Now that our party wall is up, I’ve been mulling over the interior design of our future extension which will include our kitchen, a pantry and laundry area, and a new WC underneath the staircase.
The previous owners of our house always referred to the area under the stairs at ‘The Coal Hole’, and even left us a little lump of coal under the stair (which I later learned here is for good luck!). I therefore decided to use this as a starting point. First up, I did a little bit of research into the history of coal in Victorian times when our house was built for more inspiration.
Here are a few things I discovered:
- In larger Victorian homes, coal would have been stored in a cellar beneath the front steps. The cellar was filled by pouring the coal down a tube capped with a cast iron cover in the pavement.
- In smaller houses without cellars, like ours, there would have either been a coal bunker in the back yard, or the owners would have made do with the space under the stairs. This space was indeed called a ‘coal hole’!
- Coal was delivered in bags by horse drawn carriages as show in the photo above of a delivery in Lambeth in 1938 (which I found online in the Lambeth archives here)
- Canaries were sent down coal mines in the 1800’s to test for carbon monoxide as they were more sensitive to the gas so could detect it early. (Yay! An excuse to use my favourite colour yellow!)
- Canary resuscitation boxes were invented to stop this cruelty. Once they showed signs of carbon monoxide poisoning a door would be closed and a valve opened, allowing oxygen from a tank on top of the box to be released and revive the canary. (This is shown in the image above from the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester)