‘Dutch’ Style Fireback

Material: Cast iron.
Dimensions: Width 47.5cm (1ft 6½ in) Height 72cm (2 ft 4 in) Thickness: 3.5cm (1½ in).
Place of origin: Ashburnham Furnace, East Sussex, England.
Date: 18th to early-19th century (before 1813).
Maker or retailer: Crowley Millington & Co./Earl of Ashburnham’s estate.
Present location: Crawley, West Sussex (private ownership).


Firebacks were made to protect the back of the fireplace from being damaged by fire. This fireback would have been cast in an open bed of sand, into which had been impressed a wooden pattern carved with the decoration intended to appear on the surface of the fireback. The detail is of Hercules fighting the seven-headed Hydra, one of his twelve labours, the image probably copied or adapted from a painting or engraving (perhaps a book illustration). Below the pictorial panel the monogram, which may be TAN, probably represents the initials of the pattern maker, as the same monogram appears on a small number of other firebacks with similar design features. The wooden pattern from which the mould for this fireback was formed is one of a very few such patterns that have survived and it can be seen in Anne of Cleves House, Lewes, East Sussex. Several castings from this pattern have been recorded.

The furnace at Ashburnham continued in operation until 1813 and among the very last firebacks cast there were some from patterns by the otherwise anonymous TAN.

The overall design is an adaptation of the style of fireback produced in north-west Germany for the Dutch market in the second half of the 17th century, examples of which were imported into England in some quantity during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II. English firebacks in the ‘Dutch’ style were being made from the end of the 17th and through into the first two or three decades of the 18th century.

The fireback was purchased from a cottage at Hooe, East Sussex, in the 1950s and has remained in the possession of the present owner’s family since then.


W. R. Butterfield, ‘Old Wealden Firebacks’, The Connoisseur, 46, 1916, p. 205.
J. Hodgkinson, British Cast-Iron Firebacks of the 16th to Mid-18th Centuries, HodgersBooks, Crawley, 2010, pp. 139, 204.
E. Straker, Wealden Iron, Bell, London, 1931, p. 173.
R. F. Whistler, ‘Penhurst: being some account of its Iron Works, Manor House, Church, etc.,’ Sussex Archaeological Collections, 36, 1888, p.4.

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