An Experiment in Cast-Iron Fireplaces

C. R. Ashbee

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THE accompanying illustrations represent the carrying out of an experiment in cast-iron work undertaken for the Falkirk Iron Company. The problem set was how to treat the mantelpice, grate, and fire appartus in such a way as to avoid all wood or combustible material, to be subject to ordinary daily necessities, amd at the same time be something that was new and individual and that could not be easily reproduced in a cheaper material. The Falkirk Iron Company also wished me in carrying out the designs to so devise them that if possible the whole metal throughout should be cast-iron, that therefore there should be as little introduction of hammered work as possible ; this with a view to making the objects more easily saleable, as the economy in work of this kind lies in the replicas. I devised, therefore, as will be seen in some of the illustrations, the expedient of having alternative treatments, as in the case of Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 6, of hammered copper and brass and applied wrought-iron. In No. 3, for instance, the hood can be in hammered copper, or, as shown in the present illustration, in cast-iron; in No. 1, on the other band, the hood is in embossed copper; the little applied rosettes on the curved iron-work, the panels in the grate, the lower portion of the grate, and the raised rosettes on the casting can be either in hammered brass or copper, or in iron; probably in this case, as the weight of the whole is somewhat considerable, the bright metal would relieve it. In No. 5 the hood is again an alternation between the hammered metal and cast-iron, and in No. 6 the circular mirror to be contained over the little mantel-shelf would for choice be in a hammered metal form, though this is not an essential.

From the point of view of the relation of the design to its material the six different pieces explain themselves. I have kept all the forms fairly soft and indefinite, avoiding all sharp lines that might suggest an origin in carving or woodwork, and based my design rather upon, let us say, the lead casting of the Adams perioid, without in any way slavishly copying. In order next to give a variety of colour on the surface of the casting, I have found it advisable to adopt a varying treatment of the plain surface of the iron in several instances. In No. 4, for instance, the surface is reeded vertically and diagonally, in No. 5 there is criss-cross work, with little balls at the centre of the crosses, which gives a pleasing appearance. In No. 1 the upper portion is treated merely with the pressure of the finger on the clay of the original model, the motive being a cluster of little bats hanging under the mantelshelf with a suggestion of webs falling from their wings. Throughout, the principal thing to consider in the design was so to fashion it that it should be easily constructible in the metal, that all undercutting should be avoided, and that due regard should be taken for the draw-off. Within these limitations the designs have been kept severely reserved, perfectly simple flower, animal, and — used with great caution — figure motives arc each in their way employed.

There is nothing in modern commerce that has so been allowed to run riot in the application to it of forms of design as cast-iron work, and it has appeared so far to be an impossible conception to the commercial mind that cast- iron should be anything else but over-decorated. Classic, Medieval, and Renaissance forms have therefore been used ad nauseam in every piece of cast-iron work produced, whether of railings, balconies, coal-scuttles, baths, or lavatories. The natural reaction, therefore, of the designer is to attain simplicity, though he has to admit to himself that, fundamentally, the commercial mind is quite right in wishing to see a heavy and uninteresting substance like cast-iron treated with some form of ornamentation. I next kept in view the possible need for some future colour treatment upon my mantelpieces: the idea was that they would probably be put in flats and large buildings by the architect or contractor and that the individual customer who will paper his room woukd probably colour his mantelpiece to suit his wallpaper; that I thought should be left as the exigencies of personal taste demanded.