Thursday, February 4, 2010

Keeping Warm: Buzaglo Stoves

Thursday, February 4, 2010
Susan reports:

When I posted the photographs of the ballroom and the supper room in the Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg, two very important fixtures weren't visible in the pictures. Here they are now: a pair of coal-burning, cast-iron stoves that were the cutting edge of keeping warm in the 1770s.

Also called "warming machines," the stoves were imported from London where they were effective, fashionable, and exclusive because of their cost. The stoves were the work of a famous inventor of the time named Abraham Buzaglo (1716-1788.) A Moroccan who immigrated to England in 1760, Mr. Buzaglo immediately amazed Londoners with his cast iron warming machines, which he patented in 1765. As one historian has noted, his ultimate goal was to try to "reform English prejudices regarding comfortable warmth."*

Mr. Buzaglo's trade card modestly promised that his stoves "surpass in Utility, Beauty & Goodness any thing hitherto Invented in all Europe". They "cast an equal & agreeable Heat to any Part of the Room, and are not attended by any Stench," with "a bright Fire to be seen at Pleasure." More importantly, the stoves"preserve the Ladies Complexions and Eye Sight" and "warm equally the whole Body, without scorching the Face or Legs," plus "other Advantages too tedious to insert."**

The warming machines were so popular that they became known by the inventor's name (though incorrectly, if inevitably, pronounced by the English as "Buzz-aglow" rather than "Bu-ZAH-glo".) Buzaglos warmed drafty gracious homes as well as university libraries and the shops of tailors and weavers. The two in Williamsburg were imported to colonial Virginia by the Royal Governor, Lord Botetourt (1718-1770) for the comfort of his guests in the Governor's Palace, and shortly before his death in 1770 he ordered another to warm the House of Burgesses.

So do Buzaglo stoves work? While I don't doubt that the twin Buzaglos in the palace are in fine working order, I also imagine that modern-day fire and pollution regulations frown on combining coal-burning stoves with crowds of tourists. But to a lady shivering in a silk gown two hundred years ago, I'm sure they were a very welcome upgrade from the sparks, soot, and limited warmth of an open hearth.

And, of course, there must have been all those "other Advantages too tedious to insert."

** "Hot Air from Cambridge", an article by J.C.T. Oates appearing in The Library


Ingrid said...

Gosh, did they do cast iron in the 18th century? Somehow I always associate it with the 19th.
I can see that the exhaust pipe of the one in the blue room goes through the window. Where does the one in the green room go? You would think putting the machine in the fireplace would make more sense.
Another nosy question: how do they actually heat the Governor's Palace these days? Do you see modern radiators dotted about?

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Ingrid, those stoves must have been effective, because they're the only way to heat those two large rooms. There aren't any fireplaces.

The venting for the green supper room goes out through the wall. It's visible from the outside of the building, in the garden. The article about the stoves included a bill that itemized the costs for installation; Mr. Buzaglo didn't work cheap, that's for sure. I did wonder if someone from his shop came all the way to Williamsburg to install these stoves, or if they just sent directions? No record of that that I've found....

The other rooms in the palace have fireplaces, with most set up with grates for burning coal instead of wood-- very modern in the colonies in the 1770s. Of course they still didn't know how much American coal was waiting to be mined, so all the coal burned in the palace at that time was imported from England. Definitely "luxury heating." :)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

BTW -- Loretta's earlier post, "Little White Dress on Fire", includes a print showing the perils of a coal fire grate, despite being marketed as much safer than a wood fire:

Vanessa Kelly said...

I was doing some research on the Industrial Revolution several months back and, contrary to my expectations, it really did start much earlier than most people assume. I guess the huge social and cultural shifts didn't come until later, but much of the machine-processing and technological advances began in the 18th century.

Those are, indeed, very elegant stoves!

Lyn S said...

I remember finding chunks of coal near the old cellar door at my Grandparents house in Michigan. By the time I was little there furnace was gas. I am on my way out now to bring in wood for the 2 feet of snow expected today. We have a cast iron insert fireplace. The burning wood heats the air in the space around the box, which is then blown into the house. This way your heat does not go up the chimney. School is closed so after I bring in the wood, I get to read.(I am a teacher and we love snow days as much as the kids). Here's to warmth no matter how you get it.
Lyn S

Joanna Waugh said...

