The favoured material for pyjamas in the 1950s was called”wincyette” a trade name I think for the material which had a nice furry pile on the inside. And boy did we need it in winter. The clothes felt immediately warm to the skin whereas most coton had a cold damp feel to it.
Houses were typically uninsulated – the nearest you could come to insulation in those days was a double cavity wall which provided and inch or two of air insulation. Stone built houses had some natural insuating properties by absorning heat from the outside during the day and radiating it inside during the night, but brick houses, which we all lived in were poor insulators.
Glass windows were of the sash variety and were single pane – so on a frosty morning you could discover frozen condensation on the inside oof windows in elaborate “Jack Frost” patterns.
Our house was of Victorian build and had a fireplace in every room except the bathroom and scullery. We did not light any of the fires in the upstairs bedrooms, so getting into bed meant undressing very quickly, jumping from the cold floor into bed and trying to quickly generate enough heat to take the chill off the cotton sheets. Usually i slept under three layers of blankets and an eiderdown. Sometimes my mother would make up a hot water bottle to warms up the sheets.
Coal of course was the winter fuel of choice. There were two coal merchants in town, Tilleys, on the south side of Church Street and the Wolverton Mutual next to Swain’s sports shop. I don’t know which coal merchant we used but every now and then the coal lorry would appear and the men unloaded black hessian hundredweight sacks into our coal bunkers. We used coal for open fires and coke for the close stove in the kitchen, which in addition to heat, provided us with hot water.
A coal fire was started with newspaper and wood kindling and once it was going gave strong heat close to it and moderate heat at a short distance. The edge of the room was always cold and typically chairs and settees were grouped around the fire. A lot of the heat, it has to be said, went up the chimney.
Electric fires were available, usually of a single or double bar. They provided immediate local heat but were expensive.
In the mid-50s everyone discovered paraffin stoves. Theye were easier to light than coal fires and much less messy and I think they were relatively economical to run. The oil companies marketed their paraffin by colour – pink paraffin or blue paraffin. Paraffin when all is said and done is paraffin so the refiners used colour to create product differentiation and I suppose there were people who believed that pink coloured paraffin was better than blue coloured paraffin.
As I write this today from my well-insulated, centrally-heated house it is hard to imagine that we lived as we did and that present day comfort has only been avaliable for 40 years. In the 1950s the technology to manufacture practical insulating materials for home was not there. In public buildings asbestos was the insulating material of choice – and we know the consequences of that. And coal (the fuel of choice) did not lend itself to central heating furnaces in domestic dwellings. I suppose it took the development of the compact gas furnace to make central heating a practical solution for English homes.