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Facilities in homes, early-mid 20th Century


Getting warm in bed with stoneware hot water bottles

If there were any rubber hot water bottles while I was growing up in the 1940s, I never saw any.

What a stoneware hot water bottle is

We had one hot water bottle in the house, and it was stoneware which is a certain type of clay fired at a particularly high temperature and glazed so that it resembles polished stone. In fact stoneware was often just called 'stone'.

Stoneware hot water bottle often just called a 'stone' hot water bottle

Stoneware hot water bottle often just called a 'stone' hot water bottle. Photographed in Usk museum.

Stone hot water bottles were much heavier than today's rubber ones, particularly when filled with water.

How stoneware hot water bottles were used

The hot water bottle was filled with hot or boiling water through the neck at the top which was screwed closed afterwards. Then it was dried with a cloth if any water had escaped and put between bedsheets to warm the bed.

These stoneware hot water bottles had been around since the early 1900s and possibly before.

Guest contribution

A use for stone hot water bottles with pets

I volunteer in an RSPCA charity shop in Swindon where we recently had a collection of stone hot water bottles donated. I took one home and my house rabbits like snuggling up next to it when I fill it with ice water during the hot weather! These bottles are much more efficient than the usually recommended frozen plastic water bottles, as they keep cool for a lot longer.

Laerke Pickering Thomasen

Shape, and the purpose of the rounded knob on a stoneware hot water bottle

These stoneware hot water bottles were shaped so that as much of the bed as possible could be warmed. The idea was to stand them upright in bed, on their small flat end so that the sheets and blankets formed a tent-like structure over them. The peak of the 'tent' was the special feature of the rounded knob opposite the flat end, which also served as a carrying handle.

Used this way, the hot water bottle was supposed to heat more of the bed - but it was an unstable arrangement and the 'tent' would have been quite small, as even with the knob to give extra height, the hot water bottle was not very tall. I suspect that most people used the bottle in the position shown in the photograph.

Stoneware hot water bottles and health and safety

Our stone hot water bottle was only used on very rare occasions. Probably my mother was scared, with some justification, that it would crack or leak, which would burn someone and make the bed wet.

However, she never gave those reasons. It was always - so she said - that it was healthy to get into a cold bed and warm it up oneself. As a child I believed her, although in winter it was extremely cold in bed, as no fire was ever lit in the bedrooms and the windows were single glazed. It was not uncommon to wake up to ice on the insides of the windows from frozen condensation.

Guest contribution

Bricks: a safer alternative?

Although we did have a stone hot water bottle in my house in the 1940s, one wasn't enough for everyone's bed. So my mother would put a builders brick into the oven to heat and then wrap it first in a newspaper and then an old jumper. This went into my bed. The brick seemed to stay hot for a long time, so worked well. [The newspaper would lag the brick so stopping it burning skin.]

Reg (surname supplied)

Alternatives to stoneware hot water bottles: Warming pans or bedwarmers

I ought to mention that in Victorian and Edwardian times there was a way to warm beds that went out of use with the demise of old-style coal fired kitchen ranges with their ovens of hot coals.

warming pan for beds

Warming pan or bedwarmer, a copper container for hot coals with a lid on a long handle

The device was called a warming pan or bedwarmer. To warm the beds, the lid of the pan was opened and a few hot coals from the fire were put inside. The pan was closed and taken into the bedrooms. The long handle kept it cool to the touch although the pan itself was hot. The hot pan was then slid between the bedsheets and moved round over them, so warming them.

It was typically a maid's task to warm the beds this way, which is why it was popular in Victorian grand houses. In the 1940s, I never knew of any warming pan still in use.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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