WIRG – The Lenard Fireback

Lenard Fireback

This is one of the most interesting firebacks as it depicts Richard Lenard, who succeeded his father as tenant of the iron furnace at Brede in 1605.

Dated 1636, on it is the earliest known representation of the exterior of an English furnace. Along the top rim (below the elaborately scrolled pediment) are the words RICHARD LENARD FOVNDER AT BRED FOVRNIS (with all the ‘Ds’ reversed).

The implements of the founder’s trade can be seen on the left side of the fireback. Lenard himself is holding a sledge, or heavy hammer, on either side of the handle of which are a wheelbarrow, for carting ore, sand or charcoal around the furnace site, and a basket for measuring ore and charcoal for charging the furnace. Next to the handle is a small representation of a charcoal clamp. In the top left corner of the main panel of the fireback, tools are displayed as if they were heraldic charges quartered on a shield. In the top left quarter is a hand hammer, not unlike a modern bricklayer’s hammer. Below it is a weight from a set of scales –  a weighing beam would have been an essential instrument at an ironworks. In the bottom right-hand quarter is a pair of pincers or tongs, used for lifting pieces of hot iron. A firedog is shown above in the remaining quarter of the shield. In the bottom left corner is part of the furnace stack, on which can be seen the courses of stonework, the wooden framework to secure the structure and the building covering the area where casting took place. Beside it is a long, hooked iron bar used for pulling any remnants of slag off the surface of the iron before casting. At the bottom of the main panel, between the founder’s feet, are another weight, a pot and an elliptical ladle with a long handle.

On the right side of Richard Lenard’s figure the images reflect the domestic life of the founder. Firstly, there is his dog, jumping up at his master. Next to Lenard, on a shelf are three symbols of the good life his profitable occupation enabled him to enjoy: a jug, a tankard and a goblet. The shelf with the drinking vessels is supported by an elaborate bracket with floral trimmings. Beneath it, in the bottom right-hand corner of the main panel, is a fireback with the initials, RL, of the founder, and a diamond shape.

© Wealden Iron Research Group 2000-12