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coal-cellar

Updated on January 9, 2011

Whenever I pass an old terraced house, I can see grate-covered hole leading to the cellar at the pavement. The cast iron grid is rotting, the hole is dark and dirty. Dust, rubbish, and rain goes through the grate and accumulated in there. I always wonder what's inside. 


The function of the cellar, firstly should be storage, people used to store food and wine in the cellar. Because refrigerator has not been invented yet.


During the World War Two, cellars were reinforced as bomb sheds. 


The cellar also used to store coal! This idea came to me when I read this line:


We had a big cellar, which was reinforced with wood all around and the

escape hatch to the outside was up the grate where the coal was delivered.


Now I know before gas and electricity, coal was used as fuel and delivered through the grate and stored in the cellar. 


A very nice story by Joyce Lankester Brisley tells about a little girl who lived in the coal-cellar: 


A little girl named Susan Smutt, she had father and mother and fifteen brothers and sisters, so they needed a fairly big house to live in. But it wasn't easy to find rooms enough for them all. So when Susan Smutt began to get too big to sleep in the bottom drawer in her mother's and father's room any longer, she with the help of the whole family cleaned out coal-cellar and make little bedroom in it. 


Little Susan thought her little bedroom was the greatest fun in the world! There was a little round hole in the ceiling, with an iron lid over it, where the men who go round shouting 'Cooooal!' would pour a sackful down in the coal-cellar, if asked. The lid was right in the middle of the pavement; and when Susan Smutt was in bed she could hear people walking over it. Sometimes Susan Smutt would put her little chair on the bed and stand on it, and push up the lid very cautiously and peep out; and if no one was about she could pop right out and skip up and down on the pavement in the moonlight, till she heard someone's footsteps come along; then she would pop back to bed and shut the lid before they saw her! In the mornings she could either walk out through her little door to join the family at breakfast or she could climb up through the coal-hole and be taken in at the front door with the milk.


One morning, there came along the road a coal cart, with a big horse walking, and a big coalman calling. When it came opposite the next-door house the next-door opened, and a lady popped her head out and said, 'Just put a ton of coal through the coal-hole tomorrow morning, will you?' The coalman, said, 'Yes, ma'am.'


The next morning Susan Smutt woke up to hear a clip-clop, coming along the road, and she hopped out of bed and pulled on her red woollen stockings. The coalman shouted the horse to stop, and took the lid off Susan Smutt's  coal-hole, and started pouring down a sackful of coal down on her bed and drawers and chair. The coalman was making such a noise he couldn't hear Susan screaming, kept pouring sackful after sackful coal down on to her little bed.


At last the whole family woke up by the noise. The coalman felt very sorry, but he said, the coal-holes were so close together he guite thought he had got the right one. It would be a big mess to take coal all out again, and little Susan hadn't got a bedroom to sleep in.


But the story ended with a happy ending. The next-door lady offered a nice little bedroom in the attic, and let her father make a little door through the wall into Susan's house,  so she could reach it from her side! Now Susan Smutt has a nice, sunny little attic bedroom all to herself,  as a return of gratitude, she would creep downstairs in the next-door house every morning, sweep the kitchen, and makes the fire, and gets the breakfast ready for the next-door lady.


In Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, we know Coal-cellar was also used as a dungeon, to confine the unruly little Oliver:


The hungry and destitute situation of the infant orphan was duly reported by the workhouse authorities to the parish authorities. “It was his ninth birth-day; and he was keeping it in the coal-cellar with a select party of two other young gentlemen” This phrase resembles the horrible environment that Oliver was born and brought up into. 


Coal-cellar, just like the attic, what a wonderful place of the house!


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