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Why sitting by the fire is so relaxing: Staring at flickering light awakens our inner caveman

  • Monday, 08 May 2017
  • linda

Fireplaces through the ages

fireplaces800 smoking room on the titanic

The fireplace is the traditional place to gather, relax and converse during the winter months. While the temperature drops and the nights lengthen outside, there’s nothing more inviting than the cosy glow of a fire crackling away, radiating heat and providing the perfect place to unwind after a long day at work Despite the millions of years and technological advances, why we use fireplaces have not changed one bit: To bring people together and keep them warm. The how though has changed a lot.

fireplaces cavemenCavemen

Archaeological expeditions around the globe have found evidence of rudimentary “fireplaces” in the form of fire pits dating back to prehistoric times.It has bee utilised for more than 1 million years, even though people think of them as more modern inventions. I like to think some prehistoric caveman was smart enough to find a reliable way to start and keep the fire going, then shared the secret with his friends.

From this clever caveman, we humans have flourished due to this brilliant technological find.. These fire pits dug were used for warmth on cold days and nights along with cooking. They were also the centre for the gathering of people. These  “fireplaces” were in the middle of their living space to allow for the maximum number of people to gather around and experience the heat. The problem with a fire pit in a cave or any other enclosed structure is you need a way to let the smoke escape. Even though these fire pits had to be dug into the ground to avoid the problem of smoke failing to escape it did not solve this problem.

fireplace queen victoriaThis lasted for about 100 years

Around the 1100’s significant changes happened to there the fireplaces were located inside a house and rather than being the central focus point of a room, it moved to its walls. This also became the era when chimneys made their appearance. Fire hoods also gained popularity at approximately this time, first utilised for its functionally but then also for ornamental reasons.

fireplace 19th century ceramicstoveThe Rise of Chimneys

When buildings started having second stories people wanted fireplaces on the second floor also. These early fireplaces vented the smoke out of the building horizontally and since smoke wants to move vertically it was just as likely to come back into the room. Architects began examining fireplace design and architecture more seriously. They needed something to overcome the ever-present problem of smoke that simply would come back into the room the main hazard of an open fireplace. Now the real use of the chimney came into play.

fireplace christopher wrenFireplace designs taking shape

Then in the 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren, brilliant architect and the re-designer of St. Paul’s cathedral in London, decided he wanted some style to go with the function. He began designing beautiful fireplaces to compliment the appearance of a room

The 1700s

fireplaces franklin stove America, Benjamin Franklin invented the Franklin stove in the 1700s. Franklin created the stove out of cast iron which allowed the stove to radiate heat more efficiently. We still utilise stoves in many homes worldwide today in the form of electric fireplace stoves.Fireplaces Rumford design

Then in 1796, Count Rumsford basically perfected the design and developed a fireplace with a shallow opening allowing more heat to reflect into the room and streamlined the chimney by incorporating it into the wall of the house which drew more smoke out of the home. This design was adapted and used all the way up through the 19th century.

Architectural Elegance

By the 1800s, the fireplace’s was as much part of a home as the stove. The basic elements of the fireplace, the surround and the insert, have not changed since. The surround is the portion of the fireplace that surrounds the insert, where the heat is produced.

 The Victorian Era

fireplace victorian

Following the reign of George IV, Queen Victoria ascended to the throne to begin the longest reign of any British monarch, that is until our own Queen Elizabeth II claimed that title in September 2016. During this era, fireplace styles underwent noticeable changes as architectural designs altered too. Rooms of this period were distinctly lower in height than their Georgian counterparts, and so fireplaces became lower in height to match. Casting designs were noticeably more ornate and often floral in their inspiration, and mantelpieces became more prominent to accommodate the Victorian love of ornaments and trinkets.fireplace 18thcenturyfireplace

Being the snobs they were, Victorian people even regarded fireplaces as adding a contribution of class to their homes. For them, fireplaces were the main source of getting heat during the freezing cold weather. The fireplaces and stoves were generally found in every room of the Victorian homes

The Art Nouveau Period

From the 1880’s through until the outbreak of World War One in 1914, Art Nouveau brought with it a new and exciting design that took the world by storm. Exquisitely designed cast iron fireplaces began to appear that reflected flowing natural shapes (again, quite floral and organic in their inspiration) with sculpted surrounds and beautiful tile-work.

 However, a few years later, following all the destruction wreaked by World War II, the real need for housing resulted in ensuing rebuilding efforts and functional prefabricated fireplaces were introduced into the market.

Central Heating Takes Centre Stage

In the middle of the 20th century, the fireplace’s role changed again as central heating became the main source of heat. Fireplaces began to be taller and slimmer in their design.  The humble fireplace was demoted into more decorative accessories rather than a functional one. Fortunately, tradition always repeats itself and around this time, the traditional fireplace yet once again rose out of the ashes.

four family feet by fireplaceFamilies wanted a place of significance to gather and share their stories. 

The fireplace has yet again become the focal point for social gatherings. And who doesn’t find a fire mesmerising and relaxing?

In our post-industrial modern society, their purpose has evolved from providing necessary heat and cooking to a symbol of warmth and love.



Sources: Various online

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