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Cottage And Farmhouse Furniture - Miscellaneous Ironwork, Etc.

( Originally Published 1912 )

THE everyday iron utensils and implements of the cottages were simple. It is one of the curious features of the English peasantry that just as they clung to their oak of generations back when mahogany was in vogue, so they adhered tenaciously to ironwork of almost mediaeval character when other metals were in fashionable everyday use. Thus the cottager did not feel the oncoming desire for the brass, or later silver and plated candlesticks, but remained firm in his affection for the rushlight-holders in iron, the same types which his ancestors had used, and the firedogs and firebacks of earlier type remained to decorate his hearth. Thus ironwork and rarely brasswork form the sum total of the metal portion of cottage furniture. We will deal with these various utilitarian objects one by one.

It must be remembered that the country farmer was not familiar with ready-made candles, and it probably no more entered his head to purchase candles in a town than it occurred to him to do other than bake his own bread. The cottager therefore made his candles for himself. If he were well-to-do and could afford to entertain his friends in modest fashion, he would doubtless like to illuminate his table with candles of symmetrical form. In which case he would use a candle mould, and the wax bought in towns would serve for this purpose. But he was not always so rich, and perhaps he was happiest of all with the faintly glimmering rush dips which his forebears used. These afforded a rough-and-ready form of lighting. They burned and spluttered like a torch or flickered faintly as the tallow grew thin. Their form closely resembled an amateur's first attempt at making a cigarette. They were made in the following manner : the thin wire-like rushes which grew by the water's edge were gathered and stripped of their green surface till only the soft white pith remained. This served as a wick. The wax was then melted over a fire in a trough or candle-dipper, a long receptacle' in which the pith wicks were laid till the wax soaked into them. They were then taken out for the wax to cool and were dipped once or twice afterwards in order to form their outer coating. By such a primitive process a kind of thin taper was formed. It was not parallel along its sides, but bulged and narrowed throughout its length in primitive manner.

Such a taper, from its uneven thickness, would naturally not fit the socket of a candlestick, and the only receptacle would be a scissor-like mechanism with jaws capable of clasping it at any point. Thus we find the rushlight-holder, as illustrated (p. 199), in common use.

In practice about an inch or an inch and a half of the rushlight was above the clip and the rest below. A rush-light some twelve to fifteen inches long would burn half an hour, and it had to receive constant attention, being pushed upwards every five minutes. But it must be re-membered that the persons who used this primitive form of light did not use it for reading or for a long period at a time. They usually went to bed soon after sunset.

In regard to rushlight-holders the earliest form was without the accompanying candle-socket, but when the use of tallow dip candles became prevalent, later forms are found, with the candle-socket in addition to the holder for the rushlight.

The Scottish crusie is an iron trough of dimensions like a small sauceboat, which was used for lighting purposes, and was often suspended from a crane or hanger. This crusie was filled with oil and the illumination given by a floating wick, much in the same manner as classic examples, to which the shape bears a distant resemblance.

The firedogs were always simple, doubtless the product of the local blacksmith. Where they had hooks along the backs they held crossbars to prevent the logs falling into the room. The dates of these, as of all cottage ironwork, are almost impossible to fix, owing to the survival of the earlier types even so late as the middle of the nineteenth century.

A most important part of the cottager's fireplace was his chimney crane. These were of two kinds, the pot-hook and the swing-arm variety. The pot-hook hung in the chimney from a chain, and from its teeth was fixed a catch which might be lowered or raised to keep the. cauldron at a level with the flames.

The swing-arm type is more elaborate, and was made to fit very large fireplaces, where the fire might not invariably be in the same spot on the hearth. This type was used in the kitchens of the better farmhouses. Its end was fixed to the wall of the hearth, and the pot could be swung backwards and forwards and sideways, besides being raised or lowered to the fire.

The pot-hook is of great antiquity, and belongs to days when man first learned to cook his food. Frequently in this country early examples are dug up. There are fine specimens to be seen of the late Celtic period at the Owens College Museum, at the Northampton Museum, at the Liverpool Museum, at the Pitt Rivers Museum at Farnham, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and elsewhere.

"Pot-hooks and hangers" is an English phrase denoting the beginning of things academic, and the French phrase pendre la cremaillere (literally to hang the pot-hook) is used to-day in reference to what we term a "house-warming" party on settling in a new abode.

