One of the quirks of one particular office is the fact that it houses a large Victorian cast-iron “Belle Portable” range, which was used right up into the 1990s. Ranges were first used around 1780: they made a welcome improvement from cooking on an open fire. Shortly after their inception, boilers were added to some, which made heating hot water much easier! Food didn’t always cook evenly (one side would always be closer to the fire) but with practice it became much easier.
Some ranges had the capacity to add logs, which allowed fires to burn for longer and heat to be maintained, but in ordinary domestic settings (like our range), the fire would be out by morning, so the range would have to be cleaned, black-leaded and re-lit before you could start cooking again. If you had servants, this would have been an important job – and one that required quite an early start to ensure the family could have breakfast at a reasonable hour!
Gas stoves became slowly more popular – technologically advancements in the late 19th century meant they became a much more appealing prospect to many. AGAs first came into use in the 1920s, which again proved a popular alternative as they maintained heat much better.
Today cast-iron ranges are all but obsolete – but they look fantastic, and having such an important piece of domestic history in the office is always a good reminder of how fortunate we are to live in the 21st century.