A cross-post from The Regency Redingote:
Today, when most of us have some kind of furnace or other form of central heating in our homes, a fireplace is a luxury. Often, a luxury we typically enjoy only on special occasions. For our Regency ancestors, during the winter months their fireplace might literally be the difference between life and death. Though the Romans had had a type of central heating which was used to heat their public baths and the homes of the wealthy, the principles were lost for centuries with the fall of the Empire. From the Middle Ages right through the Regency, the only way by which people were able to heat their homes was by a fire in the fireplace, until the second half of the nineteenth century.
As the source of the comfort of both heat and light, the fireplace was the focal point of a room. Over the centuries, a number of objects had been invented to maximize the heat it produced, while consuming the least amount of fuel. Other objects were developed to manage the fire itself, or to take advantage of its power. Some of these items are nearly unknown today and would most likely be overlooked by someone from the twenty-first century. Many of these fireplace furnishings would have been in use with the various fireplaces in a Regency building. In modern times, a grouping of some of these objects has often provided a valuable marker for cultural historians who study household furnishings. And so, some fascinating facts of fireplace furnishings …
First, it is of interest to note that the Latin word, focus, means hearth or fireplace, making that particular area of any room quite literally the focus of that space. And so it was in Regency times, certainly in the colder weather. Families, even those of the gentry and nobility, would gather round the hearth of an evening, to talk, to play games, to read or stitch. In many families, father would read aloud while mother worked away at her stitchery, the children perhaps playing a game or just listing to the tale their father was reading. Young Harriet and Thomas Bowdler grew up in such a family, their father’s extemporaneous expurgation of Shakespeare eventually leading them to publish a family-friendly version of the plays of the Bard. As I noted in my recent article on candles, even affluent families would light only a few candles on those evenings when they had no guests, gathering in one room to share the light. And in most cases, the light from the fire comprised nearly half of the available light in the room, not to mention all the heat. The Regency fireplace was indeed the "focus" of any room which had one. Now, let us take a look at how it might have been furnished.
This article will be concerned only with the furnishings of fireplaces in the public and private rooms of a house, with the exception of the kitchen fireplace, which was typically furnished with a host of specialty equipment. So many different kinds of special equipment that they shall have their own article, next week. Even in these non-cooking rooms, fireplace equipment was not uniform. A fireplace which burned wood would be furnished differently than a fireplace which burned coal. Though a wood-burning fireplace would have been rather old-fashioned by the Regency, there were still a number of them in use, either because the house owner could not afford to upgrade their old fireplaces or because they preferred the sight and sound of a wood fire.
During the eighteenth century many English fireplaces were fitted with a fireback, though the form dates to late medieval times. This was a large panel of cast iron, typically with some kind of decorative design. Bespoke firebacks, often for a great house, had the family coat-of-arms and/or motto cast into the surface. Firebacks in a hunting lodge might depict one or more of the animals which were usually hunted in the area. Often public houses or taverns would have their tap room firebacks cast with the same design as that found on their sign. Standard firebacks might have a simple floral design or a landscape scene, though firebacks survive which depict great trees, ships, religious or masonic symbols, even scenes from Aesop’s Fables. A fireback is exactly what its name implies, it was a large cast-iron panel, made to cover most of the back wall of a fireplace. The majority of firebacks tended to be between one to two inches thick and they served two purposes. Most importantly, the heavy iron absorbed heat from the fire and radiated it back into the room, rather than let it escape up the chimney with the smoke. The fireback also protected the bricks at the back of the fireplace from the full intensity of the fire’s heat, thus significantly extending their useful life. Today, firebacks are highly collectible. Firebacks can even be found in a number of museums, displayed as art for the intricate designs which are cast into their surfaces.
