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Celebrating the art of stove design with iconic ESSE

1920s ESSE ad
1920s ESSE ad

From shipwrecks and Antarctic expeditions, to hotels, hospitals and homes across the world – ESSE is a brand with a story to tell. And it comes with an enviable catalogue of advertising that goes all the way back to 1854.

The ESSE archives stretch back over a 170 year history and reveal a rich seam of bold, illustrated adverts from long before colour photography was widely available. Those from the 1920s and 30s ooze warmth and contentment, with glowing amber windows beaming across the snow and someone heading straight to the hearth to warm herself by the ‘patented’ ESSE stove.

The Barnoldswick firm took inspiration from this advertising heritage and commissioned two new designs to promote today’s made-in-Britain stoves and range cookers.

Great British Life: The ESSE archives span 170 yearsThe ESSE archives span 170 years Great British Life: Advertising the welcoming warmth of an ESSE Advertising the welcoming warmth of an ESSE

Finance Director Robert Ashby explains: ‘Like the original ads, these vivid designs manage to be both traditional in style and aspirational in their portrayal of modern life and comfort.

‘However quickly technology advances - and ESSE is proud to keep up with the changing times - gathering in the kitchen or cosying up in front of the fire are timeless and universal pleasures.

‘Luis Mendo created these images for us and they reflect the warmth and clean-burning benefits of an ESSE beautifully. The plan is to have one featuring ESSE’s iconic Ironheart next.’

Great British Life: The ESSE Ironheart is a River Cottage favouriteThe ESSE Ironheart is a River Cottage favourite

The Ironheart is a distinctive cookstove that River Cottage viewers will recognise immediately. The famous River Cottage team also cook on a gas-fired ESSE range cooker and have been loyal ESSE users, including in their own homes, for many years.

In fact, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall is just one of many well known ESSE fans that also include Kate Humble and James Bond himself in A View to a Kill. Florence Nightingale would use no other brand of stove in her Balaclava hospital and even sent the company a thank you letter in the early 1900s.

Ernest Shackleton and his team relied on ESSE’s ‘Mrs Sam’ cooker to provide vital hot food and warmth during their 1907–1909 Antarctic expedition. This huge cast iron cookstove was transported on the Nimrod and then likely dragged by the expedition’s Manchurian ponies to the Cape Royds base (along with 500 bottles of gooseberries and 400 tins of pea soup according to The Antarctic Heritage Trust). The cooker remains in Shackleton’s hut today with some of the team’s socks still hanging nearby to dry.

Great British Life: This ESSE cooker is preserved in Shackleton's HutThis ESSE cooker is preserved in Shackleton's Hut

Over the years, ESSEs have been trusted in many such demanding environments - including the kitchens of The Savoy, and more recently in royal residences.

ESSE began producing stoves and range cookers in Scotland in 1854, long before many comparable brands arrived in the UK. AGA, for example, came to Britain from Sweden in 1929.

Originally called Smith and Wellstood, the company was founded by Edinburgh-born James Smith the same year he was dramatically shipwrecked in the Atlantic and survived by floating in a zinc-lined wicker basket until he was rescued three days later. Soon after, the company rebranded as ‘ESSE’ with the slightly French sounding name reflecting the fashion of the time. For the last 40 years it has been owned and managed by the Ashby family and production was moved to Barnoldswick in 1993.

Great British Life: ESSE's new range cooker illustrationESSE's new range cooker illustration

ESSE’s British heritage is an important part of the brand’s identity and all components are still produced within the UK. Steel comes from TATA in Port Talbot and castings from Thomas Dudleys in Birmingham. In recent years powder coating has replaced enamelling on range cookers as a more sustainable manufacturing process and because it offers improved maintenance. Stoves and range cookers are hand built, with sheet metal fabrication, welding, powder coating and assembling all taking place onsite in Barnoldswick.

The running of the company is now in the hands of the youngest generation, Robert and Peter Ashby who are keen to see ESSE continue its legacy manufacturing beautiful range cookers and stoves which still claim (as in their early adverts) to be some of ‘the most efficient and cleanest burning on the market’.

The brothers are proud to play a part in such a rich history and hope to see the brand continue to adapt and grow under their watch. They strongly believe that the future is electric and there’s already a wide range of versatile electric range cookers available from ESSE.

Great British Life: The new illustrations hark back to ESSE's advertising heydayThe new illustrations hark back to ESSE's advertising heyday

Production Director Peter explains: ‘People may think electric range cookers are expensive to run but actually the fine temperature control - combined with the heat storage benefits of a traditional range cooker - offer quicker heat up times and improved energy efficiency. The latest electric cookers include efficient induction hobs with all the heat directed to the pan, which also means no burnt on spills.

‘ESSE has been making range cookers since 1854. In that time we, as a company, have learnt a lot. 170 years of know how and experience stands us in good stead when it comes to understanding product quality, longevity and performance, but we’re not too traditional to move with the times. We want to continue to develop our much-loved existing stoves and range cookers while also introducing new products that take advantage of the technologies of today so that we don’t get left behind.’

An example of the brand embracing today’s technology can be seen in the installation of 1200 solar panels on the factory’s roof - a move to lessen the company’s reliance on fossil fuels and reduce its environmental impact.

Great British Life: The small but mighty LightheartThe small but mighty Lightheart

What’s the latest from this historic brand?

A miniature version of the wood-burning Ironheart called the Lightheart was recently unveiled which ticks all the boxes for smaller homes or off-grid properties like bothies, yurts, shepherd’s huts and cabins.

Ideal for someone who wants their own compact version of a River Cottage favourite.

esse.com



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