In the days of the old Cornish Range and open fires in rooms other than the kitchen, kindling sticks were always at a premium. One of the prime sources was either of the two Gorse patches opposite the house. These would be deliberatly burnt on a two or three-year cycle and the burnt, dry black sticks then gathered.
They were known as"smutties" and smutty they were too. Hands, and sometimes face, covered in soot, but we loved it. My Grandma would walk along the high tide mark and gather sticks in her apron, to be put behind the grate to dry for the next morning. Railway workers had the privilege of cheap sleepers, which made the best lighting sticks ever as the preservative was particularly flammable. Sawn into 4 or 5in blocks, they were straight-grained and split easily.
My father was the foreman of the repair gang on the Fowey docks and they, at times, all had off-cuts from the greenheart piles to share – another prime source of kindling. As fires needed to be relit every day it was a neverending chore. Some people used tightly rolled newspapers, which would fire the coal, but nothing was quite as good as dry sticks.
Smoky chimneys and chimney fires were commonplace. A shift in the wind could start a smoke screen. Salt was often used to quell a chimney fire by damping down the source, but a real chimney fire could be a very damaging occurance. Father swept our chimneys each year with a holly bush. It was a well-organised affair, with Dad on the roof pulling up and Mother pulling the rope down indoors. Sealing the grate was a tricky business and there was always a little soot to spare! The bulk of it would be spread on the garden. Once a year was enough to strain relations for a time!
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