Historical introduction to chimneys

Medieval hall-houses were heated by means of a central fire in an open hearth. Smoke rose freely through the height of the hall to escape through the ridge, depositing soot on the roof timbers on its way. In high-status houses, open hearths began to be replaced from about the middle of the fifteenth century with contained fireplaces and chimneys. Their use was widespread by the sixteenth century.

The construction of the fireplace varied according to the building traditions of different regions. Stone was the commonest material, but in parts of west Wales especially, hoods and flues were sometimes made of wickerwork daubed with clay. In areas where timber framing was common, half-timbered fireplaces may also be found.

Chimneys rapidly became very visible status symbols. For richer house owners, this encouraged the development of ever more elaborate designs during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The use of bricks in the lowland areas along the border with England, for example, led to the clustering of flues, each serving a separate fireplace, into star-shaped chimney stacks with moulded brickwork. In the west, tall single shafts were more common. In the nineteenth century, the significance of the chimney as a status marker in smaller cottages sometimes led to the construction of dummy chimneys where there was no fireplace.

During the eighteenth century the design of chimney stacks became simpler, and terracotta chimney pots began to be used widely. At their simplest, chimneys pots were formed either by hand or on a potter’s wheel. However, the Victorians developed many highly decorative designs using moulds, allowing very rapid mass production.

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