FIREPLACE HISTORY INDEXINTRODUCTION
CAST IRON OPEN FIRES
ARTS AND CRAFTS
TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
CHOOSING A FIREPLACE
CHOOSING A FIRE CLEANING TIPS FOR FIREPLACES
METAL TRIMS AND ACCESSORIES
GENERAL CONTACT NUMBERS
One of the most appealing aspects of owning a property is the fireplace which acts as a focal point to the living room, adding warmth and character to the whole house. If they have been removed or inappropriately been altered over the years, it is possible to find suitable replacements. Extensions, loft conversions and outbuildings can all benefit from today's fires and fireplaces as there are a myriad of styles to suit every taste.
To do this sympathetically especially in an older house, it is useful to have an understanding of the historical style of the fireplace that would once have graced the house.The owners of period properties often wish to retain a fireplace centrepiece to their home in the style of the house. It is worthwhile, then, spending some time looking at the origins of stoves, gas fires and fireplaces in order to place the design changes in a historical context of the era in which all, or the oldest part, of your period home was constructed.
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The origin of the modern heating stove is intertwined with the history of domestic heating and cooking. From the Iron Age onwards humans, sought to cook food and heat their homes with a fire source contained within their dwelling. For ten thousand years or more the designs slowly matured to the point in the 18th century where it became obvious that the differing requirements for cooking and heating would result in the creation of appliances designed specifically with each function in mind.
A number of factors had led to this desire for 'stand alone' heating devices. The middle class were becoming more affluent and demanded houses that separated kitchen, sitting room and dining room. Their upwardly mobile aspirations found cooking and eating in one room unacceptable. These same 'consumers' also began demanding heat sources, which did not waste 80 - 90% of fuel up the chimney - they did not have the limitless budgets of the landowners. Finally, the Industrial Revolution had generated a material ideal for the construction of heating stoves - cast iron. First perfected by Abraham Darby at Coalbrookdale in the early 1700s, cast iron was the Georgian's great construction material with all its attributes of easy manufacture, easy moulding and good thermal qualities.
In the 17th century, country gentlemen had begun to experiment with stove like designs. In fact Prince Rupert, notably the nephew of Charles I, was probably responsible for the first convector fire. However, it took another 100 years or so before we saw the work of the two real pioneers of today's stove designs - American patriot, Benjamin Franklin and British aristocrat turned 'Yankee rebel' - Count Rumford. Franklin, whose scientific experiments included the dangerous habit of flying kites in thunderstorms, realised that a fuel burning unchecked in a grate imparted little heat to the room. His design employed a convection chamber, much like today's convector fires, to ring more efficiency out of the fire. Air for this chamber was often taken from the basement adding a degree of fresh air to the room. Rumford's contribution was less to stoves than to fires in general. He first suggested the chimney throat to control and increase flue pull. He also used a variable metal damper in the flue throat to add further control and stop down draughts when the flue was not operating.
Whilst James Bodley patented the first stove design in 1802, his design was more of a cooking stove. In fact, during much of the nineteenth century, the love showed by the British for open fires limited the demand for stoves in the UK while their demand blossomed throughout colder Continental Europe and the USA. Many also saw stoves as responsible for the serious air pollution that London suffered for 150 years from the early 1800s onwards. The early stove designs did not burn their coal with any real efficiency. They produced foul smelling and irritating fumes, which caused, it was said, 'stove malaria' and 'iron cough'. Edinburgh's nickname of 'Auld Reekie' dates from this era and refers to the foul smell of smoke from its myriads of open and closed coal fires.
Stoves were altogether more popular in the colder climes of Continental Europe and the newly freed American states. Scotland, with its harsh winters and readily available supplies of coal and iron proved an ideal spot for stove manufacture. The first third of the 19th century saw a number of innovators introduce stoves to the market. In 1830 Charles Portway designed and hand built his first Tortoise stove in Halstead, Essex. Charles ran an ironmongery store and when neighbouring shops saw how effective his stove was, they all wanted one. Mr Portway started a small foundry, which, by the start of the twentieth century, had produced over 100,000 stoves. Meanwhile in Norway Adelsten Onsum founded the forerunner to today's Jøtul Company, Kverner Brug, in 1853. Onsum, an entrepreneur in true Victorian style started a number of industrial companies but it was not until after he had lost control of Kverner Brug in Norway's financial crisis of the 1880s that the name Jøtul was adopted. As today the stoves were made in the newly popular cast iron and offered the previously shivering inhabitants of Norway, the chance to keep warm during the long winters at a reasonably acceptable cost. American designs tended to be less ornate and many believe that the 'West was won' on the back of the pot-bellied stove which heated the saloon bar and cowboy ranch alike. Many were portable and were moved west as new frontiers were opened up or from battle to battle as the Civil War took over the majority of the US land mass.
In the Black Country The Cannon Hollowware Company, later to become Cannon Industries, produced a number of stoves heated by the now-popular towns gas. The most popular was probably the Grosvenor introduced in 1895, the Grosvenor was all the rage partly because, as the advertising blurb of the day informed potential purchasers, it "comes complete with internal chambers for utilising waste heat after it (leaves) the fire". This popular stove sold extensively in urban areas, came in two sizes and may be viewed as the forerunner of Cannon's one hundred year involvement in gas fire production.
