Warmed in Kent by a Buzaglo stove

KNOLE HOUSE IN KENT is filled with marvellous things for the visitor to enjoy. The orangery contains an item that at first sight did not seem to be of great interest. It is a tall, bulky black iron heating stove. Undoubtedly impressive in both size and appearance, it was its inventor that interested me.

The stove, which used to heat Knole’s Great Hall, was patented by its inventor in 1765. The example at Knole was manufactured in 1774.  The man who invented this kind of stove was Abraham Buzaglo (1710-1782), born in Mogador (Morocco), son of a rabbi who served in that town. In 1762 after many years travelling, Abraham settled in England.

Buzaglo’s stoves were multi-tiered devices, suitable for heating large spaces. He may have got the idea for his design having seen similar stoves whilst travelling on mainland Europe, particularly in Germany where multi-tier heating stoves were in widespread use. Coal was burnt in the bottom tier of the stove and a vent with a pipe conducted smoke and any fumes and smoke away from the oven without allowing them to enter the room where it was being used. How Buzaglo’s invention differed from earlier multi-tier stoves, I have not yet discovered. However, his stoves were in great demand. One of his trade cards, kept in the British Museum, reads as follows:

“Buzaglo Patent Warming Machine Maker To Their Majesties, Strand, London. N.B. Lately finished, a very Large and Elegant Warming Machine, with one fire only will agreeably Warm the Largest Church Hall, &c. and render any new Edifice immediately habitable, with a variety of others.”


Following the invention of his heating system, Buzaglo invented a therapeutic method that made use of the heat emitted. Patients waited near a stove until they were sweating profusely, and then undertook muscular exercise. This therapy, it was suggested, was especially good for alleviating the symptoms of gout. Buzaglo also invented a heater to warm carriages.

The Buzaglo stove at Knole was in use until the 19th century, when it was moved to be stored in the orangery. Apart from being an attractive bit of ironmongery, this rare example of a surviving Buzaglo heater introduced me to an 18th century inventor, whom I had never heard of before.

Of Merlin and rollerskates

KENWOOD HOUSE IS NEAR both Hampstead and Highgate in north London. It offers the visitor the chance to view not only its lovely grounds and fine interiors designed by the architect Robert Adam (1728-1792), but also a fabulous collection of paintings, many by world famous artists including, to mention but a few, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Van Dyck, Vermeer, Reynolds, and Gainsborough.

Merlin (painted by Gainsborough) and the invalid cahir he invented

One of the paintings by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) is a portrait of the inventor John Joseph Merlin (1735-1803). The latter was born in Huy (Belgium), and as a young man, he worked in Paris making clocks and mathematical instruments. In 1760, he moved to England to work as a technical advisor to the then new Spanish Ambassador to London. By 1766, he was working with the London jeweller James Cox. Then, he was creating mechanical toys including the Silver Swan, an automaton, still working, that can be seen at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle (Durham).

In addition to these ‘toys’, Merlin invented some useful items. These included roller skates; various clocks including one that was powered by changes in atmospheric pressure; improvements to keyboard musical instruments; playing cards for blind people; prosthetic devices; and a self-propelled wheelchair known as ‘the Gouty Chair’. There is an example of this ingenious wheelchair on display beneath Merlin’s portrait in Kenwood House. In my book about Hampstead and its environs, I described it as follows:
“Two handles at the ends of its armrests are connected by rods and cogwheels to some wheels on the floor below the chair. The occupant of this chair could rotate the handles, and thereby propel this early form of wheelchair around the room.”

In the same room as the invalid’s chair, there is another of Merlin’s creations: a skeleton clock made by him in 1776. This kind of timepiece is one, whose working parts are not concealed by casing or any other features that usually hide them.

The portrait of Merlin, painted in 1781 by his friend Gainsborough, shows him in a red jacket, holding a small beam balance in his left hand. Apparently, this was one of his creations. This precision instrument is the only clue that the subject of the painting had anything to do with jewellery or instrument making. His right hand is tucked into his jacket:

“… a customary gesture to signify a polite yet firm manner.” (https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/john-joseph-merlin-17351803-191713)

The painting hangs in Kenwood House because it, like many of the others on display there, were part of the collection of the philanthropist and brewer (of the Guinness beverage) Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847-1927), who bought the house in 1927, and bequeathed it and his collection of paintings housed within it to the nation. You can discover more about Kenwood and nearby Highgate village in my book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92 OR https://www.bookdepository.com/BENEATH-WIDE-SKY-HAMPSTEAD-ITS-ENVIRONS-2022-Adam-Yamey/9798407539520 )

A stitch in time

ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER, the author, should not be confused with Isaac Merritt Singer (1811-1875), the American born inventor of a successful version of the sewing machine. By 1862, he had fathered 18 children with several different women. In 1862, Isaac and his second wife, Isabella Eugénie (née Boyer), shifted from the USA to Europe because of his scandalous reputation in the States. They lived in Paris until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Then, they moved to England with their six children. For reasons connected with its mild climate, the family moved to the Torbay area in early 1872. By then, he had already purchased the Fernham Estate in Paignton, next to Torquay.

Oldway Mansion, (Paignton) Torquay

Singer and his family squeezed into Little Oldway, a villa on the estate, which had been built in about 1850. Next, he commissioned the architect George Soudon Bridgman (1839-1925) to help him design his ‘dream house’, the basis for the present grandiose Oldway Mansion, and the neighbouring circular building, the Rotunda. The latter was designed for stabling and as an exercise pavilion. The house was completed by the end of 1875.

What we see today is not what Isaac would have seen when the edifice was completed. Between 1904 and 1907, Paris Singer (1867-1932), one of Isaac and Isabella’s sons, who had bought the mansion from the Singer Trustees in 1893, made major changes to its appearance. He engaged two French men, the garden designer Achille Duchêne (1866 — 1947) and his father Henri, to design his new home, the present Oldway Mansion. His aim was to create an edifice inspired by the Palace of Versailles. The reconstructed (remodelled) mansion is a magnificent imitation of a French palace in the style of that which can be seen at Versailles. It incorporates decorative features copied from notable buildings in France. Its interior, which I was unable to see, is grandiose and includes fine paintings and a reproduction of the Hall of Mirrors.

In 1917, after having had an affair with the dancer Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) in 1917, Paris moved to the USA for tax reasons. After having been used for various purposes, Paignton Urban District Council bought the property from the Singer family. Currently, the building is mostly disused apart from a small, but pleasant café. Its formal gardens are well-maintained, but the mansion and the Rotunda are in need of maintenance. Oldway Mansion looks rather like an  abandoned  Russian aristocrat’s palace many years after the Revolution.