In centrally heated, 21st Century England it’s easy to forget how comforting a fire can be. Not to mention how much work one can entail. This little 1880s house once had three hearths downstairs – one for the kitchen which was to heat the servant girl’s room above. The other two bedrooms each had a fireplace. Plenty of work hauling all that coal up and ashes down the stairs. No more of that, but we can relax around the woodburning stove, or once a year, by this thermally inefficient open fire.
In 1806 Mary Lamb was writing to her younger friend, Sarah Stoddard, who had a few major family and personal matters to sort out at some distance from London, before Rowland Hill’s Penny Post made letter writing cheap and reliable.
Do write soon: though I write all about myself, I am thinking all the while of you, and I am uneasy at the length of time it seems since I heard from you … and this second winter makes me think how cold, damp, and forlorn your solitary house will feel to you. I would your feet were perched up again on our fender.
The fender is a low barrier between the fireplace and the floor of the room, often at a good height for warming the toes.
This story made me wonder how often the one who came to bring fire to the earth sat around an open fire with his disciples, how much of his more intimate teaching was given that way. I shall have to re-imagine some of the Gospel passages next time they come up.
Mary Lamb to Sarah Stoddard, 14 March 1806, The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, 1796-1820, edited by E. V. Lucas.