Keeping Warm in Edwardian England

1909 winter walking costume

1909 winter walking costume

In winter, the beautiful autumn leaves dangle limply from tree branches and pile damply across streets and lawns. The vibrant colors and muted tones, and the brisk weather have ended in the dark, cold, chilly, sometimes rainy, sometimes snowy, snap of winter. Keeping warm in the 21st century can be as easy as hopping into a warmed-up car or turning up the thermostat before tumbling into a cozy bed. It was not that easy for the Edwardians–particularly Edwardians of the lower and servant classes. There also wasn’t the option of hopping into a warmed-up car for well-to-do Edwardians either, since motorcars of the day were still open! And though many modern conveniences of 2014 were beginning to enter the 1900s home, they were usually expensive, risky, or only welcome into the dwellings of the progressive (though, even in the dwellings of progressive Edwardians, the servants were stuck with old-fashioned ways of keeping warm).

Methods of Keeping Warm

The Warming Pan: “The pan or bowl is usually made of copper and is circular in shape, about 12″ in diameter and 4″ deep. It has a hinged top or cover which is perforated and on which are etched quaint designs in landscape scenes intermingled with many of the old-fashioned flowers of our grandmothers’ day—phlox, Sweet William, bleeding heart and marigold. The handle is about 4′ in length and was sometimes made of oak, although the better quality warming pans usually had a mahogany handle richly carved in ornate designs. This adjunct to the household of other days always hung by the open fireplace where it was “right handy” to be mustered into service at any time. It was always kept highly polished and formed, as it hung on the wall, a cheerful disc to reflect the light of the glowing fire.” Hot coals were heaped inside of the warming pan and the pan was placed between the sheets well in advance of the occupant’s arrival.


1902 ad for Foot warmer

1902 ad for Foot warmer

This is an American advertisement for a modern footwarmer. The older footwarmer was a tin box in a wooden frame, in which hot coals were stored. Once placed inside the carriage, the occupants set their feet on either side and spread a blanket over their laps, thus directing the heat from their feet up! You read more about this and see pictures on this website. Edwardian era footwarmers (in railways carriages at least) were warmed by steam run through pipes, and kept hot by a mixture of soda and water. Many automobiles styles featured compartments for smaller versions of footwarmers, but motorists were advised to supplement their heat with thick socks and motoring boots.

electric foot-warmer

electric foot-warmer

The electric foot-warmer was “made in various forms and sizes… [t]his has a mahogany frame on short feet, with a cane top, the heating element being placed underneath. With such a heater, it is impossible for the feet to remain cold, yet the cost of running is but a fraction of a penny per hour. Such heaters are also convenient for keeping dishes or plates warm, and for airing small articles of clothing, while if placed in the linen closet, they will keep the sheets and house linen beautifully warm and aired.”

Open fires: This has long been the traditional method of heating the home and the body. Fireplaces were heated with coal during the Edwardian era, and during shortages (from strikes or wartime), only the wealthiest homes could afford the sharp rise in prices. The downside to the fireplace was that it required constant tending to keep alive throughout the day and night. This is why maids of some type (housemaids, tweenies, charwomen and parlourmaids) were found in households with a variety of income levels, and the shift to “labor saving” homes via electricity was due to the shortage of servants that began in the late 19th century.

Stoves: In a small dwelling, the stove could keep the home warm. These were lit by coke or coal, gas, or oil. Stoves were cheaper to run than fireplaces, but there was a risk of nasty scents or stuffy ventilation.

