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Buying coal, early-mid 20th century


Coal yards/depots when coal was Britain's main fuel

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 to coal yards/depots

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.

Coal train, common in England in the first half of the 20th century and before, and typically extremely long

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.

Location of coal yards/depots

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 being nearer to the High Street.

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

Heaps of various types and grades of coal stored in a coal yard.

Heaps of various types and grades of coal stored in a coal yard.

I used to go to the coal yard with my mother to order coal for our open coal fires and coke for the boiler which heated the water. This was during and just after World War Two.

Guest contribution

Coal yard horses

The shire horses in the Upper Holloway coal yard used to parade at the Lord Mayor of London's show each year. My grandmother used to clean their horse brasses, polish their harnesses and make their plumes.

David Houghton

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.

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 bunkers.

Surviving delivery receipts 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.

Coal in a heap in a coal yard.

Coal in a heap
in a coal yard

A coalman at a coal yard 
loading sacks of coal onto a delivery lorry, mid 20th century

A coalman at a coal yard loading sacks of coal onto a delivery lorry. Photo courtesy of Terry Martinelli.

Coal preformed into nuggets

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.

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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