Andirons, also known as fire-dogs, brandirons, or brand-dogs, were necessary for any wood-burning fireplace. Wood needs oxygen to burn efficiently and placing the logs on the horizontal bars of a pair of firedogs allowed for good air circulation, thus ensuring even and complete burning. Andirons always came in pairs, each of which consisted of a horizontal iron bar supported by short iron feet, with a vertical support or pillar which might also be made of iron. The tall front pillar of the andirons prevented the burning logs from falling out of the fireplace as well as adding a decorative feature to the hearth. The front pillars of many andirons, particularly those for important rooms in affluent homes, were often made of brass, highly polished and often in elegant decorative shapes. Brass andirons required frequent polishing to keep them looking as they should. It is known that Cardinal Mazarin had a pair of andirons with front pillars made of silver. There was also a pair of andirons in the English royal collection with front supports made of silver, in the form of a pair of cupids, which are believed to date from the reign of William III. But andirons with silver pillars were not common in England, even during the lavish years of the Regency. Silver andirons would have required even more frequent polishing than did those of brass. The front pillars of andirons in less important rooms in big houses, as well as those in modest homes, inns and public houses, were more often made of iron, but could still be quite decorative, depending on the skill of the blacksmith who made them. But they were much less effort to maintain as they had no need of regular polishing. Andirons for kitchen fireplaces could be quite complex. Andirons of that type will be discussed next week.
Wood bins or baskets are the next types of accessories which would have been found only near a wood-burning fireplace. Bins which held wood destined to be burned in the fireplace tended to be made of wood themselves. They might be quite large, when located in more private rooms, or in rooms in which a great deal of wood might be burned over the course of a day. Gentlemen who spent the bulk of their days working in their libraries or book rooms, for example, might choose to have a large wood bin near the fireplace in those rooms. The wood bin could be filled once, in the morning, thus eliminating interruptions as the man worked away. He could put more wood on the fire himself, whenever he felt the need, without having to ring for the servants. But a large wood bin would be inappropriate in a more delicately furnished drawing room or lady’s sitting room. Such a room might instead be furnished with a small, decorative basket or ornamental bin which held only a few logs. A family might spend only a couple of hours in the dining room after dinner, so only a few logs would be needed to keep the room heated for that short period. Even if a lady spent a large portion of her day in her sitting room, she might not care to have a large, unsightly wood bin spoiling the aesthetics of her special room. She might prefer a smaller decorative basket or bin, and would ring for the servants, should she run out of logs. Smaller wood bins might be made out of wood, but they might also be made out of tin, and those from the eighteenth century might be elegantly painted or lacquered. Baskets for wood were usually made of wicker, often woven in ornate openwork patterns which would fit into the decor of an elegantly decorated room.
Now we come to those items which were exclusive to coal-burning fireplaces. Andirons were useless when trying to burn coal, and very soon the grate was discovered to be the best means for burning this fuel. The coal grate, known as chenet in French, was mounted to the back of the fireplace, thus eliminating the need for a fireback, as the entire iron grate held and radiated heat back into a room. In its basic form, a coal grate was an iron plate affixed to the back wall of the fireplace, the front of which was a series of heavy iron rods in various shapes which comprised a basket into which the coal was placed while burning. The grate did for coal what andirons had done for logs, allowing for the greatest possible circulation of air and thus the most efficient use of the fuel. Coal grates had to be made of iron, as no other metal then known could withstand the intense heat of burning coal. They could be quite plain and simple in design, but they could also be elaborately embellished. The level of ornament was usually determined by the decor of the room into which they would be installed. A plain, simple room would have a plain, simple coal grate, while a very elegant drawing room might have a coal grate cast with ornate and highly embellished designs.
