When that poor chimney draft does its best to drive you daft
Published 16/11/2010 | 05:00
One of life's greatest irritations must be a smoking chimney, especially one that begins to draw nicely when the fire is first lit and then, just when you turn your back, fills the room with acrid smoke. Or one that keeps a merry blaze in the hearth except when the wind is blowing from the north or east.
Twenty-first-century builders and architects seem to have forgotten the importance of designing a flue that provides a good 'draw'. Without it you are in deep trouble, but usually you only find out after the house is built. At that stage, all the swear words and expletives we might murmur about builders are of little use. It's a bit of a mystery, though, for, despite being told that it is all to do with the size of the flue, I have seen huge chimneys you could fit a small boy down that still smoke.
In past centuries, when a new house was being built on Achill Island, apparently there was always one craftsman whose job was to ensure that the chimney would draw properly. It was, of course, of vital importance, given that all the cooking and warmth for the home depended on a good fire.
The trick was to take stock of the relationship between the chimney and the roof, the nearby houses, the prevailing wind and the contours of the surrounding landscape. This is why so many of the old cottages on the island had different styles of chimney and which, in time, came to be widely admired by painters and lovers of the picturesque.
Back in the 18th Century, fireplace design was in its infancy but things changed when the famous Count Rumford began to tackle the problems of drafts and smoking fires. He was an amazing character who started life as plain Benjamin Thomson in Massachusetts, USA.
He then got into a spot of political trouble and was forced to move to England, where he published a paper on how to make a chimney that actually worked as intended.
King George III must have been fed up with smoky rooms, for he was so impressed that he knighted Benjamin, who then moved to Bavaria where he served as a minister of war. There, he was awarded the title of 'Count' for his services to the Holy Roman Empire.