A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



3.1 The second section of the questionnaire was concerned with “Cooking”. Questions were asked to discover what fuel was used for cooking; what type of coal stove was used in the households where coal was used for cooking; what housewives thought of the cooking apparatus they had used and what preferences they had. These results were analysed by the age of the housewife, by income and in certain cases by region.


All housewives were asked ,What fuel do you use for cooking in winter and in summer?” (Question 6).

Many housewives used more than one kind of fuel, particularly in winter, as will be seen from the results of this question. This results in the totals given below adding up to more than 100%.

Table 13

Table 14

In total 51.5% of all housewives used coal, 72.4% used gas, 9.1% used electricity and 2.7% oil in winter. In summer the proportions were coal. 34.2% gas 75.4% electricity 9.5% and oil 3. 1%. The coal figures show clearly the interdependence of cooking and space heating where this fuel is used.


In Winter gas was used more than other fuels in all regions; in the North and South West both coal producing regions, however, the proportions who used coal was almost as great.

Table 13

Gas Coal
Scotland 76.5% 49.0%
North 72.0% 67.0%
Midlands 75.0% 45.3%
London and South 76.5% 36.0%
S.W. and Wales 58.5% 53.9%

Electricity was used by a higher proportion in the Midlands, 12%; regional differences were, however, small.

In Summer gas was used in a slightly larger proportion of households in all regions except Scotland; the proportions using coal were on the other hand much less, particularly in London and the South.

Table 14

Gas Coal
Scotland 76.4% 32.8%
North 75.0% 53.4%
Midlands 79.5% 24.3%
London and South 82.4% 9.1%
S.W. and Wales 60.9% 43.0%

Electricity was used by about the same numbers as in Winter.


Table 15

There were 1,848 households who used coal and some other fuel for cooking in the winter and 1,156 who used coal and some other fuel for cooking in the summer. 85.5% used gas, 8,1% used electricity and 6.3% used oil as a second means of cooking in winter. In summer the proportions were roughly the same.


Table 15

There was a considerable difference between the town and the country in the results to this question; whereas in towns over 90% of the coal users employing other fuel used gas, in the country only fifty per cent used gas. In the country, however, the proportion using electricity and oil was considerably higher, being 16.4% compared with 6.5% and 32.5% compared with 9% respectively. There was no very considerable difference between summer and winter.


Table 16

The types of coal grate used for cooking were divided into four main groups: that with the oven and coal fire only; the type which heated another room, commonly known as back-to-back; that which heated water in a 8 boiler from which the water was drawn with a tap or by a dipper; and the type which heated water in a boiler which connected to the sink or bathroom by pipes. The proportions found in the whole of the sample of 2,783 households using coal for cooking was 58.3% with the open fire, 2.9% with the stove which heated another room, 9.4% the type which heated water in a boiler, and 29.3% the type which heated water for the kitchen or bathroom.


Table 17

There were considerable regional differences in the type of coal grates used for cooking, the main division being between those that heated water and those that did not.

The proportion having an open fire only was highest in London, (84.2%); in the South West it was 72.1%, in Scotland 58.7%, in the Midlands 42.6% and in the North 42.6%.

The North had the greatest proportion of coal grates that heated water, (52.8%) and it also had the greatest proportion with the hot water supply piped to kitchen and bathroom, (42.6%).

3.4 Thermostats on Gas Cookers

The 3,963 housewives with gas cookers were asked “whether or not they had a thermostat attached to their stove”. 21.4% stated that they had this device and 78.6% said they had not.


In Question 8 the housewife was asked what apparatus other than her present one she had used in the past; she was then asked in question 9 to state her likes and dislikes about them.

In the analyses which follow the preferences and dislikes of housewives of the cooking apparatus that they have used are expressed in a short code which is common to all types of cooking apparatus. They are as follows:-


Like unspecified

Cheap and economical


Easy or convenient


Cooks better



Likes, related to some particular feature such as a thermostat and used to it.


Dislike unspecified





Cooks badly



Dislikes feature, e.g. hot plate


The analysis as a whole shows that the most important factors for the housewife are cleanliness, economy and convenience. In order to make the bare code a little more real, brief descriptions are given below in relation to each type of fuel.

3.5 1 COAL


Table 18

The largest category, that of unspecified like, was expressed in many cases where the coal oven was the type of cooking apparatus with which the housewife the familiar. She could express no particular reason for liking it and on the other hand often no other experience with which to compare it.

The category of “cheap and economical”, which was also important , can be illustrated by the reply of one housewife who stated ”The range works all right and it is cheaper to cook with because the fire is in all the time “. The fact that the fire was always available was in some cases the reason why the coal oven was considered to be more convenient.

