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WW1 at Black Country Living Museum

Coal Shortages

At the outbreak of World War One, newspapers warned of coal shortages and warned against coal hoarding. But it was not until February 1915 that coal production slowed and a coal famine was reported.


Coal shortages at home were caused by the lack of labour available; many miners had volunteered to serve in the forces. Coal shortages were also apparent across Europe, France’s industries had been hit hard by the invading German troops and the country was importing coal from Britain to aid its armament production. This only added to the shortages at home.

  • 30 January 1915, Dudley Herald newspaper report

    Coal suppliers have notified houses ‘we very much regret that we are not in a position to give you a definite promise when we can deliver…every day we are either without coal or without men. The collieries are in the same position. Two factors are making for shortage – the rolling stock on the railways, owing to the demands of the government and the scarcity of labour’.

The government decided that they would control the mines for the duration of the war, instead of the mine owners; miners were now exempt from joining the army.


Coal Rationing

During the Autumn and Winter of 1914, supplies of fuel and light were restricted, street lamps were dimmed, and no long lines of lights were permitted.

By October 1916, coal was in such short supply that it was rationed by the number of rooms a family had in its house and by the end of 1917 gas and electricity was also rationed.

  • 24 December 1918, the Express & Star newspaper reported

'The Coal Controller stated that there would be no relaxation in coal rationing.'


Local Saving Coal Advice

To ease the coal shortages, local newspapers offered advice on fuel-saving cookery and fuel substitutions.

  • 6 February 1915, Walsall Observer


   Housewives and businesses should use coke instead of coal as a better source of fuel, though the same price per ton as coal, a larger percentage of its weight was readily combustible, making it more efficient. Some furnaces could also be adapted to run on coke. This advice was signed by ‘A Student of Fuel Economics’

  • The book 'How We Lived Then 1914-1918: A Sketch of Social and Domestic Life in England During the War' published 

    ‘Before the war ended the coal queue was as familiar a sight as the food queue, and as the country was drained of its men the domestic “pram” and the soap box on wheels often took the place of the coal cart in the poorer neighbourhoods. We were to experience such a fuel shortage as made it necessary to regard cinder waste as a punishable offence, and the newspapers published all manner of recipes for making briquettes with clay and sawdust and tar and for fuel-saving cookery.’


Coal Theft

By early 1915, the coal shortage had shortened people’s tempers, and the suspicion of neighbours hoarding private stashes of coal or even of coal mine owners profiteering were frequent complaints.

  • 1916, a local newspaper reported

   At Brierley Hill Police Court four 12-year old Wall Heath boys appeared. The mother of one of the boys was also charged with aiding and abetting the boys. A PC saw the boys carrying bags of coal, they ran and one was caught. He said the woman had been giving the boys money and also supplied the bags for the coal. The bench were told what the yearly loss amounted to at the Earl of Dudley’s railway line, prompting the Clerk to ask: “Does anybody in Pensnett ever buy any coal?” The boys were fined 10s each, to be paid by their parents, and the woman was fined £3, or 21 days in prison.



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