station platform, I wonder
whether a coal train would ever end.
Train transporting coal. Note that it is so long
that it seems to disappear into the distance. Also note the steam
engine, which itself ran on coal. Photo courtesy of Dave Marden,
author of Hidden Railways of Portsmouth and Gosport.
So, for reasons
of transportation, coal yards were located at
or close to railway stations.
In Edgware, where I grew up, the coal yard was next to what was known locally as the 'steam station', so as not to confuse
it with Edgware tube station. Both were in Station Road. The steam station
was the further south of the two on a site now occupied by a Sainsburys.
Edgware steam station where the coal arrived by goods
The steam station was part of the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER)
railway company, which was primarily a passenger station, although it closed
for passengers just after the outbreak of World War Two. I never knew it as
a passenger station. It continued as a goods station until 1964, although I
only remember the coal yard in the 1940s. The call for coal declined with the advent of cheap imported oil and north sea gas.
The coal yard depot
I used to go to the coal yard with my mother to order coal for our
fires and coke for the boiler which heated the water. This was
during and just after World War Two.
As one entered the site, the steam station was on the left across what seemed
to me to be quite a large expanse of tarmac, and the office of the coal yard,
where we ordered our coal, was closer to the entrance on the right.
Heaps of various types and grades of coal stored in a
To me all coal looked fairly similar. However coal yards sold a range
of different sizes, types and grades of coal which they kept in large heaps in separate
Surviving delivery notes from 1938
and 1939 show that my parents preferred coal called
Derby Brights for the open fire and coke for the boiler. (These bills are
from the Co-op London office which my parents patronised because the Co-op
paid dividend. Presumably during the
rationing of World War Two, they either
thought it best to register with a local coal merchant, were required by law to
do so, or the Co-op stopped
dealing in coal.)
Coal in a heap in a coal yard.
Coal preformed into nuggets in a heap in a coal
yard. I wonder what it was for.
Coal yards are a rare sight today, so when I saw one in a rural
area, I stopped to photograph it.
Deliveries from the coal yard
Each coal yard probably delivered to quite a large area.
The coalman came round the streets to deliver much as he had done in my parents' and grandparents' time. He arrived by horse and cart, and carried the huge sacks of coal
right through the house. Then he emptied them into the cupboard under the stairs - which was where coal was stored in the terraced houses of the
Huxley Estate where I was
of our coal deliveries were of motorised trucks, but horse and cart
deliveries were still in operation elsewhere. The coalmen themselves were
just like my mother's illustrated description of
coalmen in the early 1900s.
Coalmen could be recognised anywhere, with their faces black with coal
dust and their special hats with the wide strip of leather hanging down
behind to protect their backs as they lugged the bags of coal.
Our coal was delivered down the shared sideway of our
semi-detached house and heaved into a
brick-built bunker in the garden. This was built by my father, who was no handyman, and it was very ugly.
Fortunately it was out of sight of the house.
The Second World War caused coal to be rationed,
and rationing continued for some years after the war ended. The coal ration
was set at two and a half tons per household per year, that is fifty hundredweight.
A reaction to coal rationing from the older generation
My grandmother complained bitterly about the coal
ration. She had always had two hundredweight a fortnight.
She needed two hundredweight (100kg) a fortnight. Although she only had a fire
in winter, she had always had two hundredweight of coal delivered every fortnight
throughout the year for budgeting purposes. Couldn't they see - she argued -
that that came to fifty-two hundredweight a year? Fifty hundredweight was no
good to her. What would she do for the odd fortnight? She kept this up, and
eventually 'they' relented, and she continued to have her two hundredweight
This website Join me in the 1900s is © Pat Cryer.