Some coal grates were designed to include a heating surface which was most commonly known as the hob. But hobs were not unique to coal grates. At least as far back as the sixteenth century, some fireplaces, usually those in kitchens, had a large, low mass of fired clay placed against the back wall, typically near the center. This low clay platform seems to have taken its name from "Old Hob," an English epithet for the devil. Situated between the back wall of the fireplace and the fire, which burned closer to the front opening, it must indeed have seemed like a small version of hell. But this clay platform was the perfect place to put pots containing dishes which had finished cooking, but must be kept warm because one or more of those for whom the meal was intended had not yet arrived for dinner. The hob could also be used to warm up a dish which had gone cold but did not need to be fully re-cooked. The hob on a coal grate served a similar purpose. Some coal grates had a flat surface at the top of the grate, over the fire. This hob was very convenient for boiling water for making tea. Some coal grates had flat platforms which extended out from either side, which were not placed directly over the fire. These hobs were ideal for keeping dishes warm. Many dining rooms were fitted with coal grates which had more than one hob, one or two directly over the fire, and one or two pairs on either side for warming. This would be very convenient for the butler directing the meal service, as he could re-heat or warm food as needed right on the spot. A hob over the fire on the drawing room coal grate was very convenient for making tea of an evening, and many ladies liked such a hob on the grate in their sitting rooms or parlors for the same reason. By the Regency, many of the better inns had hobs on the coal grates in their rooms, for the convenience of their guests.
Bins and baskets would not serve for the storage of coal, as they had done for the storage of logs. Cut logs were not untidy or unattractive, and could be stored near the fireplace in an open bin or basket. But coal was just ugly black lumps of rock, which could be rather dusty, and was very messy to handle. People preferred to keep the coal ready for burning in a container which made it easy to add coal to the fire without having to touch it. And in the more elegant rooms, many people preferred to store the coal for a fireplace in a closed container, to eliminate both its unsightliness and its gritty black dust. Most coal scuttles looked like a bucket or pail with a large lip or spout and a bail handle. They could be used to literally pour a few more coals into the grate without having to touch the messy black lumps. Coal scuttles of this type were made of metals, such as copper, brass, tin, and iron. There was another type of coal scuttle, made of wood, which looked like a large box with one, or occasionally two, slanted lids. These closed coal scuttles completely hid the unsightly lumps of coal. Most scuttles of this type were lined with zinc and equipped with a scoop for use in transferring the coal from the scuttle to the grate. These box scuttles might be made of inexpensive woods such as oak and deal, with little design. But they might also be made of fine woods such as mahogany, walnut or cherry, inlaid with intricate patterns and/or embellished with fittings of brass or even silver-plate. Coal scuttles, of either metal or wood might be left plain, or richly decorated with painted designs. Japanning was a popular decorative treatment for coal scuttles of both tin and plain woods, right through the Regency. As with the bins and baskets made for holding wood, the more decorative coal scuttles would typically be found in the grander rooms of a house, while the plainer ones would be standard equipment in less important rooms, or in lesser houses. As a note of interest, wood bins or baskets and coal scuttles only began to be seen on the hearth at the turn of the nineteenth century. Before about 1800, fuel receptacles were brought into a room by a servant only when it was necessary to feed the fire. By the Regency, most people kept a fuel receptacle near each fireplace.
