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Buying coal, early-mid 20th century


The importance of coal in the first half of the 20th century

Why coal was the most important source of energy

Coal was by far the main source of energy in the UK up until the middle of the 20th century. It was used in the home for cooking on kitchen ranges, heating the copper for hot water and indirectly for gas lighting, gas fires and later for gas ovens. The gas was coal gas produced from coal in the local gasworks.

Coal gas was used outside the home for street lighting, powering steam trains and much more. It was the main industrial source of power.

Britain had large resources of coal, and mining it was a necessary and significant source of employment.

Types of coal

There were different types of coal, depending on where it was mined and how it was treated above ground. Most could be bought from the local coal yard.


• Large coal with 'fools gold' veins running through, called 'Derby Brights', a beautiful burning coal for open grates; some lumps were 12 ins square and were painful to carry.

• 'Coal nuts' which were smaller and used on small kitchen ranges.

Coke and boiler fuel

• 'Sunbright singles' (small coke about 25mm) and 'Sunbright doubles' (approx 50mm) for larger boilers.

• 'Anthracite', the most expensive boiler fuel; 'Welsh Nuts' which were similar looking to Anthacite, but duller and a cheaper boiler fuel; 'Phurnicite', egg shaped lumps, which were very good for boilers, because they burnt to dust, with no clinker left after burning (but very expensive)

Smokeless fuels

• 'Coalite' and 'Cleanglow' which were both excellent for burning, producing less smoke than coal and much easier on the shoulder for carrying.

Terry Martinelli, a former coalman

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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