As the twentieth century dawned stoves were not a popular means of heating the nations living rooms. The 'working class' could not afford the coal to heat themselves properly, let alone 'expensive' stoves to improve the way the fuel burnt. The middle class within cities used gas fires while country dwellers did not like the aesthetics of these heavily decorated appliances that looked out of place in their demure houses. Among the landed gentry and new enriched, stoves were popular but not as a heating source for public rooms. Large kitchens, servant's halls or nurseries might boast a stove but the rooms seen by visitors would include an open fire which was fed and cleaned by servants who represented 10% of the UK population in pre World War I Britain.
Throughout the first sixty years of the twentieth century stoves sold primarily to the commercial sector - to the growing numbers of offices, shops, railway waiting rooms and public buildings - together with a buoyant export trade to the Empire. Smith & Wellstood's 1912 catalogue boasted over 200 designs (cooking 'Kitcheners' as well as heating stoves) with names like the Indess, The Moariess and the Sultana. Prices ranged from around 10s (50p!) and demand kept Smith & Wellstood in business right through to the 1980s. Possibly the Company's greatest claim to fame was their cooking stoves. Captain Scott famously took some on his ill-fated trip to reach the South Pole. One was found by an American expedition in 1953. They cleaned out the ash relit it and found that it worked perfectly.
One opening for stoves came with the discovery of large deposits of anthracite in South Wales and Scotland. Immediately after World War I mine owners approached Smith & Wellstood to make a stove, which could burn anthracite. The aftermath of the war, with over one million men dead, meant that better-off households had difficulty in finding servants, and anthracite with its all-night burning and clean products of combustion required far less work than traditional designs. Smith & Wellstood produced a whole range of designs like the Jeunesse, Artesse and Francesse, which were the forerunners of modern solid fuel room heaters. In recognition the mine owners called their fuel 'Stovesse' - the suffix ...esse being the origin of Ouzledale foundry's well-known brand name.
Clean air legislation in 1955/56 followed the month-long smoke-induced smogs of the early 50s and curtailed any market that had existed for the solid fuel stove. For fifteen years or so there was little UK market until the quadrupling of oil prices following the six-day Arab Israeli War of 1973. Owners of large houses had installed oil boilers during the 1960s and now could not afford to heat their properties. Primarily country dwellers, they desperately looked around for another source of heating and realised that many of them had supplies of wood available on their land. Stoves became popular and have remained so to the present day.
Since cast iron was produced for the first time, some 500 years ago, civilised man has been aware of its properties for transferring heat. Cast iron - literally iron that was too large to be wrought and therefore had to be cast in a mould - was being commonly used for large construction from the 18th century onwards and Abraham Derby's work at Coalbrookdale, constructed the iron bridge in cast iron sections to span the River Severn at this time. As a material, cast iron was relatively cheap to produce, and it was soon recognised as the ideal material for kitchens and fireplaces in the house of the burgeoning artisan and middle classes of the 19th Century.
The first heating appliances to be made in cast iron were ranges for the kitchen and register grates for the living room. The range, with a proper chimney, situated in a kitchen or scullery was beginning to replace the open fire of the living room which had been the only source of heat for cooking and warmth for over five or more centuries. The range was made of cast components and led to the development of the saucepan and other cooking pots that we know today. The register grate, which contained the burning coals or wood behind cross bars, often included a small hob for heating a kettle. It was large enough to warm the room but small enough for its limited fuel to be affordable by the impoverished householder.
As the Victorian era progressed, design and fashion changed. In the parlour, the standard register grate began to be replaced by fireplaces with a wooden mantel coupled with a cast iron back panel. The back panel, which was similar in size to today's reproductions, helped to radiate the heat and allowed for a number of elaborate designs, which added to what was, by now, the aesthetic focus of the room.
Typically these cast iron back panels would include a 'slider' on each side, into which a set of decorative ceramic tiles could be inserted. This increased the natural aesthetics of the cast iron and allowed standard designs to be personalised by the builder.
The local blacksmiths as part of their general work originally worked dog grates, which in the 20th Century are typically constructed of cast iron. They could be made to fit individual fireplaces and included more or less embellishment, to suit the owner's whim. Where there was a raised back panel, often with a Coat of Arms, this part would be cast, as the process was ideally suited for working large, flat pieces of this size. It has only been in this century, when dog grates have become the preserve of inglenook fireplaces in the country cottages that semi mass production techniques have led to designs being cast in moulds.
William Murdoch introduced the concept of gas for domestic use in 1812, and for the next 60 to 70 years the fuel was almost exclusively for lighting. It produced a much stronger light than either candles or oil lamps, could be piped throughout the houses of the upper and emerging middle classes and stayed alight in the draughty houses of our ancestors. It actually took the introduction of another and better fuel for lighting, in the form of electricity, to drive the private gas companies and their associated manufacturers into changing direction.
Socially this coincided with the separation of heating and cooking and the creation of artisan and middle class housing that featured a kitchen as well as a 'living room'. With cooking taking place elsewhere, the living room fire moved away from the range design to purpose built units where the heating characteristics were optimised. Coupled with this was the desire of the average middle class user for fires that required less work than their existing coal fireplaces.
It is difficult to say which company produced the first gas fire. Collector of gas ephemera, Billy Carter, believes that it could have been Willsons and Mathiesons and that an early fire dated around 1895 in his collection may, indeed, be the first commercial model. The company had started as umbrella manufacturers but in the entrepreneurial environment of the late Victorian era, good engineers tended to turn their hand to anything that was profitable. The early fires were very simple - a basic gas burner heated a cast iron carcass that radiated the heat out into the room. Typically they were free-standing and moveable with the products of combustion fed straight into the room!
