Saturday, 28 April 2012


Earlier this week my son and his wife had a walk in the Lake District and found a remote cottage which can be rented by the week. The remoteness is wonderful, as is the view of the surrounding lakes and peaks. But there are snags. It is not on mains electricity - the lighting in the house comes from batteries and if they fail, from a generator which kicks in. There is no water laid on in the house - that comes from a bore hole a little way away.

This set me thinking about the way we take such utilities forgranted these days. When I was a child there was no water laid on to our house; there was a stand-pipe in the street for all the houses there. On wash days I used to carry water for my mother, two buckets at a time, before I went off to school. When we finally had water laid on, it only produced cold water, there was no means of heating it until my father bought an electric thing which fitted over the sink and produced instant hot water for washing up - magic to us at the time.

We did have electricity and were rather proud of it. There was no gas in the village and I presume that electricity had only come fairly recently before I was born. My mother didn't cook by electricity, she had a 'side oven' by the open fire. One side was a boiler which she kept full of water so that she could have instant hot water when the fire was lit. But the water was always rusty and only useful for scrubbing the floors. The other side of the fire was an oven in which she cooked all our meals, did all our baking, made her own bread, cooked the Christmas dinner - when the oven got a ''bit slow" she would soak an old rag in paraffin and poke it under the oven with the poker to clean out the flues.

Down the lane where I now live the farmer can well remember when there was no electricity, when every room was lit by calor gas lamps - some of the fittings still remain (or rather remnants of them). When electricity finally came it was quite exciting to be able to get instant light at the flick of a switch. We still heated our central heating with calor gas until last year.

To finish on an amusing story about this. My late father in law, who would have been over 100 had he still been alive, was quite excited when he was able to buy his first electric fence for the farm. The farm opposite was owned by his great friend, Ambrose, who also bought an electric fence at the same time. On the day Ammy put his fence up the farmer's dad went over to help him and Ammy suggested that he would stand at the far end away from the switch and would hold the wire so that when the farmer's dad put the switch down he could see how long it took the electric current to get round to the other side of the field! Need I say any more?

I expect in the future somebody will do a blog saying that it was amazing that there was once a time when some houses didn't have a computer in them.


Dave King said...

We (my mother younger brother and myself) lived in such a cottage for a while during the war. We did it to escape the blitz - or the worst of it. It didn't seem such a hardship, even then, as it would now. I think it's the running water we'd miss most. Could probably put up with the rest, but not sure I would trust "the bare hole"!

Heather said...

A fascinating post Pat. I grew up in my grandparents' house which had only cold water and a geyser over the bath to heat water. There was a flush toilet but it was outside! There was electricity and Granny had an electric cooker but to save on bills she did a lot of cooking on the kitchen range, especially in winter. Two of my aunts had gas only, until after the war.
Life is much easier now in so many ways, but in others it seems much more complicated. Will we ever get it right?!

Mary said...

Our first real house was a prefab on a council estate which we moved into after the war. It was quite posh after living in my grandma's tiny flat in town which was very bare bones! German POW's did the landscaping and we little kids at last had places to run and play, push our dolls' prams etc. Mum could cook on a real electric cooker and we had running water, but we didn't have a 'frig. Fed the electric meter with shillings and popped up to the village shops each day for fresh food. Fish and chip van came on Fridays and we stood in line waiting for our supper - it was all simple but lovely!
Those were the days!

Happy memories.
Have a nice weekend Pat.

P.S. If you look at my last post on the Cochin ladies in India, you can see how so simple life still is in some parts of the world!

Joanne said...

When I was young my farming relatives did not have "utilities." This city girl looked forward to visits and summer weeks pumping water, going to bed at dark, and even using the outhouse.

Pondside said...

In the late 60's and early 70's I worked in the summer in a community in northern Ontario. The teacherage was lit with gas lamps and there was no running water. The toilet was a two-holer down the hill. Early one morning I was dipping the bucket into the lake (yes, we drank right from the lake!) when I looked up to see the remnants of the moon, and realised that it was the day that men were walking on the moon. The contrast has always stayed with me.

ArcticFox said...

we used to get our water from a well up on the hill through a gravity fed length of hosepipe that ran down the field and across the road.... I can remember the water pressure going nuts when cars ran over the pipe and in winter we had to "walk the line" stamping the ice out of the pipe as we went..... I can also remember the mile long trudge to the shop in winter to bring back small bags of coal on out sledges!! Also, this webspace used to be all virtual fields before all these blogs were housed on it!

MorningAJ said...

I can remember when we didn't have central heating at home and we had to wait for the fire in the lounge to warm up the house. (and water in the tank behind it).

These days I can turn up my gas fire with a remote control!

angryparsnip said...

Wonderful interesting post today.
I remember lots of things we didn't have but nothing like what you have mentioned.
We always had heat, electric and running water.
This has nothing to do with utilities but I remember sitting at the table, drawing or homework and listening to the radio while my Mum cooked dinner.
I can see it so clearly.

cheers, parsnip

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the memories.

Tanya @ Lovely Greens said...

What a different world! Times have changed dramatically since I was a child but running water and electricity have always been a given.

The cottage does sound fascinating though... Are D & K planning on renting it out?