18th Century Beds and Bedding

The Garrick Bed, ca.1775. A four-poster bed designed by Thomas Chippendale with 20th century reproduction hangings. Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Even today our bed is one of the most important objects we purchase, so we thought we would take a look at the beds and bedding of the Georgian Era.

Houghton Hall
Courtesy of Houghton Hall, Norfolk http://www.houghtonhall.com/hall/state-rooms/

The quality of your bed was very much dependent upon wealth.  A four poster bed with Harrateen (a fabric of linen or wool) hangings would have cost in the region of £5 (about £300 in today’s money).

Silk Damask curtain for half tester ca. 1710 Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The more expensive option being a four poster made using Mornine, a fabric of wool and or cotton, these beds would set you back almost £7. A feather bed would have been significantly cheaper with price ranging from 50 shilling up to around £4.

Then of course you would need a mattress which could have been purchased for around 15 shillings (£50 in today’s money).

George Miller feather beds trade card
Trade Card for George Miller, Southampton. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The ‘gold standard’ in blankets, if you could afford them were the ‘Witney blankets’. The price of blankets varied dramatically from 7 shillings a pair to a staggering £2 a pair.

loom
Courtesy of Farfield Mill

Next came the quilt at an average cost of 18 shillings. A white cotton counterpane at somewhere in the region of £1. Bed ticking at 14 pence a yard and finally a cover lid at 5 shillings.

The majority of us today are perfectly happy to use a duvet, making the bed toasty warm and easy to make. However, in the Georgian Era things were not so straightforward. The concept of a duvet had been thought of and was in use in climates colder than here in the UK, but the concept took a further 200 years to take off over here.

The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser  of Thursday, January 14, 1779 carried the following advertisement for the attention of the nobility and gentry for what we would today regard as being a duvet or quilt.

This down is greatly superior to any other, as it is not taken off the bird itself, but with great trouble collected out of the nest of the bird, so of course must be very scarce and valuable, and is much sought after by those who know its worth. The use made of it is for bed coverings; it is put up in silk, linen or cotton cases, its peculiar lightness and warmth beyond any other down, as it has that singular quality of cohesion, or cleaving to itself, that though it falls round you in bed, the upper part of the person is covered equal with the sides, and the warmth is thereby the same round the whole body.  Its great lightness is so extraordinary, that it is not so heavy as one blanket, and is as warm and more genial than three or four; it is very comfortable for those afflicted with the gout who require warmth, and cannot bear a weight. There are bags made to keep the legs and feet warm in travelling.

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The majority of us today have warm homes with central heating, but in the Georgian era  we might have used a bed warmer to warm the bed for us, what a welcome companion on cold nights.

Bed Warmer Raised, flat - chased, pierced, engraved silver with turned ivory handle, ca. 1730 Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.
Bed Warmer Raised, flat – chased, pierced, engraved silver with turned ivory handle, ca. 1730 Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

With the cost of all these individual items mounting up it is no wonder that so much bedding etc was sold at auction when a person died.

We end with the joys of the matrimonial bed courtesy of, as usual, the Lewis Walpole Library.

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Sources:

Witney Blanket Story

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22 thoughts on “18th Century Beds and Bedding

    • Hello,

      Looking on the internet I found your excellent blog. First, sorry for my English, I am Spanish and my English is not very good. You wanted to ask a question that I need for the documentation of a book. It is this: I wanted to ask if in the eighteenth century there were silk sheets but only for people with lots of money. If you have not silk sheets were made, I would like to ask what kind of luxurious materials, only for the very rich, it was used for bed. disculpapor thanks and my English.

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      • Many thanks for your question and we hope we have understood it correctly. It would not have been common for silk to have been used for sheets as warmth would have been more important. The research we have done seems to imply that either cotton or linen would have been used by the more wealthy people. We hope this helps and perhaps one of our readers might be able to provide some more information 🙂

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      • Linen would be the most usual, it’s not called ‘bedlinen’ for no reason. My own researches have shown that poorer people had cotton sheets – this is evidence from the assizes, listing items stolen. there appears to be in the late 18th century something of an economic divide. I forget when cotton looms began to become capable of weaving broader cloth but I have a feeling it was late in the century, which meant that sheets could be woven in one. [I was wrong, the flying shuttle was invented earlier, in 1733, but it may have taken a while to be common]. With narrow linen looms, sheets were made by sewing two lengths together, the edges finished with a French seam. A cotton weft is capable of sustaining a longer width than linen. This cut down the labour in making a sheet, as it only needed hemming, but added to the wear in the centre which was not reinforced with a seam, so it would wear more quickly and would need to be more quickly ‘turned sides to middle’, a housewifely process in which the sheet is torn in half, or unpicked if two narrow cloth lengths, and the outsides sewn together to form the new middle of the sheet, the worn part now at the edge which receives less wear. I confess I stopped sides-to-middling my sheets about a decade ago but it’s something I have done, passed down in the family in time immemorial.
        Early 18th century cotton would have had a fustian [wool] warp since the early experiments in English weaving were unable to produce cotton strong enough to form a warp. I doubt it was used for sheets, however.