A very large number of persons using coal said they liked it because it cooked better. This in very many cases appeared to be simple prejudice as this answer was most common in the north and often was expressed by housewives who had no other experience. In some cases this opinion was expressed with reference to some other kind of stove, particularly in the 9 case of gas and sometimes in the case of electricity. In some cases it was believed that coal cooked better than gas because of the absence of any fumes in the cooking process.


The dislikes in relation to coal cookers are fairly obvious. They are regarded in some cases as expensive on account of the large quantities of coal they use and dirty because many of them, particularly the elaborate kitchen ranges and the back-to-back grates, need considerable attention to keep the flues free from soot. In some cases the difficulty of cooking by coal in summer was regarded as a serious inconvenience.

3.5 2 GAS


Table 18

As in coal a simple unspecific like was very often expressed, but perhaps the most important feature of gas cooking to be praised was the convenience of gas, inasmuch as in most cases it was necessary only to use approximately the amount of heat necessary for any particular operation, with the choice of various sizes of boiling ring, a grill and an oven. The speed with which the kettle can be boiled by gas was also a feature praised by a very large number.


A number of housewives consider gas cooking expensive and an even greater number objected to gas because it was dirty, particularly because of the fumes.


Likes and dislikes in the case of electricity are fairly straightforward. The cleanliness of electric cooking is by far the most important feature praised, whereas expense, inconvenience of its hot plates in relation to kettle boiling and the slowness of the electric cooker in general were the most important dislikes.


Table 18

It is interesting to note how the different attitudes apply to the three main types of cooking. The first category of unspecified likes and its corresponding category of unspecified dislikes are much more important in the case of coal and gas: 28.8% and 22.6%, and 10.1% and 11.7% of the total number of likes and dislikes expressed in relation to these forms of fuel. In the case of electricity on the other hand only 6.2% of the likes and 5.8% of the dislikes were unspecified. This is because in most cases people using electric cooking had changed from some other type deliberately, whereas in many other cases people were merely liking the cooking apparatus with which they were familiar.

Both coal and electricity are mentioned as being cheap and economical in a greater proportion of cases than gas, whereas expense is mentioned in a large proportion of cases for all three fuels, the greater proportion being for electricity. The percentage considering fuel expensive are, coal 30.4%, gas 26.8% and electricity 34.7%.

Electricity has a very great proportion of preferences relating to its cleanliness, 45.6% of the total. Gas has a small proportion of such preferences, 12.3%. In contrast 24.1% of housewives dislike coal because it is dirty and 31.0% dislike gas for this reason, whereas only three housewives in all mention dirtiness in connection with electricity, a little over 1%.

19.7% of the total likes for gas in the higher income group are on account of its ease and convenience, whereas 28.8% of the dislikes for coal are on account of its inconvenience.

It is difficult to estimate the importance of the categories; cooks better and cooks badly. It appears that most current cooking apparatus does cook reasonably well and that not much dissatisfaction is felt as is shown by the proportions who say that each type cooks badly; they are coal 3.5% gas 8,7%, and electricity 8.4%. On the other hand the proportion of housewives saying that one or other fuel cooks well is by far the higher amongst coal users: 25.6% compared with 4.4% for gas and 9.2% for electricity. 10 We believe, however, that this arises, as we have mentioned before, from prejudice and that it is unrelated to experience. Housewives using the two latter forms of fuel take it for granted that they are satisfactory means of cooking.

With a few very minor exceptions there are no differences between the likes and dislikes of the two income groups.


There were a few points of interest in the analysis of these questions by regions. The North and Scotland had the highest proportions of unspecified likes for coal and gas, 31% and 32%, and 33% and 27% respectively. In London and the South these proportions were lowest 23% and 14%.

These unspecified likes were offset in this region by a larger proportion of specific likes particularly, “cheap and economical” and “cooks better” in the case of coal and clean in the case of gas.


There were answers to question 10 “What type of cooking apparatus would you like best”? in 4,808 cases where age was known. The main preferences for the whole sample were coal 20.4%, gas 46.5%, electricity 32.8% and oil 0.2%.


Table 19

There were some differences in different age groups in their preferences in relation to coal and electricity which illustrate the greater conservatism of age. Our four age groups under 30, 30-40, 40-50 and Over 50 showed the following proportions preferring coal 12.2%, 15.7%, 21.4%, 28.6%, whereas the preferences for electricity amongst the same groups show an opposite trend, 42.2%, 39.1%, 32% and 22.1%. The proportions preferring gas were, in all cases, about the same ranging from 44.6% to 48.8%.


Table 19

Income level appears to affect preference for two reasons; on the one hand electric cooking is believed to be more expensive, whereas coal cooking, which in many cases is combined with space heating, is regarded as being less expensive. It is also likely that housewives in the poorer category are more conservative than housewives in the higher income group. In each age group the proportion preferring coal is higher by roughly the same amount amongst the families under £160 per annum; for example, in the under 30 age group: 14.1% in the lower income group compared with 10.4% in the higher income group and in the over 50 group: 31.5% compared with 24.7% Preference for electricity , however, Preference show a difference in the opposite direction, 37% of the housewives under 30 in the lower income category preferring electricity compared with 46.5% in the higher income category. In the older group the total is naturally less, but the relations of the two income group is similar, the proportions preferring electricity being 19.7% and 25.5% respectively.

