Go back to article: ‘As snug as a bug in a rug’: post-war housing, homes and coal fires

Abstract

This article examines the layers of meaning and value attached to the image of the open coal fireside in the years immediately following the end of the Second World War. Although the open fire has a much longer economic, social and cultural history, it is argued here that after 1945 it took on new, emergent meanings that tapped into pressing contemporary debates concerning the nature of the modern British nation, the home and the family. Whilst writers often evoked the experience of the open fire as a timeless comfort, addressing basic human needs, the fireside of post-war British journalism and illustration was a very modern thing indeed, able to express specific debates arising from the requirements of reconstruction and modernisation. The almost folkloric associations of the open fire made it harder in the 1950s to legislate against domestic smoke than it was to regulate industrial pollution. Vested interests drew on the powerful rhetoric of the coal fire to combat the smoke pollution reports of the early 1950s and the growing inevitability of legislation. The coal fire was part of a post-war chain of being that started with the domestic hearth and progressed to the nuclear family, the self-contained home, the nation, and ultimately to the Commonwealth.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/180902/001