Despite the colourful assurances of guidebooks, spits were never powered by small dogs. If you believe the chimney has been removed, look in the loft for either a flue or signs — chopped-off bricks or a sooty strip — that one was once there. With chimneys in old houses, many years of burning coal will have resulted in tars and salts being absorbed into the brickwork , and if the redundant flue becomes damp, these may soak through into the plasterwork. Once the outline of the structural opening, together with its lintel or arch, is visible, all the masonry within the outline can be removed, leaving a square opening to take the fire or stove of your choice. This, combined with developments in iron grates and flues particularly the work of Count Rumford , did much to combat smoky fires while allowing heat to radiate into the room. How to spot the signs of a concealed fireplace In most cases it will be obvious whether or not there was once a fireplace in your house: Iron stoves from the same period are frequently seen on old drawings and photographs but now rarely survive. Indeed, it is arguable that in many cases the retention of open fireplaces may have been more due to tradition or familiarity than any practical or economic need. Ranges allowed a fire to be kept burning for long periods at maximum efficiency. Fuel could be expensive, so the use of fires was restricted even in the greatest houses.
At a ruinous row of workers cottages in Henley Oxfordshire , AOC Archaeology Group recently recorded several small ranges that had survived because they were hidden by ivy and rubble. This, combined with developments in iron grates and flues particularly the work of Count Rumford , did much to combat smoky fires while allowing heat to radiate into the room. Beautiful iron firedogs dating from the Iron Age attest that even seemingly simple early hearths may have been more complex than is usually apparent. Often smoke bays are found to have a later chimney placed within them. They also gave the cook access to a warming plate, open fire, hot water and an oven, all in one location and with one heat source. There is one humorous 18th century print showing a dog in a cage powering a spit, but it appears that the joke was lost on later antiquaries, who upon finding parts of roasting equipment, presumed them to be the remains of 'dog jacks'! This lavish use of heating was partly due to the relative cheapness, efficiency and availability of coal. Archaeologists now frequently use 3D laser scanning equipment to record and help us interpret complex masonry such as chimneys. Fittings such as the small fireguard are often lost and few such ranges survive in such good condition. In some parts of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, the open hearth continued to be used well into the 19th century. Small iron grates can often be found in locations such as greenhouses, sheds and stable tack rooms, yet still many working class bedrooms remained unheated during this period. Have the condition of the lining checked and a smoke test carried out. In 18th and 19th century buildings, there can be a profusion of fireplaces, flues, soot boxes and small grates. This new technology when combined with traditional archaeological techniques can reveal a great deal about the development and history of a house. The fireplace in the Edwardian tea rooms at Arnotts Department Store, Dundee fits into an elaborate and ornate room scheme. To find this opening, remove the airbrick or ventilation vent, or take out two bricks about 30cm above the floor. You can also check to see if the hearth is still in place by lifting the floor covering. As these often either had their own stovepipes or were vented into a shared chimney, the only remains may be tiled floor areas, blocked circular holes in roofs or blocked iron pipes on chimneybreasts. It should be spanned by a lintel, which must be left in place. If you run your hand along the face of the chimneybreast, you may be able to feel a line from the lintel or fireplace opening. Start by carefully chopping off the plaster from the assumed centre of the fireplace, working outwards, and the outline of the opening will become apparent. Reinstatement Before you can begin using the fireplace, however, there are a few essential checks to undertake. For the first time, this also allows us to examine and record areas that may be inaccessible or even unsafe. Assuming that extra heat was not required in a working forge, the grate must have served some other function, such as making tea. Ranges allowed a fire to be kept burning for long periods at maximum efficiency. These large domestic fireplaces may have had ovens to the side, built-in seats or cupboards, and the remains of iron jacks, pot cranes or hooks can still sometimes be found. This article focuses on the development of fire provision in domestic houses and details how evidence of earlier examples may survive in the archaeological record.
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