Now we turn to that nearly ubiquitous fireplace furnishing which was common to both wood-burning and coal-burning fires. An important piece of fireplace furniture for both types of fires was the fender. Fenders in one form or another had been in use around fireplaces since the late Middle Ages and they varied widely in both design and materials. Originally, a fender, which is essentially a fence around the opening of a fireplace, was intended to keep burning logs from rolling out of the fireplace and onto the floor. By the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, some people saw fenders as a useful barrier to keep small children away from the fire, and of providing some protection to keep ladies’ long skirts from accidentally sweeping into the fire when they were near the fireplace. The cotton muslins and other lightweight fabrics favored by ladies at this time were especially susceptible to catching fire. But most people still thought of fenders as merely a means by which to protect their floors and carpets from live burning coals. Most fenders were between six to eight inches tall, with a long section wider than the length of the fireplace opening and two shorter returns which would be placed against the wall on either side of the fireplace opening. By the Regency, nearly every fireplace would be equipped with a fender, with the exception of most kitchen fireplaces. Many fenders were made of brass or bronze, though Robert Adam had preferred bright steel when he designed fireplace furnishings. Fenders were especially large when intended for important public rooms in a great house, and could be quite decorative. But fenders could be made of a variety of lesser metals, iron being most commonly used for the most simple or utilitarian fenders. For example, gentlemen liked to rest their feet on the top of the fender before the fire at a hunting lodge to dry their wet boots and warm their feet while relaxing after a hard day’s hunting or coursing. Some experts suggested that fenders for nursery fireplaces should be taller than most, to provided added protection from the fire for small children. Fenders for private rooms, such as bedchambers and sitting rooms tended to be smaller, being placed much closer to the fire so that they took up less space in rooms that were not as large as a dining or drawing room. In England, and to a lesser degree in America, some fenders were made much taller, as much as a foot to a foot and half. This type of fender stood farther away from the fire than most, and typically incorporated padded upholstered seats for those who wished to sit near the fire. Some fenders had a single seat in the center, others had a pair of seats, one on each corner. These seats would often be upholstered with fabrics which matched or complemented the other furnishing fabrics of that room. Fenders were often made en suite with a set of fireplace tools, for those who wanted a unified look for their fireplace furnishings.
The majority of fireplace tools listed here could have been used with either a wood-burning or a coal-burning fireplace. Exceptions will be noted. A sturdy pair of bellows was to be found by the side of nearly every fireplace. The invention of bellows is ascribed to the ancient Egyptians and the concept was soon adopted by many other cultures. The bellows is a device by which additional air can be forced into the burning fuel, either wood or coal, which will encourage a smoldering fire to ignite, or will increase the heat of an existing fire by providing it more oxygen. Fireplace bellows were most commonly made of an "air-box" of leather attached to a wooden frame, with a brass nozzle through which the air was forced into the fire. Plain wood and leather bellows were most commonly found in the more utilitarian rooms of a house, but those to be seen in public rooms might be quite decorative. The external wood surfaces of the bellows might be of fine woods, carved with elegant designs in low relief. Or, those same surfaces might be veneered or inlaid with additional fine woods, or other costly materials, such as mother-of-pearl or tortoise shell. Fireplace bellows might also be painted in designs and colors which would harmonize with the decor of the room for which they were intended. They were often decorated so as to match the other fireplace tools which were found alongside them In addition, as I noted in my article on cleaning paper-hangings, a sturdy pair of bellows was also an important implement in that effort.
The brush, or hearth broom, was also a necessity near a fireplace. Bits of debris which fell from logs or chunks of coal must be swept away to keep the hearth looking tidy, but more importantly, to deny fuel to any sparks which might escape the fireplace. The fireplace brush was also used to sweep up ashes when cleaning the fireplace prior to its next use. These brooms or brushes were made with natural broom straw, so it was very important to be careful when using them near the flames as there was always a chance they would catch fire. Most fireplace sets also included a shovel or long-handled pan. This implement could be used like a dust pan into which could be swept any ash or other fire debris for disposal. Shovels were also used to pick up live coals which had escaped the fire and put them back inside the fireplace. Shovels were also convenient for transporting live coals from one fireplace to another, for example, to re-ignite a fire which had gone out without having to resort to the tedious effort of using the tinderbox. The fireplace brush and shovel kept next to a fireplace in an important room were often made to match and were usually very decorative. Those carried by the servant who went around the house early each morning, cleaning out the remains of the previous night’s fire and laying a fresh one, ready to be lit when needed, were quite plain and sturdy. But they were also the fireplace tools which actually got the most use.
