Last night, I leaned back on the pillows and felt the cold seep through my shirt. Our house, at 62 or 64 degrees, is warmer than the 58 degrees Moses Brown recorded in the early 19th century and warmer than the mid-50s temperatures some people I know still keep. But I have layers I can wear, wool or wicking space-age materials, and will wear anything to bed to keep warm. What did people wear in the 18th century? How did they stay warm in bed?
One solution was the bed warmer, the long-handled brass pan filled with hot coals and swiped over the linen sheets of a bed just before the sleeper hopped in. This method required strength, speed and a steady hand, and worked best if someone other than the sleeper could do the swiping. Heat would dissipate quickly while a warming pan was stowed safely.
Another option was heated stones or bricks wrapped in fabric and tucked into the foot of the bed. That sounds good to me now, cold as my sheets can be. Jane Nylander writes in “Our Own Snug Fireside” that some people perceived warming the bed as a sign of weakness, and it is hard to document such a mundane act.
Truly quotidian details are hard to find in written primary sources: people in the past took their daily lives as much for granted as we take ours. How often do our diarists today record whether they wore socks to bed?
In the collection at work, we do have one woolen flannel shift from the early part of the 19th century. I suspect I will want to copy that for January.