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History of wood burning stoves and fireplaces

Picture this... as the World's Oldest Fireplace, which means you could say it all began in Malta!

It was the 16th Century before substantial numbers of Britons had moved the home fire against a side wall and began venting it through a chimney.

In earlier times, families literally lived and slept around a central fireplace in every type of home from the humblest cottage to the grandest castle.

But the earliest fireplace known to man is still thought to be located on the island of Malta, part of the Ggantija temples that date back to 3600 BC.

Excavations carried out in 1827 indicate that the temples were roofed over like a dome, but with an open central passage to let light in and smoke out.

Fast forward to present times and many hearths are now the focal point for an efficient, modern wood burning or solid fuel stove.

By enclosing the fire in a chamber (stove) and connecting it to a chimney, it generates a draught, pulling fresh air through the burning fuel in a controlled fashion. This means that the temperature of combustion rises to a point (around 600 deg C) where efficient combustion is achieved.

One of the earliest examples was the fire chamber, where the wood burning fire was enclosed on three sides by masonry walls and covered by an iron plate. And in 1735 French architect Francois Cuvilliés designed a masonry construction with several fire holes covered over by perforated iron plates, known as a stew stove.

Towards the end of the 18th century the design was improved and stoves began to gain a deserved reputation for heat efficiency, and U.S.A founding father Benjamin Franklin had a go and developed his own unique cast iron stoves with much improved efficiency in 1744.

In recent times, as mankind began to worry about deforestation, air pollution and climate change, a new generation of innovative, super-efficient stove designs began to appear, such as the wood burning stoves used today around the world.

Many new methods are adopted to achieve this efficiency, such as airwash, which is achieved by drawing air across the stove’s doors to create a barrier between the burning fuel and the glass.

By effectively preheating this air, the combustion temperature is increased further and it helps to keep the door glass clean.

And in turn these efficiency increases have meant that stove and roomheater users can spend much less time gathering or buying wood and other solid fuels while reducing air pollution and, by using sustainable sources of wood, removing concerns about deforestation altogether.

And today's wood burning stoves feature airtight construction which utilise both steel and aluminium parts as well as cast iron.

Add to that firebrick linings for much improved heat retention, and even catalytic converters which are designed to burn waste fumes, all mean modern wood burning stoves are extremely efficient and much better for the environment.

The name of the stove

It's thought that the word stove comes from the old English word stofa, meaning any individual and enclosed space such as a small room.

René Descartes, dubbed the "Father of Modern Philosophy", and most famous for the quotation "I think, therefore I am", observed that he got his greatest philosophical inspiration while sitting in his (stove-heated) room.

While the renowned naturalist, Botany Bay explorer and botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who took part in the historic and great first voyage of Captain Cook, asserted that he "placed his most precious plants in the stove" (heated room).