“One brass hearth & Creepers brass Slice and Tongs – £01 01s 00d”
While working on transcription of an inventory recently I found myself wondering ‘what is a creeper’ in relation to a hearth? It was not a word I am aware of having seen before, so set me off in search of information.
I discovered that Google Books have scanned and made available a work dating from 1845 with the wonderfully snappy title ‘On the History and Art of Warming and Ventilating Buildings – By open fires, hypocausts, German, Dutch, Russian, and Swedish stoves, steam, hot water, heated air, heat of animals and other methods: with notices of the progress of personal and fireside comfort, and of the management of fuel. Illustrated by two hundred and forty figures of apparatus’ by Walter Bernan, Civil Engineer, Volume 1 [231 pages]. How could I resist?
Now I’m not sure I will ever get around to reading the whole volume, however I have found the information on page 160 to be very interesting, and I think worthy of sharing with you. So, allowing Mr Bernan to educate us, we read:
“The ancient andiron, as has been stated, was composed of two standards, connected by a rod of iron, or billet bar, as shown in Fig. XXVIII.,
which is a sketch of the andirons that stood on the floor of the hall at Penshurst. But when the fire was made in a recess that was very wide and deep, each standard was fixed into the back of the fireplace by a lateral bar, Fig. XXIX and Fig. XXX
that show the andirons in the hall at Vicar’s Close, Wells; c, c, are the standards, i the billet bar, and a the reredos, or hob that in deep recesses brings the fire more into the room. When the fireplace was of moderate dimension, the andiron was moveable.
In the kitchen, where large fires were made, and large pieces of wood laid on, the standards and billet bars were proportionably massive and strong, but usually plain with very little ornament. In the hall, that ancient seat of hospitality, they were also strong and massive to sustain the weight of the logs of the “glorious Christmas fire”. These were more ornamental by the standards being polished and kept bright, or ornamented with brass rings, knobs, rosettes, heads and feet of animals, and a variety of fantastic and grotesque forms. As it name imports, the implement, in kitchens and in the rooms of common houses, was wholly made of iron, sometimes the billet bar and foot only was of this metal, and the stem and ornaments were of copper as at Hengrave, or the standard was wholly of brass, like those in the long drawing room at Haddon Hall. Others were highly gilt and enamelled with beautiful flowers in various colours, and disposed with great art and elegance.
Sometimes they were fashioned of more costly materials. When Carr, Earl of Somerset, was married to Frances Howard, they received valuable presents from the court-favour hunters. Among others, Sir Robert Mansel and Sir Robert Carey, each gave fire tongs, fire shovel, and creepers (andirons), and all the furniture of a chimney in silver; another cringer laid at their feet a “cradell of silver to burne sea cole in”. Sir Charles Wilmot’s offering was a warming pan of gold; and at a feast made for the unworthy pair by the city of London, Sir Robert Ingram presented them will all the implements of a kitchen in silver.
The andirons, “like knights with their squires, were often attended by a pair of younger brothers far superior to, and therefore not to be degraded by the humble name of creepers” that are given to them in the Hengrave Inventory. Indeed they often carried their necks half as high as their proud elders. “I have a pair,” says a correspondent in the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” “in my hall, that are 2 feet 6 inches high, and much ornamented at the bottom; but there is something singular belonging to them, they have each a kind of round pan, about 4 inches diameter and 1 inch deep, hanging loose, whether designed for use or ornament I know not, but when I was a boy, they served me, and have done my children since, to make a noise with.”
These round plates at the top of andirons were a common ornament, and were almost as nicely polished as a convex mirror. A pair at Wombwell Hall had armorial bearings figured on their discs. The common sort of creepers had no standards, or very low ones, and their feet were connected by the billet bar. The office of the creeper was the same as that of the andiron, to keep the ends of the brands from the hearth, and in order to produce a brisker combustion. Andirons and creepers are still in use in many old mansions, in woodland districts where wood continues used for fuel.”
So with many thanks to Mr Berners I now have a clear idea of what creepers are, but what about that ‘slice’?
Well, my ever-handy “Words from Wills” by Stuart A. Raymond tells me a slice is a fire shovel, used particularly for taking ashes out of bread oven. Its end was shaped like a spade or paddle.
I have also found at www.yourdictionary.com/slice
that a slice is defined (among other things) as:
A plate of iron with a handle, forming a kind of chisel, or a spadelike implement, variously proportioned, and used for various purposes, as for stripping the planking from a vessel’s side, for cutting blubber from a whale, or for stirring a fire of coals; a slice bar; a peel; a fire shovel.
And in “The Age of Cunard: A Transatlantic History 1839 – 2003” by Daniel Allen Butler we are told:
“A stoker’s first task was to break up the large lumps of coal brought by the trimmers into something more manageable, so using their shovels and slice bars, they would reduce the larger pieces into fragments roughly the size of a man’s fist. Next, timing his movements to the pitch of the ship, the stoker would swing open the door to a firebox and quickly thrust home his slice bar along the fire-grate, working it back and forth four times, once for each track of the grate, to improve the draft across the burning coals by breakins ashes and clinkers loose. These were quickly raked into the pit below the firebos and the fire-door swung closed again.”