The total figures summaries the position. In the lower income group the propel proportions preferring coal, gas, electricity and oil are 17.6%, 45.6%, 36.5% and 12%. and .2% respectively.


Table 20

Question 10 was further analysed into geographical region and some very interesting differences emerged. Coal was preferred by a much greater proportions of housewives in the North (31.2%),compared with 18.3% in the much greater South West, 17.2% in the Midlands,13.8% in London and 13.7% in Scotland.

The preference for gas is highest in London, (54.1%) and lowest in somewhat higher in Scotland are about the same in all regions, the North (36%), whereas the proportions liking electricity, although the range being from 30% in South West to 38% in Scotland.


The answers to Question 10 “What type of cooking apparatus do you like best”? were related to the answers given in Question 11 cooking apparatus do you like reasons for liking this” and they have been analysed into 11 “What are your reasons for liking this” they have been analysed into age groups, this 11 being considered the most important factor affecting choice. The answers were grouped as follows:—

  1. (1) An unspecified like

  2. (2)Cheap or economical

  3. (3)Clean

  4. (4) Easy

  5. (5)Reliable

  6. (6) Cooks better

  7. (7) Healthy

  8. (8) Quick

  9. (9) Likes feature, as for example Thermostat (101 Used to it (1l) More modem

  10. (12) Other people have recommended it

  11. (13) Safe

  12. (14) Heats the house or room

The order of the total figures show the main reasons for preference. The most important reasons for preferring coal are the following:-

Cooks better 23.4% of cases
Used to it 22.7% “ “
Cheap and economical 18.2% “ “
Heats the house or room 9.6% “ “
Easy 7.7% “ “

In the case of gas the most important reason is again “Used to it” with 25.4% of answers; the second most important reason is “Easy or convenient” in 19.6% of cases; the third most important reason is the “Cleanliness” of gas cooking; the fourth and fifth are the “Quickness” of gas cooking, and the “Cheapness” of gas cooking respectively.

Table 21

The preferences in relation to electricity are rather different. By far the most important feature is “Cleanliness” of electric cooking (47.2%); the next main important reason is “Cheap and economical” (18.2%) followed by “Easy” (12,3%). In contrast to gas and coal only 1.2% prefer it because they are “Used to it”. This may be related to the fact that only about half of the housewives preferring electric cooking had had experience of it.


There are some small features in the analysis by Age which are worth noting. In the case of cooking by coal there are differences in the proportions in the categories who find coal cooking easy and who were used to coal cooking. It is in the Under 30 group that the largest proportion of answers finding coal cooking easy are found, 13.0% compared with about 7% in the other age groups. This is no doubt due to the fact that the younger housewives are very often living in more modern houses. On the other hand it is in the older groups that there is a larger proportion of housewives who prefer coal because they are used to it. (It should be noted, however, that the number in the Under 30 group who expressed this preference is only 112 of a total of 1,200).

There are no very great age differences in the preferences expressed for gas cooking or for electricity.



Table 22

The answers to Question 10 which were about the types of cooking apparatus preferred were analysed further into two main groups; those who had used the type of apparatus that they preferred and those who had not used it. The purpose of these questions were to ascertain how far preference was based on experience or was influenced by propaganda or by the views of others.

We have counted in the Yes answers to the question “Have you ever used it” all those housewives who had had some experience with the type of cooking apparatus that they like best in houses other than their own, as for example “In my Mother's house”, “At my Sister's” and in some cases at the houses of friends or other relatives, so that the definition of Yes in this case is quite a broad one.

The main preferences have already been discussed and in this analysis the main point of interest is to compare how far the preferences for each type of fuel are based on experience or not.

Of the total answers 73.6% were based on experience and 26.3% were preferences not related to actual experience of the type of apparatus preferred. There was some difference between the age groups which can be best illustrated by comparing the youngest group with the oldest. In the youngest group 69.3% preferred a type of apparatus which they had tried, whilst 30.7% expressed preference for apparatus which they had never used. In the oldest group on the other hand, the proportions were 78.4%, and 21.6% respectively, illustrating the greater conservatism of age.

A comparison between the three main types of cooking shows an interesting feature, namely that in the case of electricity about half of the preference is not related to actual experience, possibly due to publicity.

The proportions preferring coal, gas and electricity are as follows:-

Table 22

Coal Gas Electricity
With experience 89.2% 84.5% 49.1%
Without experience 10.8% 15.2% 50.

There is very little difference in the four age groups for the preferences taken individually.

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