Friday, November 8, 2013

Get Cozy by the . . . Coal?

November always marks a change in the seasons where I live.  Summer lingers well into September, October sees a glorious burst of color, and November is gray, gray, gray.  Seems like a perfect time to bring in the firewood, strike up a blaze, and get cozy.  It's easy to think of the young ladies and gentlemen of nineteenth century England sipping tea and reading books, perhaps in that lovely library Marissa sketched out for us this week.  But I have to keep reminding myself that the fire I enjoy is not necessarily the one they enjoyed.

For one thing, fireplaces back then could be a great deal larger than the one in my home, although the London townhouses certain boasted smaller, more compact models, often courtesy of the Adams brothers.  My fireplace happens to be made of red brick with a slate hearth, but theirs was more likely to have been made from stone, perhaps framed in wood.  If you were wealthy, that stone might be marble in shades from pristine white, midnight black, or serpentine green or perhaps granite. 

If you were poorer, it was more likely to be of a lesser stone, or even those gathered from the land around you.  The older and larger the house, the more likely the fireplace might be large enough to roast an ox inside.  Townhouses might have inserts of cast iron with decorative tiles at the back.  They might also have bricks inserted in the flue to help guide the smoke upward, a design perfected by Count Rumford.

The fuel might also be different from today.  I tend to burn wood scavenged from downed or pruned trees, but my fire is mostly ornamental, not for heating or lighting my house or cooking my food.  The amount of wood needed by a large household for heating and cooking purposes would be prohibitively difficult to procure and store.  So, many households in England burned coal brought around by industrious individuals or peat cut from nearby bogs.  The glow might be similar, but the crackle of burning wood is very different from the pop of coals or the hiss of peat.  And coal fires were at least partly responsible for the choking fogs that enveloped London later in the century.

Makes me want to curl up by my fire with a good book.

(Lead picture by P.G. Champion)


Leandra Wallace said...

There's nothing quite like a fireplace! Though I don't think I'd like to mess w/the ashes and logs and stuff...But I do love the mantels- so lovely to decorate! =)

Regina Scott said...

Good point, Leandra! I love decorating those mantels too! And they've a very handy place to get things out the reach of busy fingers for little ones!