HISTORY OF FIREPLACE STOVES

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.

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 aduro kaminofen 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.

Begun to experiment with stove

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.

First stove design in 1802

Whilst James Bodley patented the first stove design in 1802, his design was more of a cooking stove.¬† 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.

Twentieth century dawned stoves

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.

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. They cleaned out the ash relit it and found that it worked perfectly.

Discovery of large deposits

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. 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.

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. Stoves became popular and have remained so to the present day.

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