Central Heat: yes, this did exist! Heat was transmitted through the walls via hot water pipes: “There are two systems employed, known as the low-pressure and the high-pressure systems. In the former there is usually a boiler in one of the cellars (fed from a separate cistern which must be as high up as possible) from the upper end of which a pipe runs, sending out branches to all parts of the house; these branches bend back and return underneath, finally uniting into another single pipe, which re-enters the boiler at the bottom: so that in each room there is always this double row of pipes…The second method, known as the high-pressure system, is somewhat different. In this case the pipes conveying the hot water actually pass through the kitchen fire. There is no boiler, and a very much greater amount of heat is obtained, while less piping is necessary.” This was of course very costly, and was often found in brand new dwellings. Some older dwellings had “the wormboiler system, which consists of a coil of piping within the kitchen boiler constituting the worm, supplied with water from the cistern at the top of the house, the boiler itself being supplied by a small cistern near the range.” The availability of central heat was an attraction to the luxury apartment flats beginning to intrude upon major English cities.

Clothing: Wool and fur were the rule of the day. Woollen underclothing made by the Jaeger company were popular all year-round as necessary for keeping people cool in the summer and warm in the winter (it was to wick the sweat and to trap the heat, respectively). Thick coats and even thicker socks were worn by all classes and sexes. Furs of all kind were fashion statements, but more importantly, they kept one nice and toasty. Motorists were advised to wear fur-lined gloves and boots, as well as veiled hats, and waterproof coverings to keep warm (remember the open cars). Sturdy leather boots and shoes were a must, particularly for those who lived through wetter winters.

As you can see, the methods for keeping warm in the Edwardian era weren’t too different from today!

Further Reading:
The Book of the Home by H. C. Davidson
House Beautiful v24-25
Keeping Warm in a Colonial Winter by George Wilson JenningsHouse & Garden
Electric Cooking, Heating, Cleaning, Etc by Maud Lucas Lancaster
Motor Age v21

Armistice Day, 1920: Homecoming of the Unknown Warrior


(© Colonial Press Service and Underwood & Underwood)

The war brought many a great funeral ceremony to England and France, but the whole world’s history had never witnessed such a funeral as that which each of these two countries held on Nov. 11, 1920.

The second anniversary of Armistice Day had come and each nation had elected, as the most solemn consecration for that day, to inter with the highest honors of war the body of an unknown soldier who had fallen on the battlefields of France.

The unknown British soldier, to whom these honors were paid in remembrance of Britain’s 700,000 dead, was taken from his burial place in one of the battle sectors of France and transported to Boulogne. All the population of the little seaport town lined the streets to pay France’s tribute as the body was transported from the citadel, where it had lain all night, to the British destroyer Verdun, which carried it to England.

All the church bells were tolled, but the flags fluttering at the pinnacle of the masts showed that the occasion was not one of mourning but of glorification. Standing beside the coffin on the quay Marshal Foch, who had made a special pilgrimage to Boulogne as the representative of the French Government, lauded in eloquent words the tremendous effort of the British soldiers who brought to the aid of France their valor, endurance and abnegation.

Turning to the bier on which lay the unknown British warrior, the Marshal said: “It is before him that I can best express my profound feelings of thanks and admiration.

“French women and children laid wreaths and flowers on the bier while the French troops stood at salute and a military band played the ” Marseillaise.” The coffin was carried on board. Escorted by French and British destroyers, the Verdun then steamed slowly through the thick mist out of the harbor. So the unknown British soldier who had crossed the Channel so full of life and heroic ardor left France forever, long months after he had been plunged into the sleep of the war’s great martyrs beneath French soil.

A solemn ceremonial took place at Victoria Station in London, where the bier arrived in the same railway car in which had been transported the last remains of Miss Cavell and Captain Fryatt of glorious memory.

Armistice Day dawned. With honors and devotion beyond those paid to Kings, the nameless soldier was buried in Westminster Abbey. The streets of London, from Victoria Station to the Abbey, were black with thousands on thousands of moved spectators. The bier was brought in procession from the station. Covered with its tattered Union Jack, the coffin was borne on the shoulders of ten men and deposited on the gun-carriage which was to bring the body to its last resting place. The guard presented arms.

The great personages who to the unknown soldier had been almost legendary figures —Admirals and Generals, six on each side—stood at salute as the bier passed to the black gun-van, which was decorated with palms and purple ribbons “and overflowing with flowers. The cortege started. The horses moved slowly, drawing the van to the station exit, while the deep minor chords of Chopin’s Funeral March resounded solemnly.

