Fire-screens were once an essential part of the inventory of every well-to-do British household, so much so that Samuel Johnson wrote that we have twice as many firescreens as chimneys’. In the first half of the eighteenth century, square or rectangular screens were elaborately carved in walnut, giltwood or mahogany. The central section was typically filled with a colourful panel of needlework, often painstakingly worked by the lady of the house as she sat by the fire. Some screens enclosed sliding panels that could be pulled out to offer added protection if the blaze was particularly fierce. Square screens, of the type supported on four carved feet, sometimes joined by a stretcher, are often called cheval’ screens, because the feet supposedly made them resemble a horse.
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