The thought struck me recently that I live in a house with a number of objects which are nowadays more or less redundant, like paraffin lamps, warming pans – and door stops.

I grew up in a large country house where almost every room had its own cast iron door stop. There was a large handsome painted one of Mr Punch by the front door, for example; and the one pictured below in the morning room. Elsewhere, there was a horse door stop, one of a sheep, and another of an early locomotive, possibly The Rocket, (I come from a railway family), as well as plainer ones.

Two Figures at a Well door stop

Why, did we need so many? I can see that the front door might need to be held open on occasions, if luggage, say, was coming in or going out. But otherwise?

I always rather liked the Figures by the Well door stop. I used to think it was Isaac and Rebekah at the well: (Genesis Ch. 24), or possibly Jacob and Rachel at the well: (Genesis, Ch. 29). Wells were obviously important places in Old Testament times when camels, sheep and goats needed to be watered; and my Primary School’s day always began with an hour’s Bible Study (from the King James’s Bible, naturally) , so I knew all the stories.

Nowadays, I wonder why the man by the well is pointing an accusing finger at the woman who looks as though she is trying to defend herself. Surely they can’t be Isaac and Rebekah, or Jacob and Rachel; both of those young men met and immediately fell in love with the beautiful girl who offered him a drink from her pitcher and gave water to his animals.

Looking at the woman’s costume, the scene looks as though it’s been taken from a 17th century Dutch painting. But whatever the door stop represents, it was plainly a well-known story (sorry!). And I still have no idea why my family home had so many of them.

The Horse door stopper

This horse door stop was given to me by a much-loved aunt, and she painted it especially for me – she was a  talented amateur artist. I’ve always liked it; I particularly like the clever way she highlighted the foliage on which the horse trots. I had it in my bedroom as a child.

Beetle Boot-jack  

The only other item I have which, on occasion, acts as a door stop, is my beetle boot-jack. This is still useful in the 21st century for removing muddy boots, especially if you live in the country. But boot-jacks can also hold doors open, if necessary. The sloping back end of the beetle fits snugly under a door and holds it open very efficiently.

I still find it curious why some items which were once ubiquitous, have suddenly became redundant. Do we not need to doors to stay open anymore? Or, more logically, why did every room once need one?

Elizabeth Hawksley

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6 Responses to Redundant Objects: door stops

  • I’m wondering if they were also used to hold a door closed. Useful if you were exasperated by continual interruptions, perhaps?

    • A good thought, Jan. They are made of cast iron and very heavy, so they’d certainly do the job. One of my brothers, when consulted, commented that being able to hold a door open would be useful for chambermaids carrying piles of sheets and pillowcases on laundry day! (You can tell that we were brought up in another world!)

  • Love those door stops, especially the horse one. I wonder if doors are just more efficient now and made to stay open if you want them to. Or was it because carpets didn’t reach the doors? So the door would swing shut. Fitted carpets now tend to keep them open rather than swinging back. And in summer you might want the breeze to float through the house to air it, so needed doors open? I can imagine a kitchen door needed a stop, you would go nuts opening and shutting the door while trekking dishes from kitchen to dining room, unless you had a whatsit (forget the name) with the pulley type lift thingy.

    • Thank you for your door stop thoughts, Elizabeth. I asked my other brother for his thoughts and he came up with a very different reason for the proliferation of door stops. He pointed out that, pre-central heating, draughts would have whistled through the house (basically Elizabethan with a Georgian façade). A heavy door stop would have held the door firmnly closed. He may have a point. We lived in chilly north-east England and the front door also had a thick curtain, and all the windows had wooden shutters and thick curtains as well.

  • In this case I believe “whatsit” is substituting for dumbwaiter. I postulate that, in the past, our residences weren’t as plumb and square as newer construction and thus doors would have a tendency to gravitate to a particular and possibly inconvenient position of equilibrium. Also, as EB said, one wishes to air out the house on occasion. There are few things in the home as jarring as a wind-slammed door… unless it’s stubbing your little toe on a cast-iron door stop!
    Our host always takes a nice picture, don’t you agree? But I am left wondering how big these objects are. Suggestion: insert commonly known object in the composition to give a sense of scale, such as a coin or a ruler.

    • I think Elizabeth B is referring to the small lift designed to bring food or crockery up from the kitchen.

      I take your point about indicating the size of objects; the horse door stop is ten inches high by ten and a half inches wide.

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