        I hope this may be of some use.

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      • I love linen sheets; they are so crisp and cool in summer. But getting linen dry is a pig of a job, and I suspect that this might too have been an influence in who used what. A wealthy family would be more likely to have a drying room for when there was inclement weather, and an army of servants to iron sheets dry at need. A poorer family needed those sheets dry faster. Cotton sheets will dry in one day on bushes – no linen lines at the time, because no pegs until 1823 IIRC – if the weather is half decent [I’ve tried it to see] but linen can take up to 3 days even on a line, unless the weather is dry and hot. And this is in East Anglia where I have experimented, the dryest corner of Britain [average yearly rainfall same as North Africa]. The late 18th century from 1783 or so was plagued with cold summers owing to several Icelandic volcanoes. A family with enough money – say about £70 p.a, clerks and artisans – might send washing out to a washerwoman, but she would also have to have a premises on which she could dry, and that meant fuel, and fuel was expensive. I’ve not been able to track down any scale of charges of washerwomen yet, but it would be interesting if I manage to do so. I have odd singular prices from sundry diaries only!

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  1. Lovely blog – makes me value my fluffy duvet all the more!
    As a point of interest poor old Napoleon suffered from ‘poor circulation and cold legs’ in bed and so in October 1816 the Governor Sir Hudson Lowe commissioned a copper ‘scaldaletto’ (or warming pan) to be made especially for Napoleon!

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    • Thanks Lally, so pleased you enjoyed it – ideal reading when you have a ‘duvet day’. Wow – did the ‘scaldaletto’ survive do you know?

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  2. We have a four poster campaign bed (the original flat-pack!) which we love, but we keep the hangings fairly gauzy, top and back only, no sides. I imagine full curtains must have been great, though, for keeping out the draughts.

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  3. the 18th century also saw the invention of the webbing bed for holding the mattress, though many people still used stretched rope for the bed base itself. The side of the bed included the bed staff, an item used to beat feather or flock mattresses to get rid of the lumps leading to that obscure phrase that something should be done ‘in the twinkling of a bedstaff’. I don’t, by the way, unlike the instructions to 18th century servants, turn my feather mattress every day, once a week is adequate. But it does go to show that sloppy servants can make a night hell, on a lumpy mattress that is both unbeaten and unturned… and a good set of servants can leave a bed that makes even the most modern of mattresses seem uncomfortable in comparison.
    Claustrophobia is the only thing that has stopped me building myself a four poster, though, i have to say, as the next best thing to a bed with doors over a stove, Russian fashion.

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      • I researched pretty deeply when writing ‘Jane and the Hidden Hoard’ as she was masquerading as a housekeeper and as the maids had not been chivied into turning beds was looking under dismal and lumpy mattresses [among other places] for stolen jools….

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  4. Many years ago as a youngster I often heard the phrase,”sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite”. As I have come to understand this particular phrasing, the ‘sleep tight aspect has something to do with the tightness of the drawn rope upon which the mattress was set. Hence a loose roped lacing, rather than a taught roped lacing would certainly encourage a dipped mattress (unlike a hammock which offers more support) and thus an uncomfortable nights’ sleep.

    Regarding the bed hangings: the curtains and canopy were not only to keep draughts out, but also light, noise, and possibly for privacy as early beds were often placed in large communal rooms and hence the curtained-bed might serve as the actual ‘bedroom’ in of itself.

    As for the bed bugs, many early rooms had ceiling open to rafters and beams, where vermin might drop from above (or drop fecal matter), as well as other bugs, and all sorts of unsavory sorts, falling from above…. so having bed hangings, including canopies and side curtains, would also proved to be useful in this manner of prevention and a good nights’ sleep too.

    Of course I cannot prove this is factual as I have sourced any of it recently, but it certainly adds another dimension to the storyline.

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