Mr. Buzaglo's cast iron room heater reminds me very much of the ceramic stoves popular in eastern Europe during the same time period.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Vanessa, you're right, all the "thinking" that would blossom into the Industrial Revolution begins a good deal earlier. I esp. like the way these stoves are transitional: high tech for their time, yet very decorative, too.

Lyn S., your insert fireplace sounds like good way to stay warm. Most modern people don't realize how ineffectual a fireplace is for heating. As you say, most of the heat goes up the chimney, and you have to sit very close to the fire to feel any of it.

Here in Pennsylvania, we're expecting heavy snow today, too, and the schools have already let out, even though not a flake has yet fallen. Enjoy your snow days, everyone!

Izzy said...

These two stoves don't look much different from modern cast iron woodburning stoves. They have the same boxy shape, the same outtake pipe and the same kind of legs. I wish the pictures were a little clearer (ie away from the bright window which would have been impossible I know) so I could see the detail of the casting. Were there patterns on the sides and doors? Do you remember what it was? Yes I'm curious, but this is a most interesting blog!

nightsmusic said...

Growing up, we had a coal burning stove in the living room, similar to the ones in your pictures, but a bit more enclosed. (I live in Michigan still) Then when I was around 8 or so, we went "modern" and got forced air heat with an oil burning furnace. (filthy, dirty thing!) The neighbors next door opted to continue with the coal until the late 60s when the city outlawed its use.

Now, we try to heat as much as possible with our fireplace. It does a very good job though we occasionally have to turn on the furnace. I have to admit, I don't miss the coal or oil.

Leah Marie Brown said...

I stumbled upon your blog quite by accident but now wonder if perhaps Serendipity took a hand in the matter. What a lovely page. This novelist, world traveler and 18th Century France enthusiast was thrilled to spend an hour reading your posts and following your links.

Thank you...or rather...Merci!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Izzy, I'm sorry the pictures aren't more clear -- as you noted, it's hard to get much clarity from back-lighting, and it's not easy, either, when the tour guide is hustling me along. *g* Still, if you click on the picture in the green room, the image will enlarge, and you'll get a bit more detail. The detail that I remember was a hodge-podge of classical motifs: wreaths, swags, dentil work, volutes, and columns, plus the "flames" at the top of the urns, which I thought were kind of droll on a stove.

Theo, we recently replaced the oil furnace in my house. We thought it was so old -- from 1945 -- but the installation men scoffed, and said they'd just had to take out a coal furnace from the early 1900s, so I guess they're still out there!

Leah Maire, welcome, and thank you for your kind words!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Joanna -- I meant to reply yesterday, but had to do a bit of research before I did! Yes, these cast iron stoves do resemble the big porcelain ones in use in Europe in the 16th-18th c. Though they're mostly in northern countries,as you say, they were also used in Venice. I had to look up the name, because I never can remember it: kachelofen. They remind me of big, bright teapots, sitting there in the corner of the room. Such an elegant method of heating!

Virginia said...

Am I the only one who thinks these coal stoves look positively funereal, like Victorian hearses? They stick out like guests in mourning in those light and airy rooms.

George Coulter said...

Thank you for this interesting article about the Buzaglo stove. I was watching a documentary about colonial Williamsburg on C-SPAN television when they took a tour of the governors palace where I got a glimpse of the heating machines. Google brought me to the informative comments here on your blog. I realize I am looking at your total blog through the smallest of all possible knotholes but I enjoyed this posting and I appreciate that almost 6 years later you not only have maintained your archive of postings, but I see you still are going strong.

Much appreciated!

(Just curious -- I wonder what is the percentage of the comments posted to your blog each week that go back more than one year?)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you for the kind words, George, and I'm glad you found this post useful. Yes, we've left all our old posts up, since many readers like you find us via a random Google search. Not many leave a comment on the older posts, but many of our older posts continue to draw quite a bit of traffic over time - which is all the more reason to let them continue to "live" on the internet. :)

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