Victorian Fireplaces - History, Features & Sourcing
Unique Features of Victorian Fireplaces
Queen Victoria was a formidable woman, as the length of her reign suggests - 1837 to 1901, i.e. most of the 19th century. And with the growth of Empire and the increase in wealth and power which the Industrial Revolution brought for some, the Victorian period was one in which more was more. Victorian fireplaces reflected the styles adopted more generally in furnishings, architecture and even literature - pomp, opulence and ornament, all in conscious contrast to the restraint and symmetry of the Classic era.
Among the influences in the Victorian period was a 'Gothic revival'. In both public and domestic settings this referenced the ecclesiastical ornamentation of the Gothic period. It incorporated tracery, heraldry, cusping and medieval designs (and the Arts and Crafts Movement, founded by a group of breakaway artists and led by William Morris, sought to imitate medieval techniques). All of this influenced the style of Victorian fireplaces - large and looming, elaborate and imperious.
Whether they are made of cast iron, stone or wood, Victorian fireplaces are ornate, perhaps with ecclesiastical overtones, and they have a pointed inner arch. On the theme of more being more, the Victorian-inspired stylist has no fear of decoration, especially stuff like armour and porcelain. Dried flowers, if you like that sort of thing, can be stuck around the room and in the fireplace in the summer. To go with the heavy fireplace, floral-patterned wallpaper and heavy furniture are an authentic choice - the latter probably oak, possibly salvaged (see below for a note on this). And it's worth noting that a big room is required if the fireplace isn't going to look too much - which is perhaps just as well, considering that whether it is antique or imitation it is likely to cost quite a lot.
Where to source Victorian fireplaces? Salvage yards and antiques fairs are the most economical option and there are plenty throughout the country - try sites such as www.periodproperty.co.uk or specialist magazines such as the Antiques Trade Gazette (www.antiquestradegazette.co.uk) for more information about them. Beware, though, of the increasing problem of architectural theft from stately homes and the like. Fireplaces are one of the most popular items to fall victim to this, so make sure you buy through a reputable dealer or you may unwittingly be contributing to the destruction of a piece of history. There are also furniture dealers specializing in the Victorian period who, even if they cannot provide you with what you're looking for, will be able to point you in the right direction. The BBC website (www.bbc.co.uk) is a good place to get more ideas on period style.