Andirons, or firedogs as they are also known, are a practical tool for stacking logs in an open hearth. Usually sold in pairs and designed with two front legs and one to the rear, logs could be placed securely across the connecting horizontal bar, allowing air to circulate below the fire. The air circulation allowed for a more efficient burn and reduced the amount of smoke generated.
The earliest known form of firedogs were fashioned in stone and were thought to have been in use by the Ancient Greeks as early as the 17th century BC. Clay examples from Europe have also been found from the Bronze Age, circa 1300 BC to 800 BC.
The English term andiron is derived from the Old French word for a firedog, andier, which became common use in English following the Norman Conquest of 1066. Since most examples at that time were made from iron, it seems the English simply corrupted the French word for a more familiar sounding alternative.
Early English examples are often much taller in design than later styles, this is because they played a more significant role in household life. Early andirons were also important cooking utensils and often feature hooks or supports designed for resting spit roasts, as well as hanging kettles and pans. It is not unusual to find designs which incorporate baskets at the top of the vertical uprights for warming bowls of porridge.
As the Renaissance movement injected an aesthetic appeal into everyday household objects, so the andiron evolved in form and fashion from the 16th century onwards. Initially, the traditional simple ironwork uprights were cast with elaborate mouldings of animals, heraldic symbols, or neo-classical motifs. Then, from the 17th century onwards, decorative metals were incorporated into designs such as bronze, brass, silver, and ormolu.
No longer required for cooking purposes, the andirons essential place at the heart of every home diminished during the 18th century, giving way to the more practical fire grate. However, in the same way that nothing seems as inviting as a roaring fire, the humble firedog remains a popular way to add a decorative flourish to you fire surround.