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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Heating the house with gas fires
in the 1940s and 1950s

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A domestic gas fire from the 1940s and 1950s

A domestic gas fire. This fire in Milestones Museum, Basingstoke, was not piped into a chimney, as it would have been in its original use. With its brass surround, it is more elegant than the gas fires in my home which had a cream Bakelite surround.

Gas fires had to be 'plumbed in', so only the newer houses had them when I was a child in the 1940s. I grew up in a house that had been built about 1937, just before World War Two, and it had gas fires in two of the bedrooms. The third bedroom, the hall, landing and lavatory had no form of heating, but the bathroom benefited from the warmth of the airing cupboard and being above the boiler in the kitchen.

It was rare to use the gas fires. In very cold weather my mother lit them shortly before bedtime, but heating was considered wasteful and they were never given time to heat the room properly. Anyway, the pressure was often too low to do much good, because of the austerity of the war years and their aftermath. I have clear memories of ice on the inside of my bedroom windows.

Even in the late 1950s when I was at university, living in a hall of residence that was a renovated old house with gas fires, it was against the rules to have the gas fires on before 2.00pm. There was no other form of heating; it was very cold in winter, but we survived.

Old 1930s UK 'coin in the slot' gas meter, common in the mid 20th century.

A 'shilling in the slot' gas meter. The coins went in one of the slots on the left hand side and the dials showed how much gas was left to use. Photographed in Blaise Castle Museum.

Fortunately for us in halls of residence the gas was on tap, ie we only had to turn on the tap for the gas to come through - just as it did at home. Friends on lodgings had a gas meter, which needed to be fed with shillings.

Gas fires had to be lit carefully. We had to turn on the gas tap alongside the fire, wait a moment for the gas to come through and then light it with a match or taper. If the gas was left too long before lighting, it made a rather frightening bang which could singe or burn. If it wasn't lit at all, it would be dangerous because the gas, at that time, was poisonous.

Like coal fires and paraffin heaters, gas fires used the oxygen in the air to burn which made people feel drowsy.

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

Pat Cryer

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