Another interesting cottage treasure is the cake-baker. This was a kind of thick frying-pan having a lid, which protected the dough from the heat when it was held over the smouldering ashes. The tops of these are often incised with quaint patterns, the impress of which appears on the cake.

Kettle-trivets are sometimes found in cottages, possibly relics from better houses or having belonged to the more prosperous farmer. They are not wholly of iron, being often partly of brass.

There is an especial charm in the old brass warming-pan of the farmhouse and the treasured highly-polished ornament of many a proud cottager to-day. Many modern-made warming-pans from Holland and elsewhere have found their way into the possession of unsuspecting collectors. But fine old English warming-pans are interesting, and summon up memories of careful housewives and well-aired lavender-smelling sheets in ancient old-world inns. On fine examples inscriptions may be found, and the incised work of the pattern on the brass covers is often individual in character.

These, like many other adjuncts to the comforts of the cottage and farmhouse, are too well-known to need illustration.

It is unfortunate that the diligence of the housewife has often obliterated much of the fine work of some of these designs. The warming-pan offers in itself a complete field for the collector. He can compare the work of seventeenth-century Dutch examples, with their quaint religious inscriptions and their finely embossed and engraved ornamentation, with English specimens of the same date. That the warming-pan was in use in Elizabethan days is proved by references in Shakespeare. It has a long history, from Sir John Falstaff, when Bardolph was bidden to put his face between the sheets and do the office of a warming-pan, to Mr. Pickwick—to quote Sergeant Buzfuz, "Don't trouble yourself about the warming-pan--the warming-pan ! Why, gentlemen, who does trouble himself about a warming-pan?"

The fireback was usually part of the cottager's belongings, though perhaps only one would figure in his house, where possibly his only hearth was in his living room.

These were cast and forged in various parts of the country, and large numbers appear to have been made in Sussex, which is, or rather was, the greatest hunting-ground for good specimens of cottager's ironwork. Some highly interesting specimens of these are to be herein illustrated.

The records of the Sussex iron industry go back to a very early date, and the town of Lewes, in the thirteenth century, raised taxes by charging a toll on every cartload of iron admitted. Under Edward III the Sussex ironworks provided three thousand horse-shoes and twenty-nine thousand nails for the English army in its campaign in Scotland. The local rhyme

"Master Hogge and his man John They did cast the first cannon"

is not without reason, as in Bodiam Castle and elsewhere are mortars of Sussex work of fifteenth-century style. In the sixteenth century a considerable number of firebacks was made, some with the royal arms and with the royal cipher, " E.R.," and bearing dates and sometimes makers' names.

The earliest form was stamped with the fleur-de-lys or with portions of twisted cable to form some sort of symmetrical design. An interesting fireback in the Victoria and Albert Museum is of the "Royal Oak" design, with the initials " C.R." This is commemorative of the escape of Charles II from pursuit by Cromwell's Ironsides and his refuge in the oak-tree. It will be observed that this specimen has a moulded edge, which is from a single wood pattern carved in one piece. Amidst the oak foliage will be seen three crowns, and this exuberance of loyalty bears a resemblance to certain chairs of the period (copied by the score nowadays), in which the crown finds a place in the stretcher.

The two firebacks shown on page 207 are typical examples. That on the left shows the fable of the Fox and the Stork, that on the right a parrot perched upon a suspended ring.

The foregoing specimens are native in their conception of design. They approximate closely to the Jacobean carved panel with its narrow range of subjects, and have a relationship to Stuart needlework with its royal symbolism. Later came the Dutch influence, most marked in its effect upon the shape, height, and character of these firebacks. This became especially noticeable in the eighteenth century, and wooden patterns from which the fire-backs were made are known. The designs are ornate and represent either some scriptural or mythological subject. The woodcarving is of a style strongly under Dutch influence, and the tall proportions suggest gravestones (indeed, in Sussex there are headstones made of iron, with pictures and inscriptions).

The mode of casting these iron firebacks in sand and the employment of wooden patterns to form the mould into which the molten metal was to run is familiar to any foundry in casting iron. In regard to the early examples with the twisted cable rim, it is conjectured that pieces of twisted rope were actually laid on the wet sand to produce this pattern—that is, before the use of carved wooden patterns such as are illustrated. In regard to the bolder "cable twist" pattern, it is believed this was produced by impression of pieces of rope stiffened with glue, and twisted around iron rods.