A pair of tongs may have been part of a set of fireplace tools, but not always. Tongs had been in use for the management of fires since medieval times, particularly in northern Europe. But there were two types of tongs, one for use with wood fires and one for use with coal fires. Tongs intended to be used in the management of wood fires were usually hinged at the apex to allow the tongs to open as wide as needed to clutch a log. Wood tongs also tended to have large clips at the end of each tong to aid in holding a wooden log. Tongs made for handling coal were usually not hinged at the apex, but rather were kept open by a spring to a width about the same as a normal lump of coal. The legs of coal tongs were also usually shorter that those for handling wood. Tongs for coal also tended to have tapered ends, though some terminated in flat metal buttons to provide greater surface for holding the coal chunks. Tongs of either type were made of iron, as no other metal could withstand the fire’s heat. But their handles, or the area of the apex, might also be embellished with brass, bronze, or other metals to add a decorative element.
There is one last tool for the fireplace included in a set which was a much more recent invention. From at least the Middle Ages, many fireplaces were equipped with an implement known as a fire-fork. A fire-fork was a long rod of iron which literally forked near its end. One end came to a tapered point, the other was curved into a hook, also with a tapered end. This tool was very useful in grabbing logs which had fallen away from a wood burning fire and maneuvering them back into place. But the fire-fork was useless when dealing with a coal fire burning in a grate. The hooked portion tended to get caught on the bars of the grate, frustrating attempts to move a chunk of coal into place. Thus, was invented, about the middle of the eighteenth century, the fire poker. Essentially, the hook part of the fire-fork was removed, leaving just the long tapered end, with which one poked the burning chunks of coal into place. Thus, a wood-burning fireplace would likely have been equipped with a fire-fork, while a coal-burning fireplace would have been equipped with a straight poker. In either case, though the useful end of either tool would have been made of iron, the handles could be quite ornate, often of polished brass. The fire-fork or poker were often made en suite in the same design as the fender, the brush and shovel, and the tongs, if they were included in the set. As always, sets of fireplace tools for less important rooms tended to be plainer and less decorative. The tools used by the servants for tending the household fires would have been extremely utilitarian in appearance, but just as functional, if not more so.
By the Regency, many homeowners were coming to appreciate the additional safety provided to their families and their furnishing by a fire screen. This type of fire screen was very like those many people use today. It was a metal frame over which was wrapped a woven wire mesh which could be set before the opening of the fireplace to prevent live coals from popping out of the fireplace and into the room. This could happen in a wood fire if a pocket of sap was heated to the exploding point by the fire. Chunks of coal sometimes contained embedded pockets of gas which would also explode as they burned. A woven wire fire screen would contain these flying live coals within the hearth, protecting the occupants of the room and its furnishings from accidental burns. Many of these screens had swags of brass or gilt bronze decoration along their upper edges to match the other fireplace furnishings in important rooms, or might be quite plain, but equally protective, when placed in front of the nursery room fire. These wire fire screens were often made to fit just inside the fireplace fender, which gave them added stability at the bottom, if they should be struck by a hot flying coal of any size.
There was another type of screen which might be seen near a Regency fireplace. This "screen" usually consisted of a panel on a pole supported by three or four feet. The panel of such a screen might be a framed piece of embroidery or other needlework, it might be covered with decoupaged prints, or painted in a pleasing design which complimented the decor of the room. Any of this artistic work may very well have been the product of one of the ladies of the house. The panel on these fire screens was usually adjustable and could be moved up or down the pole to accommodate the height of the lady whose complexion it protected from the heat of the fire. During the eighteenth century, these screens were often used by ladies to protect their heavy, greasy make-up from melting and running down their face. Such make-up, which often included lead, and even arsenic in its ingredients, was quite out of style by the Regency. Most respectable ladies during the Regency wore little if any make-up, and certainly nothing so thick and greasy it could be melted sitting to close to a fire. But, the heat of the fire might cause the lady’s complexion to redden, spoiling the pale look she wished to present to the world. Or, the firelight might be glaring, even though she felt chilled and wished to be close to it. And, of course, there were still a few old ladies about during the Regency who had worn that heavy, greasy make-up once upon a time. Out of force of habit, or to hide their proliferating wrinkles and crows feet, they chose to prevent the full glare of the firelight from falling upon their face by using a fire screen.