As the country entered the 20th century there was literally hundreds of companies producing all sorts of gas fires together with cookers, water heaters, wash boilers and a whole raft of other products. Some names like New World and Parkray continue through to the present day. Others like Arden Hill, Eagle Range and Bratt Colbran have disappeared into larger conglomerates. As the companies proliferated the technology also improved. Designs became fireplace based, utilising the 'Milner fireback' that had appeared towards the end of the previous century as the efficient chimney base for artisan's cottages. Ceramic radiants, often with elaborate designs, began to be used to project radiant heat from the front of the fires into the rooms. These design progressions bridged World War I and, by the 1920s, a well established industry was turning out over a million gas fires a year which were sold by the myriads of gas showrooms owned by the private and municipal gas companies.
The companies themselves did not stand still. A definite move towards acquisition and conglomeration was visible during the 20s and 30s with its most obvious effect being the creation of the Radiation Group. With gas utilities, particularly the London based Gas Light and Coke company, wielding incredible power, companies saw advantage in amalgamating to form a larger unit with economies of scale. Initially Radiation comprised Fletcher Russell, Arden Hill, Eagle Range Company, New World, Willsons & Mathiesons, Davis Gas Stove Company, Richmond Gas Stoves & Meters and John Wright Ltd although other companies were incorporated later. Its inspiration and direction came from Ivan Yates, an entrepreneur, JF Davis who as 'front man' created the right image for the group and Dr Hartley who provided the technical know-how. Up to World War II, the individual companies retained their names with many designs being sold under a variety of names to different gas companies.
The inter-war period saw a host of other innovations. Jordans, part of the Radiation Group, perfected stove enamel - enamel for heating and cooking stoves -, which could be applied in a wealth of 'modern' colours. The move to enamel was, in part, stimulated by the growing affluence of the middle class who saw their homes as something to be 'decorated fashionably' as well as somewhere to live. Other developments, often regarded as 'post war' innovations, were first created in this era. The Metro Log Fire, a forerunner of today's living flame fires was sold by the Gas, Light & Coke Company in 1932. The Raytonic fire of 1935 had a simple heat exchanger, often regarded as a 1950s feature. The Raytonic design was itself seen as a replacement for soapstone clad fires, which had improved gas fire convection output since their inception in 1932.
Wartime stopped virtually all development projects but as the UK entered Harold Macmillan's era when we had "...never had it so good!" the gas fire continued its onslaught on the traditional coal fires which, in the mid 50s, still formed the UK's main source of domestic heating. More amalgamations had taken place and some new 'players' including GlowWorm had appeared on the scene. Gas fire design had started to include heat exchangers and the ornate 'Cinderella' type of ceramic radiant was replaced by the box designs that still appear on many public sector targeted fire designs. Getting gas to the fireplace was of critical importance - many of the newly nationalised gas boards had schemes for providing gas poker points close to the fire for as little as '30s' (£1.50) and these were utilised by salesmen to increase the growing sales of gas fires.
In the 1950s, Flavel, based in Leamington Spa, introduced a product still available today - the box radiant gas fire with a metal case or clad in wood. The Flavel Debonair revolutionised gas fire sales and, while peoples' tastes now prefer glowing coals (or even logs, driftwood, pebbles or geometric shapes), the faithful old box radiant fire survives on in over 2 million houses nationwide. Now highly realistic 'living flame' gas fires are available with stylish surrounds. There are options which suit a range of periods such as Victorian, Edwardian and Art Noveau. Some companies even offer fires which can be lit at the touch of a button on a remote control handset - offering the ultimate in convenience and comfort.
The term Louis refers to the name of 18 French Monarchs who reigned from 1300 to the French Revolution. The Louis Mantelpiece should more rightly be called a Louis revival mantelpiece as it was the product of the 19th century when French architects and interior decorators sought to produce styles, which mimicked the type of fireplace which was popular during the reigns of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI. In reality the fireplaces of this era were a lot more elaborate than the revival designs, which were made in France and England during the Victorian era. A typical Louis revival projected around 9 inches from the wall. The front was flat and box like with a wide rectangular opening. The designs were more graceful than the British marble fireplace of the era and were often made by Italian craftsmen with extra detail and finishing undertaken by French artisans.
The revival Louis XV surrounds have graceful curves and the designs which are popular today are much more likely to be from this origin. Louis XVI fireplaces are square and much more masculine and could be mistaken for many traditional English designs which have been popular for 200 years or more. The small and feminine Louis XV Pompadour has probably been the most successful of all the Louis designs.
The Georgian era spanned the years 1714 to 1820, although the latter period is more correctly called Regency. It was during this time that many of today's stately homes were being built or remodelled as the landed aristocracy flourished. Inigo Jones, an architect during the previous century, was the inspiration for the early Georgian period up to 1760. His pattern books were available to landed gentry throughout the country and, filled with designs incorporating elements from Greek mythology, they inspired designer's like William Kent to provide fireplaces which formed a voluptuous centrepiece to grace grand rooms.
The history of the fireplace now falls conveniently into two halves. Immense, ornate designs characterised the earlier part, while the latter half saw mantelpieces with a more subtle, classical influence.
