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Facilities in homes, early-mid 20th Century

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When paraffin heaters were popular for heating homes

Advantages of paraffin heaters

Common form of paraffin heater / oil stove in the mid 20th century - British

 The most common form of paraffin heater / oil stove

During the early-mid 20th Century, oil stoves - heaters burning paraffin - were popular. They were more portable than electric fires because they didn't need an electric socket and paraffin oil was relatively cheap.

Disadvantages of paraffin heaters

That, though, was where the advantages ended. Paraffin heaters supplied only background heat, and burnt with a naked flame that was a serious fire-risk if the stove was knocked over and the paraffin was spilt. Also, as the stove didn't have a chimney, the burning produced a great deal of condensation, and it smelt badly. I think everyone would have felt ill if they stayed for long in the environment of an old oil heater.

In the 1950s we had a paraffin heater in the shape of a radiator. At the time, I thought this most luxurious as the homes of ordinary people did not have central heating.

A personal experience of paraffin heaters

Guest contribution

In our bathroom we had a paraffin heater which we used to light for about 10 minutes before starting to run a bath, and it would stay lit - unvented - until the last bath was finished. How we never succumbed to carbon-monoxide poisoning is a complete mystery to me in retrospect, but we didn't know it was dangerous back then!

David Harriman


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Photograph by the webmaster in Fagans Museum of Welsh Life.

Text and images are copyright


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