Tony Grant, who writes posts for Jane Austen Today and London Calling, stands above the “area”, the servants entrance that sits below ground and in front of town houses built during the Georgian and Regency eras. A wrough-iron fence separated the upper level from the lower basement level, which was sunk partly below the street. Windows in the work areas gave the servants a view of the people walking along the sidewalks.
Wherever these town houses were built, servants and delivery people used the lower entrance. The “area” also contained a coal vault used for storage.
A collier unloaded coal from a cart directly into the coal vault. This practice prevented dirty coal sacks from being dragged through the house. Coal was dumped down a chute via a coal hole. The coal would then be used for fires or the kitchen stove. (Gaelen Foley) The design of the coal hatch, which was locked from the inside, would vary from house to house. Coal holes were in use from the early 1800s to the middle 1900s, when the Clean Air Act made the burning of coal illegal. (Knowledge of London)
So much coal was burned in 19th century London (in 1800 over one million London residents were burning soft coal) that “winter fogs” became common.
An 1873 coal-smoke saturated fog, thicker and more persistent than natural fog, hovered over the city of days. As we now know from subsequent epidemiological findings, the fog caused 268 deaths from bronchitis. Another fog in 1879 lasted from November to March, four long months of sunshineless gloom. (London’s Historic “Pea Soupers”)