Sunday 30 September 2012


When I was 5 or thereabouts we moved down the road to a house that had one of John Laing's experimental heating systems. The compact, open fire in the lounge heated the wall of the small dining-room behind. It had a back boiler linked to the hot water tank upstairs, together with a mechanism for directing the heat preferentially round the boiler or further forward towards the room. And it had a system of air vents that drew in cold air from the hall and convected it to two of the three bedrooms (I, alas, slept with brother number 3 in a bunk in the third). Proper Brits at the time despised central heating as producing pasty-faced Yanks, but this didn't really count. The cast-iron frame also had a plate that drew down across the front so you could keep it in overnight. Some of my childhood memories centre round this fire – my dad getting it going again in the morning, my mum with a large sheet of newspaper held at the top and against the wall on either side, to encourage it to "draw", the coal-dusted men carrying huge canvas bags of coal round the side of the house to empty into the bunker in the back garden, and my paternal grandfather sitting in front of it on a visit, talking to me about the logs in the hearth. He'd been a cabinet-maker, he lived 100 miles away in Birmingham, and that is the only memory I have of him.

My parents always had an open fire in the other houses they moved on to, and family gatherings at Christmas naturally centred round it when we were inside but not at the table. It's part of our own children's memory bank. We, on the other hand, have only ever had electric or gas varieties. Efficient, clean and relatively trouble-free, but definitely not the same thing. Erin Mae, however, came with a solid-fuel burner already in place, the ubiquitous Morsø Squirrel. Not sure how it gets to have a name like this, especially being of Swedish origin. I was more concerned about children's safety, my best beloved said not to worry, and she was right. It's been great to have it glowing away in the corner on a cold evening.

But I could do with more of my dad's expertise. I find that if I've let it die down a bit too much, even though it may be smouldering bright red, adding more smokeless fuel on top seldom gets it going again. There seems to be a point beyond which it doesn't recover. Opening the door to stir things up a bit usually results in little excpet smoke coming out all over the room. Perhaps the chimney has got too cold to create the updraft needed for an effective burn. If anyone knows what this is all about, I'd be glad of a comment.

Meanwhile, I'm thoroughly enjoying having two living flames aboard.


  1. You shouldn't get smoke comimg out when you open the door.

    Inside the stove, below the flue opening, there's a shelf. Make sure it hasn't got a load of soot etc sitting on top of it, in effect blocking the chimney.

    Get the longest chimney you can for the roof.

    The ash pan door often had a little piece of metal which means you can't open it without opening the main door. Take it off (it easily unscrews). Then when you need a bit of extra draft you can open the ash pan door to get the fire going again.

    1. Thanks, Adam. I've worked out how to dismantle most of the bottom of the stove, but not yet how to attack that shelf. I thought I ought to clean it when I acquired a flue brush, thinking it had probably pushed a a fair amount of grot downwards as well as all it extracted upwards! I couldn't get my hand far enough into the space to visualise how it was all constructed, but there didn't seem to be too much collected rubbish.

      Good idea about removing the flange. Morsø's booklet gives the impression you should never, ever need to have the lower door open for anything except removing the ash-tray!

    2. Morso's booklet assumes you'll have a much, much longer chimney than would ever be possible on a boat!