Two other fireplace accessories were to be found near fireplaces in many Regency dining rooms, ladies’s sitting rooms, and even some libraries and drawing rooms. Trivets were exceptionally useful items which could serve a number of purposes. For those who did not have a hob built in to their grate, or who were still burning wood, a trivet allowed them to conveniently heat a kettle or pot of water for tea. Even for those who did have a grate with a hob, trivets were very convenient for keeping additional dishes warm and were common in dining rooms and breakfast rooms. Most trivets were made of brass, with pierced tops and three or four legs. There were also trivets specially made to hang from the top bar of a coal grate to augment the heating space provided by a hob. Though fire-dogs had been banished from many fireplaces when coal grates were installed, cats did not loose their place. These cats were not felines, but rather were a form of trivet. Made of three metal bars which were joined together in the center, they formed a double tripod of six legs, which like a cat, always landed its feet. Fire-cats were set close to the fire and on them would be placed a plate of muffins, biscuits or toast, to be kept warm until they were served.
By the Regency, in many middle-class homes, the family would gather together before the fire most evenings. Father might read aloud while mother plied her needle. The children might be listening to the story, or playing a game. But they might also have other employment, if they were old enough. While the kettle sat on the hob, heating water for the evening tea, one of the children might take the toasting fork from its hook at the side of the mantlepiece and toast the bread for their evening repast. In addition to toasting bread, a bit of cheese might also be toasted to place on that bread. The children doing the toasting might have taken one of the seats on the fender, should it be so equipped, a good location for such a task. In many middle-class homes, a toasting fork would also be found hanging next to the dining room fireplace, and it was often the responsibility of one of the children to toast the bread for the family’s breakfast. This skill would stand the boys, in particular, in good stead when they went away to school, as the toasting of bread and cheese was a regular treat for the students of many boarding schools. Typically, the younger boys were required to do the toasting for the older boys before they were allowed to toast something for themselves. Beau Brummell told of having done just that when a young boy away at school.
Another, very small piece of fireplace equipment was a nail. But this was a special nail, often hammered in to the mantlepiece surreptitiously. It was carefully positioned above the center of the fireplace opening. Boys at school regularly made use of such nails, for the purpose of roasting apples. A string was tied to the stem of the apple, the other end to the nail above the fireplace, the length adjusted to bring the apple close enough to the fire that it would slowly roast in the heat. There are various references which tell us that though these schoolboys eventually grew up, they never lost their taste for fire roasted apples. There were many mantelpieces in Regency libraries and book rooms, and even some gentlemen’s bedchambers, which sported this special nail, where the room’s regular occupant would hang an apple to roast for a nostalgic snack as he wrote or read.
Fireplaces in most of the rooms of a house, with the exception of the kitchen, were used primarily for heat. But what of the warm summer months, when no heat was needed? In most of the better homes, the lady of the house would clear away all the fireplace furnishing and replace them with something more appropriate to the season. In wood-burning fireplaces, which tended to be fairly deep, the andirons and all the fireplace tools, usually with the exception of the fender and a screen, could be stored inside the cleared-out firebox. The other items would be removed to the attic until the weather turned cold again. The firebox of a coal-burning fireplace was too shallow to be used for storage, so all of the furnishings for these fireplaces would be sent to the attics. Once all these things were cleared away, it was common practice to screen the mouth of the fireplace with a decorative board. For wood-burning fireplaces, these boards were usually cut to fit flush into the opening of the firebox. For wood-burning fireplaces in particular, these boards had long served the purpose of keeping out falling soot and draughts, as well as any birds or other creatures which might have made their way down a cold, open chimney from getting into the room. For coal-burning fireplaces, the entry of small animals was less of a problem. The boards used to screen them were often cut in a half-circle and set into some support directly in front of the cold coal grate. In many cases, these boards were painted with lavish floral designs or in some design and color scheme with harmonized with the decor of the room. Fire-boards might also have been covered with a remnant