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Buying coal, early-mid 20th century


Coal delivery to houses and flats mid-20th Century

coal-delivery by lorry mid 20th century, courtesy of Terry Martinelli.

By the mid 20th century, coal was delivered by petrol-driven lorries, rather than the horses and carts of earlier in the century. This page concentrates on where the coal was delivered and the amount of the tips needed to ensure that as little coal dust as possible entered homes.


By the webmaster based on childhood recollections, firsthand contributions and discussions with older people

My recollections of our coal deliveriesin most towns and cities were of motorised lorries, although horse and cart deliveries were still in operation in some areas. The coalmen themselves looked just like the description of coalmen on another page.

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.

How the public spoke to delivery men

Interestingly my mother always addressed the coalman as "Coalman, ..." In fact she addressed all delivering tradesmen according to what they were delivering, something that has died out in recent years. It would be:

"Coalman, are you bringing my coal or coke order?"

"Milkman, can I have an extra pint please?"

"Dustman, can you take this extra ....?"

I suppose it must have been something that she got from her mother, which was probably common practice in the early 1900s, where delivery men could change frequently so that their actual names were unknown.

Names coalmen were called

My father was a coalman up until the early 1970s - and he was known as a coalman all over the city of Liverpool where we lived. Yet on formal documents, his occupation was always written as a 'coal porter'.

Valerie Fife

[According to former coalman, Bob Warr, coalmen were also referred to as 'coalies'.]

Coal deliveries to flats

In the 1940s and 50s we lived in a flat on the fourth floor in Notting Hill, London, on a council estate. There was no lift, so everything had to be humped up and down the stairs. We had to tip coalmen a shilling to carry a cwt (hundredweight) bag of coal up the four floors. Otherwise they would not come to us next time round.

Name withheld

A shilling was quite a lot of money. It was six times more than the two pennies that my grandmother had to tip the coalman in the first part of the 20th century. Probably, though, tipping for delivery at a regular house would be cheaper than for a flat.

Coal delivery over the years

Even as late as the 1950s, the coalman delivered to our streets in Edmonton 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 where I was still living.

Richard Cole

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