In middle class households designs were altogether simpler - faux imitations of marble or expensive hardwoods replaced the real thing. More reserved, and cheaper, fireplaces would also be seen in the less important rooms of stately homes indicating that the pockets of even the richest landowners were not limitless! These designs did not percolate down at all to the farmers and yeomen who made up the majority of house owners. Their fireplaces were often the inglenook designs with large wooden lintel that we see in thatched cottages today.
The second half of the century is, without doubt the age of Robert Adam and the fireplaces that bear his name. With his brother James, Robert Adam produced pattern books covering all aspects of architecture but it is probably for the fireplace that he is best known. Adam was a master of detail - his designs, although smaller and less extravagant than were common in the previous fifty years, included beautifully finished detail, almost all taken from classical mythology. This could include a gold-leaf Etruscan motif or even a Wedgwood ceramic plaque.
Important rooms featured designs in fine white statuary marble embellished with swags, ribbons, lyres and urns, whilst less important rooms, and the vast emerging middle class, would be supplied by scaled down copies of these designs in a variety of imitation designs and materials. In the never-ending change that is furnishing fashion, the designs became more classical and less ornate in the dying years of the Georgian period and influences, such as the Chinoiserie (Chinese influenced design) favoured by the Prince Regent, George IV, became more evident. In many ways this period was the heyday of the fireplace, the design dimensions and features still copied in a myriad of imitations for today's market.
Like every décor trend over the last four hundred years the Regency period cannot be seen in isolation. In fact, it is incorporates elements and inter relates with trends, social differences and politics both before and after the period. Regency fireplaces tended to be much less elaborate than those of designers such of Robert Adam. Gone were the small inset pastoral scenes so beloved of the mid 18th century aristocracy. In their place came very rectilinear designs with the typical reeded leg. The leg itself might be flat with the reeding as an inset or even in the form of single or double Greek columns apparently supporting the fireplace header. The reeded panel might be taken across the header but other designs included twin parallel lines, Acanthus leaves or other Greek images - Medusaís head or Roman triumph images were also popular.
Marble was a popular material for fireplaces although, at times, supplies from Italy, Spain and Portugal were blockaded by the Napoleonic wars. Statuary marble (the variety used for sculpting statues) was preferred, although its cost tended to limit its use to the main, public rooms. Other 'reception' and 'retiring' might have fireplaces in faux marble, manufactured in wood or toughened plaster and painted, by highly skilled but low paid artisans, to resemble marble.
In France fireplace style had developed separately from that of Britain. During the French Revolution, many of the extravagant chimneypieces installed throughout the reigns of Louis XIV, XV and XVI were ripped out and shipped abroad. In their place came fireplaces, still influenced by the empires of antiquity but with less decoration and grander mantelshelves than examples within the UK. With France's close relationship with the fledgling USA this influence can also be seen in New England homes of the period including the White House (which is only white because the Brits burnt it in 1812 and it had to be repainted - white!).
Regency influence has remained popular to this day. Many town houses from this era survive in London although the largest houses were demolished for their land during the late Victorian housing boom. Where Regency houses had been stripped of their original fireplaces by subsequent generations keen to modernise their homes, modern reproductions have been used to fill the gaps and recreate at least some of the splendour of that period. Indeed, the simpler design of Regency fireplaces has proved easier to reproduce than the elaborate splendour of its predecessors which are regarded as 'over the top' by the present generations.
Victoria was on the throne for such a long time, 1837 - 1901, that it is impossible to regard her reign as a single period. In the early years, up to Albert's death in the 1860s designs were still influenced by the classical themes so obvious in Regency design. However, as the age progressed other movements began to influence design with the two main designs schools being Arts and Crafts & Art Nouveau It is also worth mentioning the Louis design, made popular by the availability of original fireplaces ripped out of the châteaux of French nobility at the time of the Revolution.
ARTS AND CRAFTS
Fireplaces were an important feature of Arts and Crafts design. In the era from which the Movement drew its inspiration the fireplace was only beginning to be sited on the sidewalls of great halls in the houses of the very rich. So the style adopted by Arts and Crafts was a 19th century day pastiche of what was really constructed during the Wars of the Roses. Designs were often in brick although stone could be used where it was a local material. The fireplaces were large, often rounded and had an inglenook feel. Bricks would vary in size, with courses laid vertically as well as conventionally or possibly in a herringbone pattern. Later designs often included tiles and the type of sinuous designs that are associated with Charles Rennie Macintosh and Art Nouveau. Tiles might have a pastoral scene or a complex flower motif and the Rockwood Pottery that produced early designs was closely associated with Morris & Co, the company that William Morris ran from 1875. We still live with the Arts & Crafts legacy in mock Tudor houses, twentieth century wall panelling and old brick fireplaces. Like virtually all styles of the last two hundred years the popularity declines only to reappear up to one hundred years later.
TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Charles Rennie Mackintosh is regarded as one of the greatest influences on architecture this century. His all too short career spanned the turn of the century and produced a variety of innovative buildings and interiors around his birthplace of Glasgow. Some see Mackintosh as a modernist, others as the link between Art Nouveau and Art Deco. He was probably neither, drawing his inspiration as much from classical shapes as the new industrial art which was beginning to prevail all over Europe.
