UP TO the 1950s, coal fires were for many, the only means of heating homes.

Coal was an essential item and was delivered house to house on a regular basis.

Many of us remember the coal man. Driving down the street in a lorry and hefting sacks of coal on his back, before emptying them in small back yard coal bunkers. Right up to the 1970s many homes had coal bunkers - small brick structures with holes at the bottom through which a shovel could fit.

Some people, particularly those living in inner-city terraces would keep coal in former outhouses at the rear of their homes.

When the lorry arrived People would stand alongside as the sacks were delivered, counting them out to make sure they got what they paid for.

For some homes across the Yorkshire region, coal was delivered by the automatic coal bagger, which filled bags with coal and coke from the delivery lorry as it called at each house.

Owned by a Harrogate firm of coal merchants - the name on the side appears to be Webster Brothers - the vehicle pictured, which appeared in the Telegraph & Argus in May 1958, was the only one of its kind in the region.

The machine was carried round on the wagon, on its delivery round. Bags were filled in ten seconds and could not be moved until they contained the correct weight. Customers could watch for themselves and verify the accurate weighing, as the woman in the photograph - standing with her young son - is doing.

Direct loading also reduced the number of times the coal was handled. A specially-designed body reduced movement and delivered coal to the sack easily, gently and under perfect control. This streamlined flow also kept down losses due to slack.

The sacks were specially made, giving long life and eliminating problems due to changes in the weather.

In the earlier days of coal delivery, it was brought to customers by horse and cart. The cart was a flat platform with removable metal railings around it to keep the sacks of coal in place. The sacks were packed in hundredweights (cwt). One cwt is just over 50 kg.

The Webster’s wagon looks very clean considering the nature of its cargo. It is also nice to see the neat tidy gardens, with hedges and lawns, as opposed to nowadays when many will have been removed and replaced with hard standing to park cars.

Coal merchants still ply their trade, though not in as great numbers, delivering various types of coal across the district, mostly for multi-fuel stoves which are becoming increasingly popular in homes across the country.

Nowadays, many DIY outlets, garages and even supermarkets sell coal, so home deliveries are not as common.

According to the advert on the side of the wagon, Webster’s also deliver pink paraffin which householders would use as fuel for heaters.

Helen Mead