They’re one of the most ubiquitous aspects of 19th century houses, a feature that functions as both a source of warmth and light and a decorative element in the interior design of the house (as so many things do). We see a lot of fireplaces during our work in the city, as we record 19th century buildings damaged by the earthquakes. Some of them are elaborate, some of them are basic and some of them have been modified over the last century, evolving to reflect changing fashions and taste in interior design. All of them have a story to tell. The following images include some of the best and most interesting examples seen by our buildings archaeologists as they investigate the built heritage of the city.
Elegant, yet minimal. An example of a plain 19th century cast iron coal register in an early 20th century timber surround. Image: P. Mitchell.
Often, the fireplaces found in historic houses display evidence of modification. This 19th century tiled fireplace, for example, has a 1920s timber surround. Image: P. Mitchell.
This lovely example was found in the master bedroom of a house constructed between 1883 and 1887. Although the cast iron plates date to somewhere c. 1880- the 1890s, the surround is a later addition (probably from the 1920s, again). Image: F. Bradley.
The original wallpaper visible behind the 1920s surround in the previous photograph. Image: F. Bradley.
Unfortunately, this beautifully ornate “timber as marble” surround had been removed before it could be photographed in situ. It’s unusual, thanks to the decorative styling of the faux-marble: slightly more ostentatious than is common in Christchurch. Image: P. Mitchell.
Peter’s personal favourite. The 19th century cast iron coal register was painted to look like brick before being boarded up, probably in the 1960s. This fireplace was found in a house in Ashburton that once belonged to a doctor. Image: P. Mitchell.
Another modified 19th century fireplace, with 20th century bricks in a timber surround. It wouldn’t originally have been placed in the corner of the room as it is here: that placement tells us that the wall to the left was a later addition to the house. Image: P. Mitchell.
One of the more unusual fire surrounds we’ve come across, with neoclassical ionic columns on either side. Image: P. Mitchell.
A plain cast iron coal register with a moderately ornate timber surround. Image: P. Mitchell.
This beautiful example from an 1860s heritage building in Kaiapoi has the most fantastic tiles. The couple who built this house worked for J. White & Co., Importers and General Storekeepers, during the 1860s and, in and unusual turn of events, had their wages credited to the store so that they could buy the building materials with which they built their home. Image: K. Webb.
See? Gorgeous. The classical ruins here tie into the neo-classical fashions that were prevalent during the mid-19th century, a style that was also visible in many of the patterns used to decorate household ceramics, especially table wares. Image: K. Webb.
From the same house, a slightly different form of fireplace. This coal range is an ‘Atlas’ model, with the maker’s mark “SCOTT BROS / CHRISTCHURCH” found on it. This brand of ranges were shown by the Scott Brothers at the Metropolitan Show in 1886, although the company had been operating as iron founders at the Railway Foundry from 1870 onward. Image: K. Webb.
This one has a cast iron coal register with an urn and foliage raised design, and would have had tiles on either side, which have since been removed. Image: P. Mitchell.
It’s interesting to note how many of the fireplaces we come across have been painted white at some point (often within the last few decades), another sign of how personal and social tastes are changing over time. If you look closely enough, you can see that this is the exact same model as the previous photograph, just painted white. It suggests that this was a popular design, probably available ready made through catalogues and shops. Image: K. Webb.
Another example with cool tiles. For something that is such a prominent feature of a room, it’s really not surprising that so much effort would go into making and choosing fireplaces that were aesthetically, as well as functionally, pleasing. Image: K. Webb.
See? Can you spot the one tile that was obviously laid the wrong way…? Image: K. Webb.
Another ornate wooden fireplace, found in a turn of the century house built by a saw miller in Duvauchelle. The tiles on this one, rather than drawing on the neo-classical scenic images of the earlier fireplace, form a tessellated geometric and floral pattern, far more in line with the more restrained, abstract styles of this later period. It also has some interesting and unusual wood inlays in the surround. Image: K. Webb.
Peter Mitchell, Kirsa Webb, Francesca Bradley and Jessie Garland.