from Historical Year Book of Turku, 1952

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The History of tiled ovens, over nearly 500 years

From the first ovens to the 18th century

The following are extracts from a dissertation by Erik Bergh based on material from Turku Museum of History.

Compiled by Jaakko Vartia

The first ovens in Finland and the Nordic countries

An oven was built and installed at Turku Castle in 1543. According to an inventory of 1562, the oven had been built by a clay potter. During the same year, Juhana Herttua took up residence in the castle. In 1582, a German potter was invited to Kalmar and, already ten years previously, Borgholm and Kalmar Castles had had tiled ovens installed. It is known that Stockholm Castle had tiled ovens in the 1560′s.

The oldest tiles, found during excavations at a convent, date from the end of the 16th century and their site of manufacture and casting method would locate them at Nurnberg, Germany. They prove to have been strongly influenced by the Italian renaissance. The tiles are 17 * 17 cm in size, coloured green, brownish red, and yellow-glazed. They depict subjects such as portraits, jugs and grotesque human figures. Similar tiles have been found in Gothenburg

Not even a clay chimney yet

Tiled ovens of that period were open stove ”Accumulator units” that didn′t even have clay chimneys, but embers from the stove were lifted and place on top overnight to heat a massive ”radiator”. Gradually a clay chimney model was developed and, according to an inventory from Turku Castle of 1634, - ”the new accounting room has three tiled ovens complete with iron plates and other accessories”.

Jalmari Finne mentions green-glazed tiled ovens with plates and doors built at the end of the 17th century in official military residences. However, in the same instance, there is also reference to a fireplace, signifying that ovens were still perhaps only used for keeping the embers warm.

The first drawings, the oldest oven

The first structural drawing of a tile oven appears as late as 1695, in the form of an exhibit of master drawing by The Guild of Masons of Stockholm. Finland′s oldest tiled oven is to be found at Lebell′s house (Lebellin talo) in Kristiinankaupunki and dates from the 1760′s, but is 18th century in style.
Since the 1730′s, in Estonia, there were dainty little tiled ovens built, which were glazed in black and stood on their own feet like a chest of drawers and decreased in size upwardly like steps. The front of the ovens had a round arch recess in which a relief depicted a woman with a low neck-line and high coiffure.

Delft model, Rörstrand

At the same time, in Sweden, lead-glazed tiles were used with blue coloured, so-called Hamburg tiles, influenced by Delft′s celebrated faience production and depicting subjects such as mythology and biblical writings, urban-, garden- and rustic scenes.

When Rörstrand was founded, the articles of incorporation mention that the company would follow the ”Delft model”, in Dutch-German style. Tiles were decorated with blue patterns on a white background. Up until the year 1763, an oven builder, in order to qualify for the Stockholm Guild, would have to produce a master exhibit of ”a slanted roof, central wall-fitting, blue-white tiled oven, having twisted angles and legs”.

From Baroque to Rococo

Later, the late-Baroque heavy shapes and colours had to make way for the more delicate, lighter shades of Rococo. The French Cheminé oven greatly influenced, amongst others, Carl Hårleman and his circles of influence in oven design as seen in oven drawings of the 1750′s, along the lines of which, Rörstrand subsequently followed.

Erik Bergh: ”In about 1740, the square-shaped tile (usually about 18 * 18 cm) made way for a much larger rectangular one, laid in an upright position. The furnace opening was made larger, too. ”Twisted corners” were forgotten and the top section of the tiled oven was tapered so that the oven took on more of a cupboard-like appearance. Leg and upper mouldings were given typical concave and circular profiles, which, with slight modifications, were kept until the end of the century.

During the middle of the 18th century, the standard form of Swedish Rococo tiled ovens of this stature, was completely developed.”

Circular tiled ovens, wood shortage

Developed at around the same time, was another typical model: the cylindrical tiled oven, which could have a locker and circular mouldings. This type of oven appears to be a genuine Swedish creation.

Technically, ovens were still relatively equal to each other: they possessed only one upright smoke channel, via which smoke did indeed travel and was expelled, but so was the heat. At the end of the 18th century, the ”smouldering of the forests of the realm, literally into thin air”, prompted statesmen and economists alike to think seriously about improving the structure of fireplaces towards a more economical use of wood.

