As part of the long process of restoring and upgrading of my recently acquired 1920s house I have now opened up one of the fireplaces I have decided to retain as a feature in a corner of the dining room. The chimney and fireplace were used back in the early history of the house but photographic evidence shows the chimney had been removed by the 1960s and the fireplace itself hidden in a cupboard by the late 1970s.
After carefully removing the wooden cover inserted behind the arch I set about clearing away years of ash and soot from behind the grate, four bucketfuls to be precise before I came across a piece of rag stuffed further up the chimney. Careful extrication revealed it was a shirt made from a very course material and one which had clearly seen better days. Also buried inside the rubbish was the fire grate, this, along with some other fireplace parts discovered in the garage, will allow me to reconstruct the grate area correctly even though the fire can never be used as there is no chimney.
The old shirt was delicately taken into the garden to avoid creating a dust storm and then carefully shaken out before examination. My mind immediately set about trying to work out when it was placed in the chimney and also wondered who had been the owner and wearer of the garment. Fortunately I had been given a clue in the label on the neck which showed the Utility Mark. A quick search on the internet revealed the Utility label was used from 1941 until 1952 so the production of the shirt has been narrowed to an eleven year period. Clearly well used, the shirt must have been at the end of its life as clothing before being relegated to the useful purpose of a draught and dust excluder and probably placed there in the late 1950s or early 1960s when the chimney was removed. Although I’m restoring the fireplace, I think the old shirt is beyond redemption!