the winter of 1947 well. I was only aged 12. It was one
of the coldest winters on recoded, with some places in the country
recording temperatures of -20 degrees C.
Icicles, a couple
of feet long, dangled dangerously from roofs of buildings and
external water pipes. Plumbing services were overstretched and
impossible to come by."
"Fuel, such as
coal, already in short supply due to post-war shortages, was
difficult to get due to the weather. Even if there were
supplies available it was hard to deliver because it was distributed
by horse-drawn carts
I remember seeing
these Clydesdale horses - these poor beasts used intensively to
transport goods all over the city until the late 1950s/60s - as they
struggled to keep their feet slipping on the hard, frozen, compacted
snow on the slightest of gradients."
"I used to wander all over the place trying to
get some form of fuel to burn, such as fruit crates from the
fruiters or grocers, or as kids we would raid our local cooperage to
get discarded broken barrels.
The houses were freezing and everyone used
coal for heating in those days. There were no electric or gas
fires then, and houses had no regular hot water supply such as
emersion heaters or geysers.
If you were lucky, you might have a
back-boiler at the back of your coal fire to heat about a gallon of
water at a time, but that was useless if you had no fuel. It was not
uncommon that winter for people to rip up pieces of linoleum from
areas of the floor that would not be seen, such as under furniture,
In desperation, we would roll up sheets of
newspaper into tight twist to emulate firewood, but that was not
much good. You would gather up all the dross (coal dust) in
your coal cellar and try to light a fire with that, but it was
difficult to make it combust."
"At bedtime, dad would fill up a couple of
lemonade bottles with hot water and place them in the bed, fine for
an hour or so but gave you a shock if your feet touched the bottles
when theyíd cooled down.
Old army greatcoats or dad's overcoat was
thrown on top of the bed covers to stop you freezing during in the
In the Morning
"In the morning, dad would light every gas
ring, grill and oven on the old 'New World' gas stove to
convect heat into the living room."
Sent for Coal
"One day, with my father being at work, my
mother in desperation, asked me to take the pram and go to the local
coal merchants for a bag of coal. She could not go herself as
there were two other children to look after at home, my brothers
aged one year, the other five.
I took the pram, which also served as a means
to carry the washing to the local wash house in Bonnington Road (but
thatís another story).
I went to the local merchantís coal yard in
Coburg Street, just off Great Junction Street Leith, known
colloquially as 'the coaly'.
The Journey Home
"The coalman loaded the pram with a
one-hundredweight bag of coal and I proceeded to make my way home
pushing my precious cargo, with pleasurable thoughts in my head of a
warm glowing fire and hot water for a spell.
Well this poor, wee, frail body of a twelve
year old was not prepared for the journey home. The coal yard was
situated about 300 yards down Coburg Street on a hill. I now
had some idea how these poor Clydesdale horses must have felt as MY
feet were slipping on the ice, one pace forward and one pace back,
trying to push this load all the way up the hill to Junction Street.
Even when I got to the top, I still had a long
way to go for a child. I lived in Ballantyne Road, yet another 400
yards or so, and when I got there, I had to bump this heavy bag of
coal one step at a time up four flights of stairs to my house.
"In those days of prolific use of coal burning
fires, keeping chimneys clean was quite expensive and few of the
working classes could afford a chimney sweep. The solution to
that problem was simple, naive and dangerous.
I've seen my father wrap a bundle of
newspapers around the shaft of a broom, set the paper alight and
push it up the lum until soot, dry as tinder in the chimney shaft
caught alight. When the fire was well underway, the chimney
would make a constant eerie roar for quite some time until it
What was not realised, was, that this fire
could have spread to the flooring joists all the way up the
building, thus putting the whole tenement at risk of fire. The fire
services were very frequently called out to deal with these fires
by neighbours or passers-by who saw the sparks and flames shooting
out of the chimney. Ye! Needs must when the devil drives in
"To the kids of the 21st century, playing with
your Wiiís, ipods, mobile phones and computers, have a thought for
the amusements available to forefathers of the 20th centaury as THEY
struggled to read their weekly pleasure, the Beano or Dandy comic,
in the dim light of a gas mantle that was lucky to emit light in a
room further than six feet, in front of a lit fireplace if they
could have one."
Frank Ferri, Newhaven, Edinburgh: April 11,