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I’ve been hearing on the news lately that due to Storm Arwen many thousands of properties in the north of England have been without gas and electricity for at least a fortnight and some have not even had running water. Some residents have had to move to hotels at the power companies’ expense.

This got me thinking how Victorian homes were ideally suited to weather violent storms, and how our ancestors’ lives differed so greatly from our own pampered ones.

Our house was built in the 1940s. It originally had 4 fireplaces; two upstairs and two downstairs. The upstairs ones were bricked up by previous owners, but when we had central heating installed we decided to leave the downstairs fireplaces intact. This has served us well in past storms, as when we have had power outages in the past we could simply light the open fires and hey presto, there was instant heat. The featured image shows one of our fireplaces in its roaring glory, and by the way it has an added use as a paper shredder if the electric version is out of action!

Many of the modern day homes are not built with fireplaces or chimneys, and quite a lot of older properties have radiators where a fireplace used to be. Property owners without working fireplaces are totally dependent on electricity / gas to heat their homes, and they would be the first to suffer from a power outage as of course gas boilers also need electricity. Victorians would be sitting around their coal-fired ranges or open fires, turning up their oil lamps, and wondering what all the fuss was about. Those with nearby working wells would also have had access to fresh water. They would have also got on well without fridges or labour-saving devices such as washing machines, but I expect that’s another story.

Of course, we are now aware that our dependency on coal has contributed to global warming, and governments are trying to phase it out. However, as this causes new houses to be built without chimneys and the sale of wood burners will eventually be banned, many property owners will be stuffed when it comes to weathering the increased frequency of storms and hurricanes caused by our over-use of coal in the first place. A type of anthracite-based smokeless coal is a greener option and produces 80% less smoke and 40% less carbon dioxide when burnt, but it is more expensive than normal coal and anyway, what good would it be for the people in new houses with no way of using it?

We all need to keep warm in winter, and people should not make themselves so dependent on electricity or gas. Out here in the country we have had many power cuts, one for a whole week, and fortunately we got on quite well with our two open fires (anthracite coal and wood from a tree that came down in the storm), candles, and a Calor gas barbeque. If electricity power cuts are going to be more frequent, then people need to be prepared.

However, Norway has already banned the use of oil and paraffin to heat buildings, and I wonder how long it will be before other countries follow their lead? If nobody is eventually allowed to use coal, wood, oil or paraffin to keep warm, then we all need to start knitting a mountain of woolly jumpers!