The invention of the modern day back-flow oven

In 1767 C.J.Cronstedt, Superintendent, was asked by His Royal Majesty, Gustav 111, to present thoughts on the matter. Together with General Fabian Wrede, Cronstedt produced drawings of a tiled oven equipped with a smoke chimney and made small wooden scale models.

The Council of State published the plans in the booklet: "”A description of the new wood saving methods of tiled ovens". Already that same year, Councillor of State, Gyllenstiern, put in an order for two tiled ovens, in which the smoke channels were ”criss-crossed” and "a new, latest model, brick oven, which allowed smoke to pass up and down five times”.

The new structure was widely adopted throughout Sweden and the new building at Gripsholm Castle was equipped with these "tubular" ovens. Two-thirds of all the tiled ovens of the 18th century are of this tubular type and thus equipped with smaller firebox openings.

Tiled ovens and masters in Finland

It is self evident that in Finland, not so many tiled ovens have survived since the 18th century, as have in Sweden. There were not so many built here, and wars have destroyed those that were. Green and brown-glazed ovens were already produced in Turku, at the beginning of the century. A Clay Potter′s Guild charter was drawn up in Turku in 1738, but, still later, most of the master masons wanted to belong to the Stockholm Guild.

Three masters were active in Turku in the year 1763, Matti Holmberg, Petter Sessling and Carl Deutsch, all of whom, had attained their master′s certificates in Stockholm. They were told to establish/renew a Clay Potter′s Guild, which might invite the region′s tiled oven makers, clay potters and pot makers to join, as they all were doing basically the same type of work.

There are examples where the initial work has been done by a pot maker and then finished off by a clay potter. In the summer of 1735, Johan Walck′s widow applied for permission, together with the clay potter, Shultz, to start burning tiles for commercial purposes.

Fire hazard

Potteries and workshops were located within the city, so the District Governor proclaimed that, due to risk of fire, no more were to be built there. Furthermore, the weather was hot. However, the applicants claimed that their ovens were in better condition and safer than bread ovens, anyway, due to the presence of, amongst other things, chimney safety guards. Permission was granted, provided that any burning was well supervised and large water tanks were kept full and near at hand. The use of these city located tile workshops was sometimes further limited by a proclamation by the Mayor, that burning could only be allowed when it was raining.

A tenantŐs tiled oven

A certain brown tiled oven, which ”Inspector” Schenbeck built into a house belonging to Christina Hutaja, in 1724, was the specimen of the skills of Johan Walck.

The owner of the said house did not, however, appreciate the behaviour of the tenant, who should have wanted ”for his own comfort to equip the parlour with a tiled oven and reduce the cost from the rent, since, without it, and using a normal fireplace, one could survive perfectly well. Furthermore, that ”Mr. Inspector” should pay for it himself and remove it from the premises and take it with him when he moved.”

Two plates!

So, tiled ovens were regarded more or less as items of luxury. Schenbeck, it would seem, possessed extravagant demands in terms of comfort. He fitted, amongst other things, double plates to his kitchen stove. This was unheard-of, and was regarded as having derived from ”Mr. Inspector′s own peculiar ambitions, since one could survive perfectly well with a single plate.”

Ovens and more ovens

Fire insurance policies for town houses in Turku show that green-glazed tiled ovens were extremely common throughout the latter decades of the 18th century, as were brick ovens, whereas faience and porcelain ovens were only to be found in the reception rooms of more distinguished houses.

What must have seemed excessively resplendent to people in those days, was the three-storied stone house belonging to the Magistrate, Chr.Trapp, situated at Pohjoiskortteli N:o 1 (1 North block): In 1791, the estate had, overall, 8 ”porcelain made” and 12 green-glazed tiled ovens.

Also furnished in lavish style, was the wooden corner-house belonging to professor Gust. Pippin, alongside Jokikatu (River St.), complete with its five porcelain, tiled ovens.

In 1900, Turku Museum had the luck to take possession of three Rococo tiled ovens, the painted trimmings of which represent the period 1770 Đ 1790. These were discovered in a demolished house at Eteläkortteli n:o 58 (58 South Block - now known as Läntinen Rantakatu n:o 17, or 17 West Promenade)

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