Nowadays, fire is rarely necessary for us to get heat and food. We light candles on the dinner table and we light a fire in the fireplace when it's stormy outside or we just want to have a little extra coziness.
But we only need to move further south, to parts of Europe or even more to the African continent to find societies where fire is necessary for warmth and food in the same way it was here in the Nordic countries barely a century ago.
The first fireplace
A long time ago, the hearth in the simple houses of the northerners was nothing more than an open fire on the floor. Then people gathered around the fire, which provided both warmth and light. The very first residential buildings in our country usually had only one room, and there everyone lived together, close to each other and close to the fire to keep warm. The houses had no windows, but only small ventilation holes to create air circulation so that the smoke from the fire was vented out as best as possible.
The brick came
It wasn't until the 17th century that they started building bricks to lead the smoke out through a chimney on top of the house. Finally, all the soot that soiled both the walls and the fixtures in the house was released! It provided inspiration: now more and more people began to "decorate" their homes with paint and fabrics.
Bragging rights in the hall
The heat and light developed slowly and now often came from an open fireplace and maybe you even had a simple baking oven. If you had more than one room in your small house, you probably had a more elaborate oven in the "hall". Of course, it had a heating function, but it was also important as a "bragging object" - here a little extra care was taken to make it as fancy as possible. Most often it was a built-in fireplace that was whitewashed and perhaps given some nice moldings or friezes.
Energy crisis = development
Over time, more and more attempts were made to develop fireplaces. Both for reasons of convenience and appearance, but above all because there was a shortage of firewood in many parts of Sweden. In other words, it was necessary to try to get as much heat out of the wood as possible. That development went in the direction of increasingly building the fire itself under a walled vault and eventually behind hatches. They also developed different dampers and hatches that made it possible to regulate the oxygen supply and thus be able to control how strongly it would burn.
But the tile stove then....?...
Well, the very oldest tiled stoves found (in their simplest form) date back to the Middle Ages and the 15th century.The tiled stove is considered to be a Swedish phenomenon, but it is known that the tiled stove originally came to Sweden from Germany and it happened towards the end of the Middle Ages.
In Sweden, the earliest finds of something that can be called a "tile stove" are dated to the 16th century. At that time, the Swedes did not import tile stoves, but tile molds from Germany, and the Swedes used these to brick simple tile stoves. Often the motifs were biblical and brown or green tiles were made from these, which were the easiest to make.
The pot oven, 18th century and energy crisis
During the 18th century, the tiled stove began to spread more and more across our country. But it was still a fairly simple construction, the effect was only marginally better than a fireplace. These very first tile stoves were called "pot stoves".
Seventeenth-century Sweden was a century of energy crisis. We were actually setting fire to all our large forests in Sweden. The wood was not enough to heat the people and support the small industry that had begun to sprout, and the Swedish authorities were concerned that fuel was being wasted. Better fuel utilization is a must!
Ingenious Swedish invention
But then in 1767 something revolutionary happened: two Swedes, Carl Johan Cronstedt and Fabian Wrede, had been commissioned by the state to try to find more fuel-efficient solutions and they invented a radical improvement in the function of the tiled stove: they created smoke channels inside which made the heat stay much longer in the oven. In one fell swoop, the heat-retaining effect of the tiled stove was infinitely greater than that of all fireplaces!
This "new" tiled stove would become the starting point for the entire modern housing construction. Now, for example, you no longer had to be afraid of large glass sections that could let the heat out of the houses. Now the light could finally enter the houses.
The talented tile kiln factories
Everywhere, the tiled stove was a status piece of furniture that people were very proud of, but above all in wealthy households, they took the turns a little more by decorating them fresh in the prevailing style of the time. Suddenly, a completely new guild of artisans had established itself in Sweden: the kakelugnsmakarna. Most tile stoves were made by a local craftsman, but during the 18th century regular tile stove factories also began to emerge: Rörstrand (started in 1726), Marieberg (1758-1788), Gustavsberg, Uppsala Ekeby...
The tiled stove was a precious piece and something you were very proud of, and you used the tiled stove as a starting point when decorating the rest of the room.
During the latter part of the 19th century, the tiled stove became common in both castles and huts. In the beginning, it was in mansions and rich palaces in the cities that tiled stoves appeared, but in the 1830s and 1840s, large farms began to be equipped with tiled stoves and quite soon it also spread to the countryside and to the common people.
Urbanization contributed not least; more and more people moved into the larger cities, which created a wave of newly built multi-family houses that often had tiled stoves as heat sources, perhaps most notably in the last decades of the 19th century.
The kerosene lit up
In the second half of the 19th century, the compact darkness in the homes was dispelled by the introduction of kerosene. Then kerosene lamps began to appear more and more, and what a change they brought! The fireplaces had become more and more enclosed, where the fire was enclosed behind vaults and hatches to get a better burning effect, but at the expense of the light in the room. The kerosene lamps spread quickly and accelerated the development of closed fireplaces even more - now you didn't have to take into account that they needed to spread light.
The turn of the century – 1920s
The heyday of the tiled stove in Sweden can be counted from the middle of the 19th century to the 1920s. Then the tiled stoves were increasingly out-competed by central heating.
The important fire
In the beautiful book "Husets hjärta - Stoves in old houses", the author Hans Mårtensson describes the struggle of trying to start a fire a few centuries ago, and how important it was to preserve the fire once it was started:
"With steel and flint, fire was fought against dry tinder. They blew on the nose so that it glowed. The glow was caught with a dry wooden stick, sometimes dipped in sulphur. These tools were kept in the firebox on the mantelpiece. If necessary, they carried steel and flint in a small bag. It was important to maintain the fire of the stove. In the evening, the fire would be 'fixed' in a pile of embers and signed with a sign of the cross. Then it was easy to breathe life into the glow the next morning. If the fire 'went out' you might have had to go to the neighbor to borrow fire.”
- "The heart of the house - Stoves in old houses" by Hans Mårtensson, Akantus, 2001.
- "Fireplaces - about fireplaces, stoves and tiled stoves" by Eva Falkmarken, Helena From and photo Mikael Dubois. The building publishing house.