Mackintosh was not just an architect. His design brilliance extended to the interiors of the buildings that he designed. Together with his wife Margaret, Mackintosh believed that the interior layout was as important as the exterior form and designed individual items to compliment the total look of the building. Fireplaces were, in his opinion, the 'glowing focus with decorative and symbolic interest'. It was important for him that each design should meld into the room and be personalised for the needs of the owner. His most famous brief was Hill House in Dumbarton, which he designed for the publisher, Blackie. In this house each fireplace is different. The living room design has niches for ornaments, while the fireplace in the library links areas of the room to form a whole. Each has been thought through and tailored so that is part of the room, not just a fitting.
Today's fireplaces in the Mackintosh style tend to reflect his graphic style rather than his design flair. Art Nouveau roses interpreted by Mackintosh are common features and evoke turn of the century style. His designs for mantelpieces and complete fireplaces are too personal for 'off the shelf' production and will remain unique in the houses where they were installed.
Whilst the name of Charles Rennie Macintosh first comes to mind when early 1900s architecture is mentioned, it is probably Edwin Lutyens who has left the greatest impression on country houses and official buildings in the UK and beyond. Macintosh, from his base in Glasgow rose like a shooting star around the turn of the 20th century only to disappear as quickly after only 10 to 15 years of architectural design. Lutyens, often together with garden designer Gertrude Jykell, produced houses in a wonderful late Victorian / Edwardian vernacular style that still impresses today.
An examination of many of Lutyens Country House designs highlights the importance that he, and more importantly his clients, placed on the design of fireplaces. Many of his major, well-known designs - Castle Drogo, Great Dixter, Little Thakeham and others - feature in excess of 10 fireplaces - many specially designed to compliment the ambience of the room.
Barton St. Mary near East Grinstead is a case in point. Designed in a rendered, South of England style, Barton St. Mary resembles two cottages joined together. Internally, massive stone inglenooks, wealth of oak beams and vaulted ceilings evoke an era much earlier than its actual turn-of-the-20th century construction. In the dining room a large fireplace with projecting shelf and converging firesides in herringbone brickwork has a beautiful simplicity that is almost ageless.
Built for local industrialist, Arthur Hemmingway, Heathcote near Ilkley is altogether a different proposition from Barton St. Mary. Finished in local stone, it is an imposingly grand house with echoes of a stately home. Internally neo-classical design reigns with pillars and ornate coving. In the Dining Room we see a simple bolection design with a massive Adamesque fireplace design superimposed over it. This is a strange combination, possibly specified by Mr. Hemingway himself. Bolection designs, with their unpretentious moulded shape were extremely popular, some within larger Adam-style designs, others forming the complete fireplace were common in other Lutyens houses - Great Maytham in Kent, Nashdom in Taplow, Berkshire and Temple Dinsley in Hertfordshire. Lutyens was often involved in modernisation of older houses where once again the simplicity of the bolection design helped blend new with old. Even today, bolection fireplaces are very much admired.
Lutyens designs were undoubtedly extremely influential within the select moneyed class who employed him. However, it was Minsterstone together with a myriad of other local manufacturers of stone, marble and brick designs who adapted his designs for the smaller fireplaces to cater for the emerging middle class. Many of the fireplace manufacturers from this era have disappeared leaving Minsterstone, with its 120-year history as a lone survivor from a time when the gap between rich and poor was much larger than it is today.
The dawning of the twentieth century also saw a variety of different stylistic influences on the fireplace in a way that no other century had experienced. The heavy, gothic style that so typified the middle of the Victorian era was still being produced in vast numbers. But present and popular with the cognoscenti was the powerful Art Nouveau look, which had taken the country by storm, following the Paris Exhibition of 1881.
The roots of Art Nouveau lay in the great European capitals of Vienna and Paris where the artistic elite rebelled against the constraints of the previous generation. The movement took on board the cast iron fireplaces, for so long the trade mark of the suburban development of our large cities, and added sinuous ornamentation, which gave these utilitarian items a modern look. Tiles on tile sliders began to appear in a wealth of designs inspired by rural images as well as classic Art Nouveau references such as the grapevine.
William Morris' Arts & Crafts movement continued to exert an influence well in to the twentieth century. The inglenook had been a popular revival feature of Arts and Crafts' fireplaces as it created seating around the fire - often the only warm part of the house. In fact Morris' followers liked many features of medieval and Tudor fireplaces which they adapted and incorporated into their designs - some adding features like overmantels which would never have been part of the original.
The 1920s looked for a different approach that combined industry with art. After the First World war, revival was still the name of the game for the middle classes who wanted their suburban houses gentrified with mock Tudor beams and fireplaces. However, the rich and the artistic longed for designs that reflected the twin ethos of work and leisure.
Art Deco filled this void and was born at the 1925 Paris based exhibition titled 'L'exposition Internationale des Arts Deco et Industriels Modernes'. At the time, the style was often called Paris 25. The concepts behind the Art Deco included:
The sacrifice of decorative detail to function.
The rejection of history in favour of modern ideas
The adaptation and adoption of industry - its designs and methods.
Art Deco design was almost immediately translated into a wealth of designs, which used traditional fireplace materials, but in a more spectacular, avant-garde way. Simple understated lines were set off by the use of reflective chrome, lacquered wood or tiles to give a modern feeling, which shouted 'Modern!' without being too ornate.
Like many of the other trends, Art Deco tended to be the preserve of the well off. The newly enriched suburban middle classes were more likely to have a simple tiled fireplace, normally in green beige or buff. Designs could reflect the Art Deco influence of the Mexican stepped pyramid or might be asymmetric, influenced by the social realism movement. Many 1930s tiled fireplaces also featured a wooden surround or mantelshelf in English oak.
