Since cast iron was produced for the first time, some 500 years ago, civilised man has been aware of its properties for transferring heat. Cast iron – literally iron that was too large to be wrought and therefore had to be cast in a mould – was being commonly used for large construction from the 18th century onwards and Abraham Derby’s work at Coalbrookdale, constructed the iron bridge in cast iron sections to span the River Severn at this time. As a material, cast iron was relatively cheap to produce, and it was soon recognised as the ideal material for kitchens and fireplaces in the house of the burgeoning artisan and middle classes of the 19th Century.
The first heating appliances to be made in cast iron were ranges for the kitchen and register grates for the living room. The range, with a proper chimney, situated in a kitchen or scullery was beginning to replace the open fire of the living room which had been the only source of heat for cooking and warmth for over five or more centuries. The range was made of cast components and led to the development of the saucepan and other cooking pots that we know today. The register grate, which contained the burning coals or wood behind cross bars, often included a small hob for heating a kettle. It was large enough to warm the room but small enough for its limited fuel to be affordable by the impoverished householder.
As the Victorian era progressed, design and fashion changed. In the parlour, the standard register grate began to be replaced by fireplaces with a wooden mantel coupled with a cast iron back panel. The back panel, which was similar in size to today’s reproductions, helped to radiate the heat and allowed for a number of elaborate designs, which added to what was, by now, the aesthetic focus of the room.
Typically these cast iron back panels would include a ‘slider’ on each side, into which a set of decorative ceramic tiles could be inserted. This increased the natural aesthetics of the cast iron and allowed standard designs to be personalised by the builder.
The local blacksmiths as part of their general work originally worked dog grates, which in the 20th Century are typically constructed of cast iron. They could be made to fit individual fireplaces and included more or less embellishment, to suit the owner’s whim. Where there was a raised back panel, often with a Coat of Arms, this part would be cast, as the process was ideally suited for working large, flat pieces of this size. It has only been in this century, when dog grates have become the preserve of inglenook fireplaces in the country cottages that semi mass production techniques have led to designs being cast in moulds.
Post time: 06-01-2017