1970s Nostalgia: When Britain’s Fireplaces Started Going All Retro

Sat in front of our roaring log burners and stoves today, it seems hard to imagine a time when ‘real’ fireplaces were considered old hat. But back in the 1970s, that was certainly the case.

Mooching around one of our local vintage shops recently, I came across an October 1974 edition of Practical Householder. I’ve always been fascinated by social history and this 129-page edition captured my imagination straight away.

For the princely sum of 18p (roughly £2 in today’s money), readers could get all sorts of advice on how to tart up their living rooms, repair their own roofs, install snazzy new windows and, of course, how to heat their homes.

And right at the beginning is a vivid full page advert for a Redfyre Plus 8 Automatic Roomheater which burns smokeless coal. The advert really does hammer home the convenience and efficiency of this new-to-the-market produce. It’s a classic example of function over form.

There’s also quite a few adverts for new fireplace surrounds. I liken it to the solid fuel version of pebbledash but it was very popular and, even today, I see a fair few on my rounds.

I always comment how much I like them – something many customers find a little odd! But to me they’re all part of a home’s history and it always makes me ponder as to who did it and what was there previously.

However, the magazine always shows just how much things have changed from a health and safety point of view.

For instance, there are copious adverts for DIY central heating kits. These days, messing with gas without being Gas Safe registered is an offence.

Funnily enough, gas became regulated mostly because of adverts like these and people either giving themselves carbon monoxide poisoning or causing an explosion through their DIY work.

And one item which caught my eye as a sweep was a letter from a B.J. Baxter of Cambridge who enquired about a solid fuel chimney liner.

Apparently, only half a stainless liner serving his gravity fed solid fuel boiler was installed, so he was seeking advice.

The ‘advice’ stated that he had been giving the wrong lining system and the best one to go with was either cast iron or a ‘special asbestos injection-cement type’ which is insulated! Of course, these days we know how dangerous asbestos is and there are solid fuel steel liners everywhere.

Elsewhere there are photos showing the growing emergence of gas and electric fires which, given the fact that you didn’t have to haul buckets of coal into your living room anymore for heat, would have been very appealing.

In fact, as a kid in the early 1980s I remember our old Parkray solid fuel backboiler being pulled out and a radiant gas fire not too dissimilar to the one below being installed.

It just goes to show how our tastes have changed and, far from being a burden, bringing fuel to the fireside, this is now seen as part of the experience.

And when it comes to some of the designs, it neatly proves that the 1970s’ label as ‘the decade that taste forgot’ isn’t wholly undeserved!

Mr Soot Chimney Sweep is a HETAS Approved Sweep, and member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, offering a professional and friendly chimney sweep and stove service. Book Mr Soot online or call 0800 0541154.

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