In the shires the fire surround was more likely to be in a local material, - brick in the South of England, stone in the North and tiles around Stoke on Trent. Designs in these areas were not so influenced by decorative trends. Functional features such as bread ovens and hooks for hanging cooking pots lingered on in full or partial use within the country cottage well into the 1930s and 40s.
World War II witnessed a complete halt in the house building programme as resources were funnelled into replacing and repairing bombed houses and in the late 1940s the push to re-house families saw a move away from conventional fireplaces in favour of the 'easy to install' electric fire. However as the UK became more prosperous during the 1950s local authorities and private house builders started to install tiled fireplaces again creating a regular demand for the slabbed designs produced by members of the National Fireplace Manufacturer's Association, which had been formed in 1945. These fireplaces were made down to specification rather than including any design flair and, by the middle of the decade, even the wooden mantel shelf had disappeared.
CHOOSING A FIREPLACE
When it comes to choosing a suitable fireplace there are a wide variety of options available. What you select depends on three main factors: What do you like? What fits in with the style/age of your property? What is allowed ie. (if the property is Grade I listed)
If you are looking for an individual fireplace design tailored absolutely to your specification, brick could well be the material for you. The vast majority of brick fireplaces are built on site by skilled craftsmen who have the design expertise to build a fireplace, which will be pleasing to the eye generation after generation.
Brick, for fireplaces, is a popular material, particularly in the south east of England where the local London brick has been used extensively as a building material. Brick has the advantage as a material of being in modular form, with a whole host of special shapes and sizes available. Small handmade brick makers like HG Matthews of Bellingdon, near Chesham in Buckinghamshire, have 80 or 90 different brick moulds which can provide rounded corners, castilations and other architectural ornamentation, which changes a standard brick design fireplace into something special.
When deciding on a brick fireplace, have a look at the selection of bricks that the fireplace showroom can offer. Many local bricks come in a wide variety of colours and you may want to specify designs, which concentrate on one colour rather, than accepting the whole range available from a 'multi' brick manufacturer. Also have a look at the option of reclaimed bricks. These are available at specialist fireplace salvage showrooms such as Cambridge based Solopark. The bricks have an authentic old feel and are often available in a wide selection of colours.
Make sure that your fireplace showroom employs an experienced fireplace bricklayer. Any brick layer may know how to lay bricks but the skills of the fireplace craftsmen lie in his ability to construct the fireplace in exactly the way the customer want and to get the proportions right.
Consider a brick fireplace as a long tern investment in your house. It is constructed onto the hearth and will need demolition if you want to replace it. It is likely be an asset to the value of your house and be a talking point with your visitors for years to come.
Stone is probably the original fireplace material. Once the fireplace had moved from its central position within the Baronial hall to a side wall, stone was the natural material from which to build a large heating device powered by locally available wood. Modern day fireplaces are, on the whole, pale imitation of these originals but stone as a material for the construction of the fireplace has become so popular that many manufacturers have started to favour its use.
Stone fireplaces fall into two basic categories. Those made of natural stone are formed from blocks which are carved by machine or hand to make classic designs, which have been popular for at least two centuries. Intricate hand carving will be expensive and may require a long lead-time for production. The main materials out of which stone fireplaces are carved include sandstone and limestone. Both of these are relatively easy to work with limestone having an attractive smooth surface, which can be polished. In contrast to this, sandstone will have the grainy surface that we all associate with sand but may be more in keeping with older properties where the roughness matches period timbers and lathe and plaster walls.
If you are considering a stone fireplace you have the option of individual sizing to meet you personal requirements. Hand carved solid stone fireplaces are often produced to order and making small changes to the height of the legs or width of the spandrel may well be quite possible. Ask at you local showroom whether the design you have chosen can be tailored to meet your needs.
The other type of stone fireplace is made out of reconstituted stone. Significant quantities of powdered stone are mixed with cement and poured into large moulds to make components of the fireplace. This sort of method encourages mass production and intricate designs can be included, with the cost spread among the many castings made from the original moulding over the next 30 - 50 years. The reconstituted stone, which is often limestone, can be smooth or have a rough-tooled finish. The south Somerset and Dorset area is a popular source for the base stone in these types of fireplaces, although Bath stone and other local stone are also used quite extensively.
Stone's popularity has come in part, from the plethora of cheap wood based mantels, which are now available. Pine stores and DIY houses offer a whole range of cheap and cheerful designs, which has encouraged discerning customers to look for other materials.
Marble has never lost its popularity as a material for the construction of fireplaces. Its combination of smooth finish and relatively easy working makes it both aesthetically pleasing and long lasting. Natural marble is many purchasers first choice. It is quarried all over the world and imported into the UK in huge scants for cutting and carving. Make sure that all the pieces for your fireplace colour match. Natural marble can vary significantly in colour across the scant; so you need to ensure that your pieces were near neighbours in the original block. And make sure you see the components of your fireplace before they're installed. After the installer has cemented each component into place it's probably too late!
To overcome the problems of colour matching the 1970s saw the development of Conglomerate (or Agglomerate) marble. Made from crushed pieces of real marble, the conglomerate product is consistent with matching almost guaranteed. Look for micro conglomerate if you want a chic look as some dislike the larger pieces of marble present in the lower cost standard product.
Many fireplaces made of other materials boast marble back panels and hearths, which combine well with wooden mantels. The same rules apply about seeing before you buy and ensuring a good colour match.
