16th Century Fireback


Material: Cast iron
Dimensions: Height: 59.7cm, Width: 144.5cm
Place of Origin: East Sussex, England
Date: Early to mid-16th century, probably before 1535
Maker or Retailer: Unknown
Present Location: Anne of Cleves House, 52 Southover High Street, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 1JA


Firebacks were made to protect the back of the fireplace from the erosive effects of the fire. This fireback would have been cast in an open bed of sand into which had been impressed simple stamps of crosses and buckles – the latter possibly animal brands – in a quasi-symmetrical arrangement. Corrosion has caused the bottom left corner to have been lost. The fireback has a small accumulation of iron slag on the reverse side, probably caused by a failure by the founder to tap off all the slag from the furnace hearth before casting. The buckles suggest a connection with the Pelham family, and the crosses a religious or apotropaic purpose. This is almost certainly the fireback noted in 1861 at Warbleton Priory, Sussex, which Sir John Pelham endowed in 1413; the priory was dissolved in 1535 suggesting a date before then. Iron casting in England began in Sussex in about 1490 and the likely provenance of this fireback makes it a good candidate for an English example to which a pre-Reformation date can be applied. In the recent past it came into the hands of Ripley & Co. of Robertsbridge, East Sussex, who gave it to the submitter, who donated it to the Sussex Archaeological Society’s museum collection in 2015.


  • J. Hodgkinson, 2010, British Cast-Iron Firebacks of the 16th to Mid-18th Centuries (Crawley, HodgersBooks), pp. 93, 232. ISBN 9780956672605
  • E. Turner, 1861, ‘The College and Priory of Hastings and the Priory of Warbleton’, Sussex Archaeological Collections, vol. 13, p. 161


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