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Archive for 'Lucy Worsley'

Roll Over! Beds & Bedrooms Through History

Black and Blue Master Bedroom

The other day I picked up a copy of IF WALLS COULD TALK, an Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley. It’s a fascinating read, full of all those small social details that we often don’t hear about when we’re reading about history.

Here are a selection of things I’ve learned about beds and bedrooms.

1. Medieval people led more communal lives than us. At night they would sleep in the great hall, glad of the safe place of rest. The hall reeked of smoke and body odor, but it was safer than sleeping outside.

2. Medieval people who held jobs within the manor would sleep in their place of work. e.g. laundry maids would sleep in the laundry and the kitchen lads would sleep next to the fire in the kitchens.

3. A bed during medieval times usually consisted of hay stuffed in a sack, hence the saying hitting the hay.

4. A big bed would be shared, sometimes with strangers. Customs and etiquette developed regarding the communal bed. Families would lie in order of birth. If guests came to visit and stayed overnight, the father and mother would sleep in the middle of the bed between their children and strangers to prevent any naughtiness during the night.

5. The lord and lady of a manor would sleep in an adjoining room called the chamber or solar. It was a multi-function room but it usually contained a wooden bed.

6. During Tudor times the four-poster bed was the most expensive item in the house.

7. Tudor four-posters had bed strings on which the mattress sat. These would sag under the weight of the bed’s occupant and required constant tightening. This is where the expression, “Night, night, sleep tight.” comes from.

8. Housewives would accumulate lots of bed linen, enough to last a month so that laundry only needed to be done once a month. I’m glad I’m not responsible for the laundry!

9. During the 17th century bedrooms were on the upper floor. They led off each other, which meant the owner of the first bedroom had people trooping through all the time to get to the rest of the bedrooms. That would make for a restful night…

10. Corridors appeared toward the end of the 17th century, which meant the Georgians started to treat their bedrooms as more private spaces than those people of earlier ages. Their bedrooms were used as social rooms where they received special friends, conducted business and study.

11. During Victorian times privacy became paramount. Even husbands and wives had separate bedrooms and bedroom activities were confined to sleeping and sex.

12. Bedclothes consisted of many layers of sheets, blankets and eiderdowns until the 1970s and the introduction of the duvet. I, for one, am glad of this invention. Bedmaking takes mere seconds each morning.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad I get to have a modern bedroom with my own bed. Sharing it with hubby—no problem. That seems minor when I think of those medieval great halls!

What does your dream bed/bedroom look like?

Stink to High Heaven: Baths and Bathing

Thursday Thirteen

One of my recent library reads has been If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley. An excellent read BTW, and full of interesting social details about beds, underwear, child birth, marriage etc. If you’re writing historical romance or you’re interested in all things historical this is the book for you.

Thirteen Factoids about Baths & Bathing Through the Ages

1. Medieval people mostly washed their hands and faces rather than taking baths.

2. That said, Medieval people weren’t afraid of baths. Knights used to indulge in something called a Knightly bath, which involved decorative sheets, flowers and herbs placed around the bath. A servant would take a basin of hot herbal potion and use a sponge to scrub the knight’s body. The knight was then rinsed with rose water and rubbed dry with a clean cloth. He was then dressed in socks, slippers and a nightgown and sent to bed. Doesn’t that sound luxurious?

3. Baths were made of wood and lined with a linen sheet to prevent splinters in the bottom!

4. The English embraced the idea of the Turkish hammans after reports from returning Crusaders. Records show the presence of 18 bathhouses in London in 1162. They were known as stews and were communal with men and women sharing them. Most were in Southwark. Wow, imagine the potential for an erotic romance…

5. The communal aspect did cause problems and some became houses of ill-repute. Henry VIII closed the bath houses down in 1546.

6. From around 1550 to 1750 baths were considered dangerous and weird. Bathing became medicinal rather than cleansing. People feared that bathing spread disease such as syphilis. Hot water opened the pores, allowing illness into the body.

7. During the 17th century medical understanding improved. People started to understand perspiration and a bath in cold water was considered beneficial. A full bathing, despite recommendation by doctors, was slow to catch on. The ballrooms at this time were pretty stinky.

8. Beau Brummell and other gentlemen of his ilk popularized bathing, making it classy, and soon everyone was doing it. Victorian etiquette books started to state bathing was good manners.

9. Water was usually carried from the basement up to the bedroom, then once used, it was carried down again by servants. Hard work!

10. Around 1860 some houses started to receive piped water to first-floor bathrooms, which made bathing much easier for all concerned.

11. The en suite bathroom was first seen in the New World. American heiresses sent to secure an English nobleman as a husband were horrified by the primitive bathing conditions.

12. The Methodist minister John Wesley would not preach in a place without a toilet and thus came the idea of cleanliness becoming next to godliness.

13. By the end of the 20th century thinking in the bath/reading in the bath becomes a way of relaxing and relieving stress.

Personally, I’m a shower girl and seldom have a bath. The bath doesn’t get much use in our house. I’d love to own one of those sleek wetrooms with tiles and lots of shower heads. Maybe one day…

Bath or shower? What does your dream bathroom look like?