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In common historic and modern usage, a hearth (Har-th) is a brick- or stone-lined[fireplace or oven used for cooking and/or heating. Because of its nature, in historic times the hearth was considered an integral part of a home, often its central or most important feature: its Latin name is focus.

This concept has been generalized to refer to a homeplace or household, as in the terms "hearth and home" and "keep the home fires burning." In fireplace design, the hearth is often considered the visible elements of the fireplace, with emphasis upon the floor level extension of masonry associated with the fireplace mantel.


Archaeological features

In archaeology, a hearth is a firepit or other |fireplace feature of any period. Hearths are common features of many eras going back to prehistoric campsites, and may be either lined with a wide range of materials or left unlined. Hearths were used for cooking, heating, and processing of some stone, wood, faunal, and floral deform or disperse hearth features, making them difficult to identify without careful study.

Lined hearths are easily identified by the presence of fire-cracked rock, often created when the heat from the fires inside the hearths chemically altered and cracked the stone. Often present are fragmented fish and animal bones, carbonized shell, charcoal, ash, and other waste products, all embedded in a sequence of soil that has been deposited atop the hearth. Unlined hearths, which are less easily identified, may also include these materials. Because of the organic nature of most of these items, they can be used to pinpoint the date the hearth was last used via the process of radiocarbon dating. Although carbon dates can be negatively affected if the users of the hearth burned old wood or coal, the process is typically quite reliable. This was the most common way to heat interior spaces and for cooking in cool seasons.

Hearth tax

In the Byzantine Empire a tax on hearths known as kapnikon was first explicitly mentioned for the reign of Nicephorus, I although its context implies that it was already then old and established and perhaps it should be taken back to the 7th century AD. Kapnikon was a tax raised on households without exceptions for the poor.

In England, a tax on hearths was introduced on 19 May 1662. Householders were required to pay a charge of two shillings per annum for each hearth, with half the payment due at Michaelmas and half at Lady Day. Exemptions to the tax were granted, to those in receipt of poor relief, those whose houses were worth less than 20 shillings a year and those who paid neither church nor poor rates. Also exempt were charitable institutions such as schools and almshouses, and industrial hearths with the exception of smiths' forges and bakers' ovens. The returns were lodged with the Clerk of the Peace between 1662 and 1688.

A revision of the Act in 1664 made the tax payable by all who had more than two chimneys

The tax was abolished by William III in 1689 and the last collection was for Lady Day of that year. It was abolished in Scotland in 1690.

Hearth tax records are important to |local historians as they provide an indication of the size of each assessed house at the time. The numbers of hearths are generally proportional to the size of the house. The assessments can be used to indicate the numbers and local distribution of larger and smaller houses. Not every room had a hearth, and not all houses of the same size had exactly the same number of hearths, so they are not an exact measure of house size. Roehampton University has an ongoing project which places hearth tax data in a national framework by providing a series of standard bands of wealth applicable to each county and city.

Published lists are available of many returns and the original documents are in the Public Record Office. The most informative returns, many of which have been published, occur between 1662-1666 and 1669-1674.


Hearth is also a term for a kindred, or local worship group, in the neopaganism religion Ásatrú.

In Greek Mythology, Hestia is the goddess of the hearth.

See also


  1. focus, Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid, Notre Dame University, accessed 15 December 2007
  2. Haldon, John F. (1997). Byzantium in the Seventh Century: the Transformation of a Culture. Cambridge University Press.
  3. Gibson, Jeremy. The Hearth Tax, other later Stuart Tax Lists, and the Association Oath Rolls. Federation of Family History Societies.


