Since the second world war domestic technology has progressed so quickly and the standard of living has progressed so markedly that it is easy to forget that in the early 2oth century the domestic life of the poorer class in many cases compared more to that of their 18th century contemporary middle classes. The transition to the use of gas and electric power in the home in the past war period meant the younger generation has difficulty in recognizing some of the equipment their grand parents and, in some cases their parents remember and often used today. Some of these domestic items can still be found today in antique shops as collectors items, such as the item you see below known as a folding boot jack.
There were differences between life in the towns and life in the country, consequently in domestic furnishings when looking at interiors from the middle ages to the present, a progression is apparent towards greater comfort and efficiency depending more on manpower at first and then later increasingly on mechanics as well until exploitation of manufactured energy. In most rooms the standard of production were clumbersome and uncomfortable even though attractive in their functional simplicity of design.
As the household became less communal and houses began to aquire several living rooms, differences in the style developed between furnishings and equipment for various different rooms. The number of necessary items increased, furnishing became less sparse and a major focus of attention of designers and manufacturing, The industrial revolution provided the means of supplying to a large number of people in new and improved materials.
During the latter half of the 18th century increased production tended to go hand in hand with good design and maintained standards of quality, the 19th century saw increased mechanization towards supplying much larger quantities of mass produced, cheap articles and at the beginning of this century the clutter began to diminish.
For the greatest interest lies in the 19th and 20th century bygones, more interesting items were produced by the inventors manufacturers in order to fill the smallest gap in the range of useful devices, and especially for the kitchen and the hearth.
Around the heat of the fire were all the activities of the house and the succeeding generations devised means of using one source of heat for many purposes and keeping the fire going was an ongoing priority. During the night the embers were covered with a metal dome called a couvre feu with a gap at the side for a slight draught, and in the morning they were blown into flame with bellows.
The major innovation between 12th and 19th centuries was the moving of the fire from the centre of the room to the thickened end wall and into it’s own fireplace with a chimney, a development not universally adopted until the 16th century. The space was built wide and the fire was central either on the ground or raised slightly on bricks. The back was protected by a cast iron fire back and the legs supported by fire dogs of many designs: cup dogs had small cup-like baskets on top for holding drinking vessels to warm. Most dogs had hooks at the back of the uprights where the spit could rest for roasting. Later horizontal bars, laid across between the dogs, developed into baskets or braziers to hold coal, raised above the hearth to provide the necessary up draught.
Where there was a bread oven it was usually near the fire and often opened into the fireplace. It was usually built in brick with an arched roof and was heated by filling with brush wood which set alight and the door was closed. When the fire had burnt out the ashes were then raked out, sometimes through a narrow chute on the floor and loaves and cakes were put in batches for baking were inserted and withdrawn on the end of a long wooden paddle called a peel.
In the larger affluent houses fireplaces in drawing and living rooms followed fashion, their shape, size, mantles and fittings changing accordingly: the trend towards coal fires gradually altered the shape of the grates. Their function was not confined to space heating and many of the high quality brass and copper accessories which survive today was not used in the kitchen’
Elegantly designed trivets to stand in the hearth or hang from the bars of the grate, four legged foot men or stands for the same purpose, toasters, spirit heated kettles on tall or short stands were all designed for the elegant teatime around the fire. Fireirons multiplied in variety if not efficiency, the shovels giving most scope to the craftsman. In the 17th century fenders were introduced and later fireguards.
The handy box for holding spills – lengths of twisted wood shavings used for taking a light from the fire replaced the tongs. When bellow blowers and scuttles had been embellished too, there was still scope for metal hearth ornaments whose only purpose was to enhance the fireplace.
Note : To me, these are what we call the good old days, where everything around the hearth seemed warm and comforting even though hard work.