As an alternative to solid marble or stone, stone and marble substitutes are now widely available. These are generally cast in moulds from resin or plaster and are considerably lighter and easier to handle. There are a multitude of designs available in smooth, semi-smooth and textured finishes covering both the traditional and contemporary markets. The finished products are all but identical to the real thing and consequently have grown in popularity over the past few years.
Wood, or wood substitutes, remains a popular choice for mantelpieces. Styles vary incredibly from passable imitations of Adam designs to contemporary looks that only really look right in a Docklands loft development. The choice includes real woods - oak, walnut, cherry and yew and the ubiquitous pine are popular - or MDF, which can be easily veneered and does not suffer warping and cracking.
The quality can depend on the price. A less expensive design from a DIY shed may look good on display but its blemishes could easily be apparent in your home. Look for smaller local manufacturers who can tailor make the design you require or go for a company with a country-wide reputation.
The concept of the inglenook is almost as old as the move of the central fire to the side wall some 5 - 600 years ago. Inglenooks were conceived to provide seating around the fire and provide shelter from the draughts that probably made the house almost unliveable in winter. Today inglenooks often don't have seats and are characterised as a large fireplace opening topped by a mighty (Bessemer) oak beam.
Old inglenooks often have enormous flues (up to 3 ft x 1ft) which create an incredible draw on the fire. Large logs will disappear in a matter of minutes and the pull can create a smoking fire because their simply isn't enough air entering the room. Reducing the flue size is probably the answer and this can often be achieved with a flue liner. Also consider using a stove, which will be connected directly to the liner, or an open fire basket with a hood.
CHOOSING A FIRE
Solid fuel is traditionally used in many original installations it must be remembered that it burns much hotter than gas or oil. Fire baskets and cast iron back panels must be robustly made otherwise they can warp or crack.
Stoves are a popular choice for many period properties although they were probably not fitted when the house was new. Easier to install and more controlable than a standard open fire, most stove flues will need lining which may double (or more) the cost of the installation. The flue is likely to be the correct size for solid fuel. However care must be taken in a divided property if it has served a small bedroom fireplace with limited heat output. Beware the break down of the chimney lining (sometimes known as parging - this will be evident from debris in the fireplace opening or the smell of smoke in upstairs rooms.
Lining an old flue can be done in several different ways including flexible metal liners, flue blocks and in situ concrete lining. The National Association of Chimney Lining Engineers (NACE) can advise on a local chimney engineer and the best method for your flue.
Gas is a flexible controlable fuel and the choice of product will be far wider than for solid fuel. You can choose from a vast range of products to suit every pocket and situation. Today's gas fire offers the impact of live flames, excellent heat output and complete control. Whether your choice is for a fire that creates the realism of burning coals and logs or a contemporary design with both radiant and convected heat, safety is assured via the mandatory testing that all manufacturers must comply with.
Gas fires are now being manufactured with a balanced flue or a powered flue that only require an outside wall. A recent development is the flueless fires which can be sited anywhere in the home. All are designed to look and perform like their flued equivalents and all meet the same stringent safety requirements.
Many of the natural gas fires available today are also suitable for use on liquid petroleum gas (LPG). This can be stored in either portable cylinders placed outside the house, or in purpose built tanks which will hold greater volumes of LPG. This provides the opportunity to have a gas fire where there is no mains gas.
For instant and portable warmth, there are mobile LPG room heaters. They are available in many different styles ranging from cost effective utilitarian models, to elegant flueless stoves.
Also consider the range of gas stoves which are growing in both popularity and choice. Their flame effects are more realistic than ever and the controlability of their heat output ensures that you don't have to roast to get a good fire effect.
Gas flues are typically of narrower diameter than for solid fuel as gas burns at a significantly lower temperature.
Although total sales of oil appliances for the fireplace are small it is the ideal fuel if you use oil for central heating. All oil heaters must be closed appliances (you wouldn't be able to stand the smell of the fuel anyway) and oil stoves now boast the flame effects of their gas competitors.
Oil flues must be specifically designed for the fuel because it creates acidic fumes. Oil stoves also require safety cut off valves, in case of fire, together with a supply tank close to the property. Oil stoves are probably not worth considering if you don't already burn the fuel.
Electric fires have come a long way since the days of the two or three bar radiant fire with its curved back and on/off control. Today's products offer a host of visual effects, traditional or modern styling, thermostatically controlled heat output and even remote control.
Provided there is a electricity supply close to hand, electric heating is probably the easiest and quickest type of heating to install, with the minimum of disruption when being installed.
Relatively new to the fireplace setting is the gel fire. A completely non-toxic and odour free gel that when alight provides a rich yellow smokeless flame. One of the main advantages is that they can be used in a blocked fireplace or placed against any flat wall. There are versions that use bowls or a traditional style burner and they may also be used as an outside feature as well.
If your fireplace is a valuable antique, seek specialist advice before undertaking any maintenance work.
Wherever possible, keep to the fireplace manufacturer's cleaning instructions.
Always test cleaner on an inconspicuous area first to make sure it won't bleach out any colour.
Protect carpet and other areas with newspaper or old sheets.
Black grate polish is messy, so always wear rubber gloves.
When removing rust from cast iron, wear goggles to protect your eyes from flaking particles.
If your grate is polished reproduction cast iron (it will look silvery like pewter rather than black), a fine rust, caused by the moisture in the air, can form on the surface when the fire is not in use. At the end of winter, rub the grate with a little WD40 to leave a fine film of oil.