The size of the wooden pattern is slightly larger than the resultant fireback, owing to the shrinkage of the metal on cooling. This diminution in design is a factor in the potter's art, when figures in some cases lose nearly a third of their original proportions when moulded in the clay prior to firing.

Firebacks have attracted a considerable amount of interest. There are many collectors, and a great deal of close study has been applied to the subject. Country museums in the vicinity of the Weald of Sussex and Kent contain many notable examples, especially those of Lewes, Hastings, Brighton, Rochester, Maidstone, and Guildford. In the first mentioned there are some very rare and beautiful examples of Sussex firebacks.

A volume on cottage and farmhouse furniture would be incomplete without some reference to long-case clocks. At the beginning of the eighteenth century this type of clock had become popular. The early brass-bracket clock known as " Cromwellian," varying from six to ten inches in height, had a spring.

The "lantern" or "bird-cage" clocks (wall clocks from which the pendulum and weights hung unprotected) lasted till about 168o, when the first long-case type came into use. With the use of the long pendulum and revolving drums, around which catgut was wound to support the heavy weights, these unprotected parts required a wooden case.

The early examples with cases exhibiting fine marquetry are outside the scope of the class of furniture now under consideration. In such specimens there is frequently a round or oval opening covered with glass in the centre of the panel.

In earlier types the metal disc is square, and later it became lunetted at top, and the wood case had a corresponding curve. In clocks made for great houses there were chimes, and their works were by well-known town makers. But in cottage examples, instead of the eight-day movement, more often than not the clock only ran for twenty-four hours. There is little attempt at ornament in these plain oak varieties. The case is soundly constructed, and sometimes, in exceptional examples, the head is surmounted by brass ball finials, as in the finer examples. As a rule the country cabinet-maker confined himself to an ornamental scrolled head, such as we show in the illustration on page 211. In later examples the metal dial—and these come at the beginning of the nineteenth century—is painted with some rustic scene with figures, and frequently there is a revolving dial showing the days of the month.

The entire head covering the dial is often removable in old clocks to which there is no hinged door, as in examples made later.

These country clocks are much treasured by their owners, and have been handed down in families for generations. Owing to the indefatigability of collectors and their persistent and tempting offers, many have left their old homes. The demand has been great, and thousands of "grandfather" clocks have been made during the last twenty years and sold as " antique," or old cases with plain panels have received the unwelcome attention of the modern restorer and have been carved to please a popular whim for carved oak panels.

In regard to dates of these clocks the records of the Clockmakers' Company give a list of makers of the eighteenth century, enabling the period to be fairly accurately fixed. The walnut cases inlaid with floral marquetry, often attributed to the period 1690-1725, that is William and Mary and Queen Anne, frequently belong to a quarter of a century later. The case-makers clung more closely to old designs than did the clock-makers. Hence the case very often is of apparently older style than the works, though both were made contemporaneously. In addition to this, new clocks were put in older cases, or vice versa, which, like putting new pictures in old frames, adds to the gaiety of collecting.

In general the London clock-cases are only roughly indicative, in comparison with the Company records, of contemporary styles of furniture. In country-made pieces the wood cases are anything from twenty to forty years behind London fashions. For example, the arched top occurs after 1720 in London, and after 1735 in the provinces. In the Director of Chippendale and in Sheraton's and Hepplewhite's books of designs there are illustrations of clock cases. The progression of styles of eighteenth-century "grandfather" clock cases is from plain oak to figured walnut, black and red lacquer, floral, "seaweed," or mosaic marquetry, and in the latter decades of the eighteenth century inlaid mahogany cases, and many of these have finely veneered panels. In many country clocks oak cases are veneered in mahogany, but as a rule country-made grandfather cases are plain oak. The example illustrated (p. 211) indicates the plain type of solidly made provincial piece.

The mahogany long-case clock is never found in cottages. There are no Chippendale styles in this field for the collector to search for. The plainness of the country style has happily in many instances preserved them from alien hands. An interesting revival, chiefly on account of expense, is found in the Dutch clock, with china face painted with flowers, which the cottager bought in early and middle nineteenth-century days. This form of clock reverted to the unprotected pendulum and weights, and is an object-lesson in what the style of English clock was before the use of a long wooden case. But these Dutch clocks are interesting rather than valuable, and have not yet claimed the attention of collectors.

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