1. a. That part of the floor of a room on which the fire is made, or which is beneath the fire-basket or grate; the paved or tiled floor of a fireplace.

a700 Epinal Gloss. 5 Arula, fyrpannae vel herth. c725 Corpus Gloss. 906 Fornacula, cyline, heore. c1000 Azariah 176 Hweorfa nu æfter heore. 1382 WYCLIF Jer. xxxvi. 23 He kutte it..and thre it in to the fyr, that was vpon the herth. c1425 Voc. in Wr.-Wülcker 657/1 Hoc focarium, harthe. c1440 Promp. Parv. 237/2 Herthe, where fyre ys made, ignearium. 1486 Nottingham Rec. III. 258 Baceford ston for to make e chymney harth with. 1573-80 BARET Alv. H 328 The Hearth wherein fire is kept, focus. 1596 DALRYMPLE tr. Leslie's Hist. Scot. I. 95 Thay bake it at the harth. 1634 Althorp MS. in Simpkinson Washingtons App. 65 The stone for the harth in the Great Chamber. 1750 GRAY Elegy vi, For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn. 1838 THIRLWALL Greece II. 98 The sacred fire, which was kept constantly burning on the public hearth of the colony, was taken from the altar of Vesta. 1849 JAMES Woodman ii, A pile of blazing logs on the hearth.

fig. 1594 T. B. La Primaud. Fr. Acad. II. To Rdr. 7 The heart is the harth from whence proceedeth all that inset and natiue heate. 1866 B. TAYLOR Icarus Poems 247 Hearths of air Whereon the Morning burns her hundred fires.

b. A portable receptacle for fire, or flat plate on which it may be made.

1618 BOLTON Florus (1636) 321 Carrying, for as it were his crest, a chafing-dish or little hearth upon his helmet, and the coales thereof kindling with the motion of his body. 1665 Sir T. Roe's Voy. E. Ind. 359 They..bake it upon small round iron hearths, which they carry with them. 1845 E. ACTON Mod. Cookery vii. 191 The hot plates, or hearths with which the kitchens of good houses are always furnished.

c. ‘Applied to the ship's fire-place, coppers, and galley generally’ (Smyth Sailor's Word-bk. 1867).

2. As typical of the household or home; the home, ‘fireside’. Often in the alliterative phrase hearth and home.

c1000 Laws Edgar II. c. 2 (Schmid) Be ælcum frian heore. c1000 ÆLFRIC Hom. II. 262 He sceolde bebeodan Israhela folce æt hi namon æt ælcum heore anes eares lamb. 1585 T. WASHINGTON tr. Nicholay's Voy. I. xii. 13b, This towne doth not now containe above 300 harthes. 1607 SHAKES. Cor. IV. v. 85 Now this extremity, Hath brought me to thy Harth. 1817 BYRON Manfred III. iv, A grove which..twines its roots with the imperial hearths. 1838 THIRLWALL Greece V. 35 To fight for their hearths and altars. 1857 MAYNE REID War Trail (Rtldg.) 141 Puissant defenders of the hearth and home.

3. Technical. a. The fireplace of a smith's forge. b. The floor in a reverberatory furnace on which the ore, or in a puddling furnace on which the iron, is exposed to the flame. c. The hollow at the bottom of a blast-furnace through which the molten metal descends to the crucible. d. A portable brazier or chafing-dish used in soldering. e. In cylinder glass manufacture: A spreading frame. open-hearth furnace, a form of regenerative furnace of the reverberatory type used in some processes of making steel; hence open-hearth steel.

1398 TREVISA Barth. De P.R. VI. xxix. (Tollem. MS.), e eyer at blowe in e ere [1535 forge] is hoot and dry; hit hete and dryesmeis. 1645 G. BOATE in Nat. Hist. Irel. (1726) 76 The [melted] iron itself descendeth to the lowest part of the furnace called the hearth; the which being filled..they unstop the hearth, and open the mouth therof. 1693 LISTER in Phil. Trans. XVII. 866 Those Bars which are wrought out of a Loop, taken up out of the Finnery Harth, or second Forge, are much better Iron than those which are made in the Bloomary or first Harth. Ibid. 867 Set in the Smiths Forge or Harth, a Crucible, or Dish of Crucible Metal. 1872 RAYMOND Statist. Mines & Mining 125 The furnaces must be differently constructed..the walls must come down straight to the hearth, or contract gradually. 1875 Ure's Dict. Arts II. 996 The puddling furnace..is divided interiorly into three parts; the fireplace, the hearth, and the flue. 1883 CRANE Smithy & Forge 10 The smith's hearth, when of the largest description, is a kind of trough of brick~work about six feet square, elevated several inches from the floor of the smithy. 1894 Harper's Mag. Jan. 412 It may be crucible, Bessemer, or open-hearth steel.

