Friday, March 11, 2011

Bed Wagons

Bed wagons were used throughout history, to ease the chores of a servant, assigned to keep her master’s and mistress’ bed warm. Ofttimes, before the invention of the wagons, warming pans were rushed to and fro, from fireside to bedchamber, and slid between the bed covers to chase away the chill of an unheated room.


With the invention of a bed wagon, the task of bed warming became easier. The contrivance was made of bent hoops, either iron or wood, which held the covers away from the heat, and made the job of warming a large bed less labor-intensive. The frames of bed wagons were usually made of ash, but sometimes of oak. The total length was normally three feet or longer, enough to ensure that most of the bed area was warmed. A pot of burning fuel was placed in a trivet built into the middle of the frame. An iron sheet was attached to the frame, directly beneath the trivet, to prevent any scorching of the bed linens. Above the pot, situated between two of the hoops, another metal sheet guarded against the coverlets catching fire. Sometimes, the pot of fuel was hung from the top of the wagon, suspended in the approximate middle of the frame. Pots could be made of iron, brass, or earthenware, with or without a lid. If unlidded, ashes might cover the surface of the fuel.

Italian and French bed-wagons were commonly called a ‘monk’ or a ‘priest’, no doubt another bed-humor reference like the English joke that a housemaid was a “Scotch warming pan”.


11 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Very interesting, Joyce. I'd never heard of bed wagons before.

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

Loved the tidbit of history. Very interesting. I never thought about the beds being cold, but it would make sense since central heat wasn't available. lol Thanks for the info. :)

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Jacqueline: I hadn't either until I was researching bed warmers. Geez, bet they were glad to get gas heaters.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Karen: Glad you came by. Yes, with only fireplaces, maybe only in the main room, the beds would be really cold in winter. Even as a kid I remember standing in front of the fireplace, getting my nightgown really hot, then running to bed. Later we got central heat and thought we were rich.

Eliza Knight said...

This is quite a fascinating post Joyce! I was not aware of these bed contraptions. What years were these mostly used in? Regency and Victorian or earlier? I like the humor at the end, very funny! Thanks for sharing :)

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Eliza: These bed wagons probably date from late medieval. Bed warmers have a long history, but those were more common than the bed wagons, simply because it would be a luxury and probably limited to the well-off. However, who's to say some enterprising farmer didn't build a bed warmer to entice his young wife to come early to bed? Stoneware bed warmers were used very late, some shaped like a tube. They held hot water, a precursor to hot water bottles when rubber was invented. Most extant bed wagons are only in museums, but many people collect bed warmers because they are brass, sometimes decorated, and also earthenware. Thanks for stopping by.

Rebbie Macintyre said...

Fascinating, Joyce! I'm thoroughly enjoying your posts, and I love the fact that you're telling us about historical day-to-day details. Thanks for sharing your expertise. :)

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Rebbie: Glad you stopped by. I'm always looking for little-known historical facts I might need to know later, or maybe just something interesting for a writer or reader.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Joyce, fascinating post. I had never heard of the bed wagon. Even with all that protective covering, I'll bet there were fires resulting from the contraption. As you mention, though, it's nice to learn these facts. We never know when they might come in handy. In the meantime, this was interesting.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Caroline: Yes, I'm sure a blanket fell through from time to time, or the fire burned too hot--but we have accidents with heaters so I guess that's not much different. Thanks for stopping by. Always enjoy reading your comments.

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