Friday, 22 March 2019

A Short History of Warming Pans

Bed Warmer
Image courtesy of Brain Watkins House Collection, Ref. 2004/0566
One of the treasures that we have at Brain Watkins House is the ancient bed warmer. A china contraption that is presently displayed on the bed in the master bedroom. Arousing my interest I researched the method that ancient people used to warm their beds before the advent of the modern rubber water bottle – or more recently the marvellous electric blankets that can be programmed to provide the maximum comfort desired by its owner.

Image courtesy of Lois Hembrow
In the dim dark past,  a hot brick or stone which had been heating by the fire was wrapped and slipped between the bed clothes. By the sixteenth century, brass or copper warming pans with a handle were available. It was a valuable family possession, handed down from generation to generation, but it was also affordable by the ‘common man.’ A very rich person might have a silver one, or a copper one richly ornamented.

Some warming pans had air holes, which meant that the embers kept smouldering for longer, but the bed would smell of fumes and there was the increased risk of scorching sheets. Warming pans on a handle were designed for moving up and down the bed before somebody got into it.


If you didn’t want to stand in a cold bedroom moving the warming pan up and down, you might have a ‘bed wagon’ The photo above shows an odd-looking contrivance, generally used on farms, and in a large bed This particular one is three foot long, but they were often larger. The timber is oak, light and strong. Hot embers  are dropped on to the trivet, which stands on a sheet-iron tray. Anther sheet of iron is fixed to the woodwork above the fire, so there is no danger of burning the bed.

The sample of the bed warmer in the B_W Collection is a china one, and would have contained hot water. (as shown) It has no manufacturers mark, and possibly began to replace the metal ones in the mid-19th century.

Bed Warmers
Image courtesy of Julie Green
Just think of this primitive manner of warming your bed when you cuddle down with your rubber hot water bottle; or more likely a cosy Electric blanket set to the temperature that suits you and requires no attention from you except to keep it smooth and unwrinkled!

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