Uncovering a Hidden Fireplace
They often say “size doesn’t matter” but in come cases something this size gets your heart racing:
You see it, right? Down below? Well hello there, big fella. Of course we are talking hearth stones. With a stone that size you KNOW there had to be something big behind that wall. There was only one thing that stood between my hammer and that wall…that bloody radiator.
“We have to cut off the broiler…(something about draining and something else)” my husband droned on. All I heard was “stuff I need to wait for my husband to do” and THAT list needs to be as short as possible, if not non-existent. I roll on the “Get Shit Done…Yesterday” schedule, he rolls on some other schedule he doesn’t share with me so I just avoid the bottle neck when I can… else my Ganntt Charts sit unfulfilled.
But radiators are foreign to me. They are like big blocks of archaic nonsense compared to the HVAC systems in America. That steamy heat thing is cute, but could you step back a bit while I fire up this central air unit. Heat, Air Conditioning AND if you overclock it you can drive it to the moon by lunchtime, after all… it has a Hemi.
Fine. Radiator. Sit there.
I decided to start prepping that wall for wall paper removal. So I started taking the shelves down. That is pretty simple, right?
Not in this house.
See how the brackets are at an odd angle? Guess why? Hinges. The shelf was held into the wall by metal pieces on the back of it…that were anchored into the bricks…under the plaster. It wasn’t a shelf, it was a mantle. Long story (about pulling a shelf off the wall) short (you’re welcome)…it’s off and there is a wall shaped crevice down to the brick below. Stupid temptation. Suddenly it happened…
(Brad Pitt cussed, not me.)
The plaster. It just *fell* off. Ahem.
As it was falling off incrementally around the crevice, hubs got into the action. Soon it became clear there was nothing near the mantle, just the lintel (RE: the support stone across the top of the opening) for the regular fireplace below. WTH? I was right about everything so far, this didn’t make sense. HOW WAS I WRONG? I’M NEVER WRONG!!!!
Shrugging it off, I left hubs to finish demo on the wall while retreating to my umpteenth hour of wall paper peeling in the kitchen, my dreams of a cozy inglenook filled with a bright inferno encased in a cast iron stove dissolving like the wallpaper paste beneath my dirty steamer nozzle (simile of the year). The smell of the bread baking in the non-existent stove was slowly dissipating while I ran new design schemes in my head: each falling dismally short from an inglenook with it’s tiny fireplace facade…mocking what could have been. Suddenly I was rudely interrupted:
“What’s whoa? What’s whoa?” I dived from the top of the ladder and scurried to the wall. “Whoa. Oh man.”
We did a celebratory dance and hacked away some more. That’s when the the gorgeous brick design further up came into view…along with the big freaking crack and some crumbling keystones. “Maybe we should stop for today until we get a chance to ask Ian (our Antique building restoration guru friend who is currently working on the Domesday Book noted Pitchford Hall.)
I spent the rest of the night humming “California Love” by TuPac (Because “Inglewood” is kind of like “Inglenook” and “Inglewood’s always up to no good”) and not sleeping because tomorrow we open it!!!
Update: “Yes, Wonderful Things”
November 10, 2016
We got the go ahead from the pro and couldn’t wait to remove the radiator before looking inside. Seriously, we’re kids.
S: “What’s in the wall, Dan? What’s in the Wall? Can you see anything?”
D: “Yes, Wonderful Things”
S: “Nerd. That’s probably the only time in your life that quote will fit the situation quite as perfectly as now.”
To say I was a little disappointed to not see a perfectly preserved Victorian hearth fire bricked up behind the wall was an understatement.
Blogs make this stuff out to be like “the bricks just magically fell away and there it was: a gorgeous wood burning Victorian Inglenook right out of the pages of House and Garden.” I was hoping to peak magically into the void and catch glimpses of a dinner waiting to be cooked 130 years ago, delicately bricked up behind the wall and awaiting our archaeological discovery all these years later. The fire needed to still be burning, damnit.
What we did find was: more work.
We found was the remains of an old cast iron cook stove, similar to the basement only bigger…and missing the cast iron.
We also found a smaller fireplace as well The lintel for this one can be seen in the previous photos where we started to remove the plaster right above the radiator.
I really wanted to restore the original cooker…just one problem: I had no idea what make and style it was. Unlike the one in the basement, all we were able to recover from this one was an iron bar that was lodged in with a giant stone slab in the flue and a fire grate which may have been from an later fireplace even.
We also found the old iron pipes that connected some sort of broiler, either from the original stove or added later down the line. Stoves back then not only cooked family meals but could also act as a broiler for the radiator system.
There are companies out there who offer recreations, like the Yorkshire Range Company. Given that really thin alcove in the bricks on the left, their Little Green model was probably something similar to what was originally here. I’m not saying it was because the alcove is so thin, I’m just saying it could have been similar…so you can visualize it.
God, that sexy blur.
Out…efficiently via the window. Like that white stuff on the wall? That’s why we don’t use regular mortar on Victorians, kiddos. The window is a train wreck on the inside, too. But that is for another post.
The water pipes were wrapped in sheets of The Birmingham Press from July 31st 1930.
This is just one of the many pieces we pulled out. Check out that ad: anyone for a Prince of Wales plate? Of course that would have been Edward VIII…the king who abdicated the throne in favor of his American divorcee lover. Fun fact: Ludlow Castle served as the seat of the Council of Wales and the Marches during the 15th through 17th centuries. The current Prince of Wales (read: heir to the King of England) would live and govern from here (where The Laurels is located).
We also found two packs of Wild Woodbine Cigarettes and a bunch of matches. Want your own? Check out more about the brand and these printable reproductions here.
And a leather tassel on a braided cord.
As we started removing bricks we found they used “green” building techniques…and just threw whatever the hell they had laying around that wasn’t flammable and sort of brick like into the mix. The main surfaces that would be touching the cast iron were brick, but they infilled the rest with a mixture of lime mortar and rubble. Additionally we were pulling out these great sections of white glazed bricks:
3 dozen bin bags of rubble and a stack of bricks later…it’s clean(ed out)!
To give you an idea of how long this is taking (dates: MM/DD/YY):
10/21/16: Found the Hearthstone
10/25/16: First plaster removed from wall
10/27/16: Peaked inside
10/30/16: Removed Radiator, Vapor Board (don’t do that), small fireplace & breeze blocks
10/31/16: Started removing cooker brickwork
11/03/16: (2 Weeks) Last brick removed, hearth cleared of debris. Final dimensions: 48.5″ wide, 19″ deep and 61″ at the highest point of the arch.
Pending: Chimney specialist consult.
We need a consult on needed repairs and sizes for fire basket and chimney hood…or if we should just install a modern stove instead…and by that I mean something I can heat a tea kettle on and cook bread in, like these.
Pending: Replacing bricks and re-pointing the entire facade.
We’ll need to repair the holes left when they ran the water pipes to the broiler and one where they ran the long detached gas pipe to the old gas fireplace the Original Bufton’s had. You can see in the photos where someone in a previous generation lost their mind and started chiseling out a channel on the right side of the opening. This may be something that happened when they removed the cast iron stove? They also replaced some of the original mortar with chunks of wood along the edges to affix the wood supports to when they covered it over.