History of gas fires
William Murdoch introduced the concept of gas for domestic use in 1812, and for the next 60 to 70 years the fuel was almost exclusively for lighting. It produced a much stronger light than candles or oil lamps, could be installed in the homes of the emerging and upper middle classes, and stayed lit in the drafty homes of our ancestors. In fact, it took the introduction of another and better fuel for lighting, in the form of electricity, to push the private gas companies and their associated manufacturers to change direction.
Socially, this coincided with the separation of heating and cooking and the creation of artisan and middle-class housing that featured a kitchen and a ‘living room’. With cooking elsewhere, the living room fire moved away from stove design to purpose-built units where heating characteristics were optimised. Coupled with this was the desire of the average middle class user for fires that required less work than their existing coal fires.
It is difficult to say which company caused the first gas fire. Gas mayfly collector Billy Carter believes they might have been the Willsons and Mathiesons and that an early fire dated to around 1895 in his collection may, in fact, be the first commercial model. The company had started out as a manufacturer of umbrellas, but in the business environment of the late Victorian era, good engineers tended to do whatever was profitable. The first fires were very simple: a basic gas burner heated a cast iron casing that radiated the heat into the room. They were usually freestanding and mobile with the products of combustion fed directly into the room!
As the country entered the 20th century, there were literally hundreds of companies producing all manner of gas fires along with ranges, water heaters, washdown boilers, and a host of other products. Some names like New World and Parkray continue to this day. Others like Arden Hill, Eagle Range and Bratt Colbran have disappeared into larger conglomerates. As companies proliferated, technology also improved. The designs were based on fireplaces, using the ‘Milner fireplace mantel’ which had appeared at the end of the previous century as an efficient fireplace foundation for craftsmen’s cottages. Ceramic radiants, often with elaborate designs, began to be used to project radiant heat from the front of fires into rooms. These design progressions saved World War I, and by the 1920s a well-established industry was producing over a million gas fires a year which were sold in the myriad gas showrooms owned by private gas companies. and municipal.
The companies themselves did not sit still. A definite move towards acquisition and conglomeration was visible during the 1920s and 1930s, its most obvious effect being the creation of the Radiation Group. Since gas utilities, particularly the London-based Gas Light and Coke, wield incredible power, the companies saw an advantage in merging into a larger unit with economies of scale. Radiation was initially made up of Fletcher Russell, Arden Hill, Eagle Range Company, New World, Willsons & Mathiesons, Davis Gas Stove Company, Richmond Gas Stoves & Meters and John Wright Ltd, although other companies were later incorporated. Their inspiration and direction came from Ivan Yates, an entrepreneur, JF Davis who as ‘front man’ created the right image for the group and Dr. Hartley who provided the technical expertise. Until World War II the individual companies retained their names and many designs were sold under a variety of names to different gas companies.
The interwar period saw a number of other innovations. Jordans, part of the Radiation Group, perfected stove enamel – enamel for heating and cooking stoves – which could be applied in a host of “modern” colors. The move to enamel was, in part, stimulated by the growing wealth of the middle class who saw their homes as something to be ‘fashionably decorated’ as well as a place to live. Other developments, often regarded as “post-war” innovations, were first created around this time. The Metro Log Fire, a precursor to today’s living flame fires, was sold by the Gas, Light & Coke Company in 1932. The 1935 Raytonic fire had a simple heat exchanger, often considered a feature of the 1950s. The Raytonic design saw itself as a replacement for soapstone-lined fires, which had improved the Gas Fire’s convection output since its inception in 1932.
Wartime brought virtually all development projects to a halt, but as the UK entered the era of Harold Macmillan when “…we’ve never had it so good!” gas fire continued its onslaught on traditional coal fires which, in the mid-1950s, were still the main source of domestic heating in the UK. More mergers had taken place and some new ‘players’, including GlowWorm, had appeared on the scene. Gas fire design had begun to include heat exchangers and the ‘Cinderella’ ornate ceramic radiant type was superseded by the box designs which still appear in many public sector specific fire designs. Getting gas to the fireplace was vitally important: many of the recently nationalized gas boards had schemes to provide gas poker points near the fire for as little as ’30 shillings’ (£1.50) and were used by vendors to raise growing sales. of gas fires.
In the 1950s, Flavel, based in Leamington Spa, introduced a product that is still available today: the wood-clad or metal-cased radiant gas stove. The Flavel Debonair revolutionized gas fire sales, and while people’s tastes now prefer burning coals (or even logs, driftwood, pebbles or geometric shapes), the trusty radiant old box fire survives in over 2 million copies. houses across the country. Highly realistic “living flame” gas fireplaces with elegant surrounds are now available. There are options that follow a variety of periods, such as Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Noveau. Some companies even offer fires that can be lit at the touch of a button on a remote, offering the ultimate in convenience and comfort.