of the paper-hangings which had been used to paper the room. That technique was especially common for the fire-boards in bedchambers. The half-circle fire-boards were sometimes painted to look like a large lady’s fan, usually with floral accents. Curiously, some fire-boards were actually painted to look like the grate they covered for the summer. Not content with masking the fireplace opening with a decorated board, in many large houses, especially in the grand rooms, a large container, made of metal or ceramic, and known as a bough pot, was placed in front of the fireplace and filled with fresh flowers or, in some cases, long cuttings from flowering trees. Hence the name, bough pot. Many ladies also had a slightly smaller bough pot placed in front of the fireplaces in their bedchambers and private sitting rooms. They wanted to banish all thought of winter by masking their fireplaces with the fresh greens and flowers of summer. Thus, even when it was hidden, the area of the fireplace was still the main focal point of a room.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that these fireplace furnishings were often very helpful to cultural historians. And so they have been, and will continue to be. In my article on chocolate-making equipment, I noted the importance of household inventories as a source of data for helping us understand how people lived in the past. In many countries, for a number of centuries, when anyone with even modest wealth passed away, one of the first orders of business was to inventory their homes and businesses to establish their worth before their will was probated. These inventories can tell us a great deal about their level of wealth, how they lived their lives, what possessions they considered of importance, even in some cases, how they used them. But one of the most important aspects of these studies is to be able to determine which possessions were located in which rooms of the house. The inventories of very wealthy people are often labeled room by room, so it is easy to determine which possessions they kept where. But for those of lesser means, the officials taking the inventory typically just listed all the items in the household, without separating them by room. Yet, in fact, they did separate them for us, quite unconsciously. As I have pointed out, more than once, in this article, and others, the fireplace was the main focal point for any room which contained one. Court officials charged with taking the inventory of a house almost invariably begin or end their inventory of any room at the fireplace. Therefore, at the point in the inventory when you come to a cluster of fireplace furnishings, you know that all the contents either before or after the fireplace equipment were located in one room. With a little experience in reading inventories, it is usually fairly easy to determine whether the probate official who took the inventory liked to begin or end with the fireplace and voilà, you have your room divisions for the contents of that house. In-depth research and analysis may now commence.
Now you know you way around a properly furnished Regency fireplace. The next time you read a novel set in that period, you will have a better idea what might have been found in the area of the hearth, at what time of year. Certainly a fire would be burning in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night. But on a hot summer’s day? Definitely not! Fire-boards and flowers were the order of the day for the hearth in summer. All the fireplace equipment would have been put away, so dear Regency authors, please do not have your heroine grab for a poker to defend herself from the dastardly villain in the middle of July. She would find herself clutching at nothing, unless she was in a very poorly run household, where the lady of the house was too lazy or slovenly to properly decorate the hearths of the house for summer. Bough pots could be quite large, some as large as a modern day laundry basket. Filled with water, flowers and greens, they would be very heavy. If she could manage to move one, the heroine might find it a useful weight to add to the other items of furniture with which she had barricaded her door, should some importunate man be attempting to enter her bedchamber uninvited. How scandalous if the dashing hero should sneak a toasting fork into the drawing room of his starched-up, snobbish great-aunt in order to share a clandestine midnight repast of toasted bread and cheese with the heroine, who is the crabby old lady’s companion. Perhaps the heroine, governess to the children of a man she finds haughty and arrogant, happens upon his lordship in his library one evening, reading Shakespearian sonnets while an apple roasts on a string in front of the fireplace. What other romantic scenes might unfold in front of a Regency fireplace?
Next month, kitchen fireplaces and the plethora of specialized equipment which might be found therein.
Kathryn Kane’s debut novel, Deflowering Daisy, is available now.
© 2011 – 2015 Kathryn Kane, Kalligraph
Originally posted at The Regency Redingote
Posted at The Beau Monde by permission of the author.