The use of fires and fireplaces through the ages for heating and cooking and the develpment of the modern fireplace.
We humans used to simply build fires on the ground inside our huts or
dwellings. Later we progressed to building the fire on a solid hearth
(some stones) - literally a fire place
- and making holes in the roof for the smoke to escape from. Many nomad and
traditional peoples still burn fires in this way today. Unfortunately
the smoke does not necessarily escape very well, and this can result in
breathing and eye problems.
As our building technology progressed so did the art of fires and fireplaces, until the chimney was born. The chimney allows a fireplace to be placed virtually anywhere in the building (against a solid wall that is). The chimney also got rid of the smoke from the fireplace making it an altogether more sophisticated heating method.
Cast Iron was first made around 500 years ago. Cast iron (as it's name suggests) is iron that is melted and cast in a mould. It withstands heat very well and stores and retains this heat for long periods, so is ideal for making fireplaces and stoves.
The only fire in the home had been a relatively large fireplace in the living room which was used to heat the house and to cook on. Now range cookers made of cast iron were being installed in kitchens and smaller cast iron fireplaces installed in the living room. Because people were burning more and more coal the fireplaces got smaller and developed into the fireplace grateand fret style of fireplace that we are used to today - as opposed to the larger fireplace using a firebasket which had predominated.
You can't discuss the history of fireplaces without mentioning Count Rumford. Count Rumford was a predominant figure in fireplace design. Rumford was born in Massachusetts in 1753 and the Rumford Fireplace is named after him. A classic gentleman of his time, Rumford was a bit of a scientist and investigated heat and fireplaces. The fireplaces were deep and square which was not very efficient. Rumford made the firebox shallower with reflective angled covings which increased the efficiency and heat output. By narrowing the opening from the firebox to the chimney he also minimized the air that the fireplace needed to take the smoke away.
He also experimented with giving the fire a source of air directly from outside. This served two functions:
1 - air that the fire draws up the chimney is otherwise taken directly from the room and therefore creates cold draughts.
2 - the fire was given a strong direct source of air from above allowing fierce and efficient combustion.