Oldham Historical Research Group

'Oldham Stories'

     'Oldham Stories'
by Mary Dickinson

Friday Fireplace Duty

When I was young, girls did not go out on Friday nights because that was the night when most of the housework was done.

All the houses in those days had very big fireplaces, which needed a lot of cleaning. It makes me laugh now when I think of all the hours we put in blackleading and scouring. The fireplace had a big oven at one side where the bread was baked. At the other side was a boiler, which had to be kept full of water. If you took a panfull out you had to put a panfull back. Not many people had hot water laid on in those days. The ashguard was kept near the fire. This kept the ash from falling out. There was a fender all round the fireplace with a set of fire irons in the hearth.

First of all the black parts had to be blackened with blacklead and then brushed. The chrome had to be scoured and then polished till it shone. The fender was made of steel and had to be scoured with emery paper, which was a kind of sandpaper. The fire irons consisted of a poker, a small shovel and some tongs. These also had to be scoured with the emery paper. When it was all finished it shone and woe-betide anyone who dropped water on it, as it would turn rusty. My mother would put newspaper over to protect it.

Just above the fireplace was what we called the Comish (cornice) or mantelpiece. This had a deep cover with bobbles round the edge. Our bobbles were crocheted balls each with a marble inside for weight. These were placed about every inch round the bottom of the cover. We had to dust the mantelpiece and polish the ornaments on top.

Round the fireplace was a stone hearth, which we had to mop and stone. We had to rub on the white stone which we called Idleback, wipe it over and draw pattems on it with our fingers or a piece of rag. When it was dry it looked like lace.

When Monday morning came round the fender would be put away like a new toy. It would be kept under the couch and brought out the next Friday when the whole process would start again.

Most people were very proud of their fireplaces. I'm glad all that hard work has finished but I'm glad I had the chance to see such nice fireplaces. People used to sit round their fires, now they seem to sit round the T.V.

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