4. attrib. and Comb., as a. hearth-broom, -brush, -fire, -holder, -light, -place, -side, -staff, -tool; hearth-baken adj.; b. hearth-book, a book containing a list of hearths for the purpose of the HEARTH-TAX; hearth-bottom, the stone which forms the bed of a blast-furnace; hearth-cake, a cake baked on the hearth; hearth-cinder, the slag formed on the refinery-hearth; hearth-cricket, the common house-cricket; hearth-ends, particles of unreduced lead ore from a blast-furnace; hearth-fellow, a fireside companion; hearth-fly, a kind of artificial fly used in angling; hearth-plate, a cast-iron plate forming the hearth of a reverberatory furnace; hearth-stock, = HEAD-BLOCK 1; hearth tidy, a pan for containing the ashes that fall from a fireplace; hearth-warming, a merry-making to handsel a new house; a house-warming; hearth-yeld = HEARTH-PENNY. Also HEARTH-MONEY, -PENNY, -RUG, -STONE, -TAX.

c1000 ÆLFRIC Voc. in Wr.-Wülcker 153/36 Subcinericeus, uel focarius, *heorbacen hlaf.

1769 R. PRICE Observ. Revers. Payments (1792) II. 276 According to the *hearth~books of Lady-day 1690. 1880 Encycl. Brit. XIII. 299/2 This is the *hearth bottom, formerly made of one or more large slabs of sandstone. 1951 Good Housek. Home Encycl. (1956) 269/2 Sunk or hearth-bottom grates, in which the fuel rests on a bed of fire clay. 1781 BURNEY in Boswell Johnson July, He cut some bristles off his *hearth broom. 1752 G. WHITE Petty Cash Acc. in Selborne (1878) II. 317 Cinder~sifter and *hearth-brush. 1617 MORYSON Itin. III. 155 They vulgarly eate *harth Cakes of Oates. a1781 R. CHALLONER Medit. (1843) I. 379 That hearth-cake of the prophet Elias, with which he was fed. 1789 G. WHITE Selborne xlvii. (1853) II. 286 Cats catch *hearth-crickets and..devour them. 1870 J. PERCY Metall. Lead 289 The *hearth-ends..consist of particles of ore, projected from the hearth partly by the action of the blast, but chiefly by decrepitation of the ore, and of particles of fuel and lime. 1895 MORRIS Beowulf 110 For the fall of their lord, e'en they his *hearth-fellows. 1784 M. UNDERWOOD Dis. Childr. (1799) I. 294 The warm ashes of a *hearth-fire. 1787 BEST Angling (ed. 2) 106 The *Hearthfly Dubbed with the wool off an aged black ewe, mixed with some grey colt's hair. 1837 CARLYLE Fr. Rev. II. VI. ii, So many householders or *hearthholders do severally fling down their crafts and industrial tools. 1723 Pres. State Russia II. 375 The *Hearth-place is in the middle of the Tent. 1875 Ure's Dict. Arts II. 997 Cast~iron *hearth-plates, resting upon cast-iron beams. 1803 M. CHARLTON Wife & Mistress IV. 170 Let 'em all get to their own *hearth-side. 1863 W. PHILLIPS Speeches xix. 443 Soldiers..at their very hearth-sides. 1688 R. HOLME Armoury III. 321/1 The *Hearth-staff..is to open and stir up the Fire, and cast out the Cinders that come from the Iron. 1703 MOXON Mech. Exerc. 10 With your Hearth~staff stir up the Fire. c1440 Promp. Parv. 237/2 *Herthe stok or kynlyn..repofocilium. 1920 Ironmonger 18 Dec. 95 Saucepans, *hearth tidies, curbs, plate racks. 1830 W. CARLETON Irish Peasantry (1836) II. 198 Among the peasantry no new house is ever put up without a *hearth-warming, and a dance. c1300 Battle Abbey Custumals (1887) 10 Pro Romescot et *herteld iiijd. Hence hearthing (nonce-wd.): cf. FURNACING.

1612 STURTEVANT Metallica (1854) 109 By their new kind of furnacing and hearthing.