Frances Bertram has kindly written an essay about our stove.

Photograph by Kath Gabbitas

Our Range

I'm called a Kitchen Range and I'm made from Cast Iron , I'm also quite old about 115 years or so, and I'm in working order.

My fire is often lit and is very welcoming especially on cold wet and windy days, lots of visitors are drawn inside for a warm when they see my fire glowing through the windows. My oven is also used but only on special occasions now. But that's not bad for a Centenarian is it?

Although saying that I'm not as old as some Ranges are. Not by a long way either. . .

The very first one was designed by Thomas Robinson way back in 1780. Now compared to them I'm quite a youngster!

Way back when I was in my prime, I (The Range) was the Heart of the home, the centre of family life. Providing all the cooking facilities, hot water, and heat .

Now some of us have a fire grate in the centre, an oven on the left and a water tank on the right. They are the bigger Ranges - Maybe for 'The Big House' with kitchen maids and cook. I'm not one of those. I've just got an oven and a fire which was perfectly adequate for a home. Plus if you look along the back where the shelf is you will see some little doors. These are for storing salt and herbs or spices to keep them dry.

I have 'dampers' to push in or out to control the heat from the fire to the oven, which does burn very hot. The first ranges didn't have dampers fitted so they didn't have any control over the heat in the oven. I suspect there would have been many a burnt offering at meal times!

I have an ash cover across the bottom of the fire grate at the front which conceals all the ash and Cinders which drop down from the fire. It has a very fancy name it's called a 'Tidy Betty'. A huge black cast iron or copper kettle would have been permanently hung over my fire, always there at hand when it was needed and a massive cast iron stew pot would often be hung from a fitted hook over the fire too with the family meal simmering inside it.

The fire would seldom go out , even during the night. When the family went to bed the fire would get 'banked up' with 'slack' (which was very small pieces of coal almost like tiny gravel) and sometimes vegetable peelings would be added too. This would slow the burning process down overnight and in the morning the fire would jump back to life after having a good stir up with the poker. The the ashes would get cleaned out and disposed of. A pan of porridge would be on the trivet over the fire for breakfast, and bread would be baking in the oven and maybe some washing drying in front of the fire. I was always kept very busy I loved it when it was 'Black Leading' day I would be swept clean soot and ash free and then I'd be covered from top to toe in what looked like black paint (that's the black lead) and rubbed and rubbed with something called 'Elbow Grease' until I gleamed. I looked just as good as new!!! I was so proud when I'd been black leaded.

What's Elbow Grease and Black Lead ? I hear you say -

Well you can't get black lead any more because of what it had in it -
That of course was Lead!
We now know that lead is poisonous and we don't use it any more.
The Lead didn't harm me but it wasn't very good for whoever used it on me. There is a product similar to black lead today which does the job without having the poisonous lead in it. So I am still kept clean and bright.
Now to Elbow Grease - well ask someone who is older and wiser about that cos' you don't see a lot of Elbow Grease around much either these days.

I have many happy memories and some sad ones. The saddest were when I was left to fall into ruin... I was neglected because of the new ways of cooking and heating coming along and I became 'Old Fashioned' I was no longer required... I was forgotten about and useless!! Then one very happy day I was found by the Friends of St Ives who wanted me and had me restored to my former glory.
They spent a lot of money on my restoration at a cost of £ 8,000. Thanks to them, here I am back in full working order at the Visitor Centre and loving every minute of it.

Hope you enjoy your visit to St Ives and tell your friends about us. I've enjoyed telling you about my life.
Thank you for coming to visit us . Do come again.