To remove soot stains from the carpet, use the nozzle attachment of your vacuum cleaner to pick up any residue (don't brush as this will only spread the mark). Try lifting the stain with talcum powder - rub in lightly with your fingers and then vacuum away the deposit. If the stain remains, use Carpet Devils No 1 then shampoo.
Brick - Remove any dust and soot with the dusting brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner or a soft brush. Clean with a proprietary brick/stone product such as Hotspot Fireplace Cleaner - don't be tempted to use water as it may cause soot marks to be absorbed by the brick and make staining worse. After cleaning, apply a sealant such as Hotspot Brick & Stone Sealer to help protect and repel stains. Hotspot products are made by HydraChem.
Cast Iron - Before cleaning, remove all rust using a wire brush or wire wool. Severe cases may need treating with a proprietary chemical rust remover - always follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Re-blacken cast-iron grates using a black grate polish such as Liberon Iron Paste. Alternatively, use a heat-resistant paint such as PlastiKote Bar-B-Q Paint for a long-term finish. Make sure you remove any grate polish residue to ensure the paint will adhere properly.
Ceramic tiles - Wash over the tiles with a warm solution of washing-up liquid. If necessary, try a fine paste cleaner, such as Jif Cream Cleanser, using a damp sponge. Take care on hand-painted tiles or those that have the pattern applied over the top of the glaze. Alternatively, use HG Remover. Never apply a damp cloth to the tiles while they are still hot as this could cause them to crack. When dry, lightly polish and rub well with a soft duster.
Marble - For regular cleaning, wipe over with a solution of washing-up liquid. Polish once or twice a year with a proprietary marble polish to restore shine. Be prepared to use elbow grease and repeat the process if necessary. Avoid areas subjected to intense heat. Bell Marble Polish gives a matt finish, whereas HG Marble Polish gives a high gloss.
Treat stains with HG Marble Stain Colour Remover, available in an easy-to-use spray bottle, or Bell Special Marble Cleaner, which is mixed to a paste and then left to dry on the surface. Bell products are available by mail order.
For severe chipping and marking you will need to call in a professional: ring the Stone Federation for a list of stone masons in your area.
METAL TRIMS AND ACCESSORIES
Metal trims and accessories - Usually made from brass, copper, steel or pewter. Remove soot and tar marks with methylated spirits before polishing, using a proprietary metal polish such as Brasso Metal Polish. For heavily tarnished brass and copper items, a can of Day & Martin Metal Polish Wadding is effective, if a little messy. (Wadding is fairly abrasive, so it shouldn't be used too frequently.)
After cleaning, use a lacquer, such as Rustin's Transparent Lacquer For Metal . Apply two coats with a paintbrush to ensure the item is fully covered but avoid areas subjected to direct heat, such as the fire trim or frame directly around the fire opening.
Slate - Scrub with a stiff-bristle brush dipped into a washing-up liquid solution. Alternatively, use HG Remover). About once a month, apply a slate oil, such as Stovax Slate Dressing to enhance colour. Alternatively, use a 50/50 solution of linseed oil (buy the boiled variety) and white spirit. To remove scratches, try rubbing lightly with wet and dry sand-paper, then apply a slate oil.
Stone - Sponge light soiling with warm water, using a nail brush to remove ingrained dirt. For heavier soiling, add a little washing-up liquid to the water then rinse thoroughly or try scrubbing with a strong solution of bleach (1 part to 3 parts water), but test an inconspicuous area first to make sure there will be no colour loss and take care to protect the surround. Alternatively, use proprietary products such as HG Remover or Hotspot Fireplace Cleaner. After cleaning, apply a sealant such as Hotspot Brick & Stone Sealer. For severe chipping and marking, call in a professional: phone the Stone Federation for further information.
Wood - Surrounds made of wood will be sealed either with lacquer or wax. For general care, both just need wiping over with a damp cloth. Use a fine, water-mist spray directly on to the duster to avoid over-wetting the wood, then wipe dry and buff with a soft, dry cloth. To remove grease and finger-marks, use a mild solution of soap flakes such as Lux, taking care not to over-wet, and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.
For waxed wood, apply a wax polish - once, or at most twice, a year. Solid waxes produce the best results but they require lots of elbow grease.
To remove small dents, try placing a damp piece of cotton wool over the area, fix in place with masking tape and leave overnight. Repeat if necessary. The moisture will help the wood swell but may cause it to roughen and to develop a ring mark. If this happens, use flour paper (the finest grade) to remove roughness and a metal polish rubbed briskly in the direction of the grain for water marks. Then use Liberon Lib Net to remove old wax, grease and dirt. Re-stain and wax the mark with Liberon Black Bison Fine Paste Wax.
Have your chimney professionally swept at least once a year - even if you burn smokeless fuel. If you burn wood, more frequent sweeping is advisable to prevent chimney fires. Have your gas and oil-fired appliances regularly serviced and don't forget to sweep their flues as well, about once a year. Contact the National Association of Chimney Sweeps for details of chimney sweeps in your area.
If you're looking for a genuine Victorian fireplace, or need a fireplace restored, contact either The Building Conservation Directory for a copy of its directory, which lists specialist suppliers and craftsmen in traditional building conservation, refurbishment and design; or The Salvo Directory, for its guide listing dealers in architectural antiques and reclaimed building materials, and some restorers.