Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The gas poker - a truly blood curdling piece of domestic kit

When we moved into our house twenty-three years ago it had no central heating. There was a coal-fired boiler in the kitchen that the elderly couple we were buying from kept going all the time. Of course as soon as we moved in it went out. The only device that could get it started again was a gas poker. I explained to this to the gas engineer we had working in the house yesterday. Nice bloke, in his thirties, I should think. "What's a gas poker?" he asked.

I explained it was a device such as you might use for poking the fire but if you connected it to the gas mains and applied a match to it flames would shoot out of holes in the side. Then you pushed it under the fuel on the fire until it got a glow going. That's a gas poker, I said.

He gulped and handed me a safety leaflet.


  1. I wonder if he's ever seen anyone holding a newspaper across the front of an open fire in order to make it draw?

  2. I had an eccentric great-aunt who used to do just that. She generally used the News of The World to "draw" the fire after she'd emptied half a bag of sugar over it first.

  3. Lighting cigarettes off the ring of an electric cooker...

  4. my Gran had a half-range cooker with side oven in which she used to dry grapefruit skins from breakfast to use as fire lighters elsewhere in the house. And yes she had a gas poker as well. When she was out the room my brother and I would have sword fight with it and the normal poker.

  5. Newspaper - check, sugar - check. As a boy I was inculcated into the process of lighting a piece of rolled up newspaper from the weedy pilot light and then sticking it further back into the boiler to fire it in order to heat the water for my bath. If you timed it right you could make the initial flare up shoot out of the little hole in the front across the room with a satisfying bang. I must have been about six. Some years later when it went out and we couldn't relight it a white-faced engineer locked it off with security tags before pleading with us to get it replaced immediately.

  6. I can remember my grandma having a gas poker to light the coal fire in the lounge.

    Isn't it a bit strange that a gas feed was installed next to the coal fire though? For the sake of a few quid, they could have had a gas fire!

    Having said that though, in grandmas case, they had a coal allowance due to grandad being an ex-miner.

  7. Bit late to this thread, but...

    I have been using a gas poker to light our coal fire for the last 15 years. Never heard of them before that, mind.
    Unfortunately now it is nearing the end of its life. Can I find a replacement? Can I hell.

    One day we will find it odd that people were allowed to have naked fires in their homes at all.

  8. 30 years ago I had a gas poker, that was left in the house we bought so I continued to use it. 30 years later I buy an old place with open fires,when I requested to my builder about putting in a poker in he was flabbergasted, he couldn't believe such things had even existed and went on to explain the possible outcomes of gas+naked flame!
    so does this mean I have to light my fires the truly old fashioned way???

  9. We had a gas poker at home when I was a kid in the 1950s/early 1960s. It was my job to light the coal fire when I came home from school in the winter, as there was no central heating, from about the age of 9, building the coals up on top of paper and some kindling wood. I never once thought how dangerous it might be to shove a flaming poker into that lot, and there was never an accident. It was a very effective and quick way of getting the coals burning and, believe me, in the 1950s and especially in the Great Freeze of 1962/3 we needed that heat! My dad was a gas fitter on the gas company so it was all properly fitted and lots of neighbours had them. Coal fires were the norm in those days. We had a coal bunker and it was also my job to count the 20 bags of 1 cwt of coal (1 hundredweight =112 lbs) when delivered by the coalmen from their flatbed lorry just to make sure we were not ripped off with 19 and they could sell the 20th to a mate! I have an open fire in our current house and would not be without it in the winter for cosy nights in but I use logs generally or sometimes smokeless fuel. No gas poker, however, what a shame!