Fireplace Grates or Firedog - Essential Air Flow
Fireplace Gates and Firebacks
The origin of fireplace grates can be found in their colorfully named predecessor, the firedog. Originally pieces of iron shaped to hold a log in place over an open fire, these utensils date back to the Iron Age. By the seventeenth century firedogs were more complicated and decorative, and were gradually evolving into supported grates.
Grates, like firedogs, are placed in the hearth to allow air to pass underneath the fire. They can be used with wood, but are only really necessary for coal fires, because of the way coal burns. They are inadvisable with some types of coal, though, because if the fire is too hot the grate may crack - check with the grate supplier or a fuel specialist before trying something new.
Whether you need one functionally or not, fireplace grates can look very good in their own right. Through the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries they were continually redesigned, progressing from heavy dog grates (supported by firedogs), to hob grates, register grates and, in the 1800s, grates that were installed in elaborate iron or steel surrounds. There are plenty of reproduction grates around today, as well as more contemporary designs. Some of the quintessentially English grates were the Georgian neo-classical cast iron models made in Coalbrookdale and designed by John Adam.
Fireplace grates sometimes come attached to firebacks, a sheet of metal placed, as the name suggests, at the back of the fire to protect the hearth and maximize heat efficiency. Seventeenth century firebacks were a canvas for political, social and religious commentary, with subjects including macabre scenes of religious persecution. You may not fancy staring at that in your living room, but the concept of the fireback as a political or social sketch might be well worth pursuing. If you can afford it, designing your own fireback could be very satisfying and provide a talking point for guests (after you've subtlely drawn attention to it). There are a variety of other accessories traditionally associated with the core implement, the grate - firebaskets, bellows, coal scuttles/log cradles, fire irons, shovels, fire screens and fenders. If you have or are going to buy a period grate, you'll probably want to make sure the accessories come from/reproduce the same period.