Up by Constitution Hill, through the long Mall and the Admiralty Arch, then sharply turning off to the right, the cortege passed into Whitehall. Just beyond Downing Street, politically famous, rose against the gray of the sky the flag-swathed cenotaph designed by Sir Edward Lutyens as a permanent memorial. The throng around this cenotaph was like a human sea. All the high dignitaries of the British Government and the British Empire were here to greet the obscure and humble soldier who had paid the supreme price to preserve the world’s liberty.

With the King at their head, all turned to face the sable van on which the unknown soldier lay. All the royal family were here, the Cabinet Ministers, members of the first War Cabinet, dignitaries from India and the Dominions. The designer of the great cenotaph stood near in another company of officials. The pavement was bordered with flowers awaiting the unveiling of the cenotaph. The bier advanced to the pulsations of the Dead March in ” Saul.” The pale London sun, glinting on the brass instruments of the marching band, picked out here and there a gleaming sword.

The pallbearers, including Admiral Beatty, Marshal French, Lord Haig, General Byng and others of renown, fell into a line at the north. The music stopped. There came a hush.

The King stepped forward with a wreath and placed it on the coffin beside the steel helmet. The choir sang a canticle. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s voice rose, reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The King touched a lever; the two great Union Jacks fell apart, settling in two colored masses at the cenotaph’s base. Naked and beautiful, the great shaft of the cenotaph, pale lemon against the sun-shot mist, stood revealed.

The silence was broken by the booming of a great bell, while all uncovered. The cortege passed on. Then the official groups broke up and the waiting throngs surged forward to lay their flowers on the cenotaph, which soon was banked with a dense garden of brilliant blooms. Maimed and blinded soldiers passed on in six green motor coaches. Women dressed in black, bearing their tributes to the Abbey, were brought by the police into the main road, which now bloomed whitely with moving flowers against the black streams of humanity in front and behind.

The vast and quiet spaces of Westminster Abbey, plunged in a religious gloom shot through by candlelight and gleams from the big stained windows, offered the unknown soldier ultimate repose. The noble lines of the great cathedral swept upward to the dim crown of lights high in the apse. A thousand women in black, a hundred V. C.’s, waited with flowers and wreaths. A bell was tolling softly. There was a vision of color and lights about the high altar. Down the long church stole soft, flute-like music. The choir members, in white and scarlet, moved up the nave into the choir, headed by the dean in his mourning cope. Strangely sweet and wistful sounded their song: O valiant hearts who to your glory came Through dust of conflict and through battle flame!

The precentor intoned the Lord’s Prayer. The bell tolled 11. Then, as the guns ceased booming, the whole British Empire, from London to India and farthest Australia, stood silent and motionless for two minutes while the cortege entered the vast and shadowy nave of Westminster Abbey. The funeral march grew louder as the procession advanced, headed by the choir singing “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Down the long aisle the pallbearers bore the coffin, with its steel helmet and its laurel wreath. The King, the high statesmen and other officials took their appointed places. The ritual of burial lasted but a few moments. The Twenty-third Psalm was read, telling of those who have come through “the great tribulation.”

Amidst the solemn harmonies of “Lead, Kindly Light,” the Guardsmen lowered the unknown soldier into the grave prepared for him below the great stone flags. “The night is gone” ended the solemn hymn.

The King cast some of the soil of France from a silver shell upon the coffin below. One last hymn resounded. Then came the roll of drums, followed by the clear call of the reveille. The King’s wreath lay at the foot of the grave, where visitors to Westminster Abbey henceforth may read the carved inscription: “A British Warrior, Who Fell in the Great War, 1914-1918, for King and Country.”

The crowd surged forward for one last glance and strewed the purple carpet with white and red flowers. Some of the blackrobed women were weeping. Perhaps that silent, unknown warrior, glorified in death by a whole nation, had been the son of one of them. Who knew?
In Westminster the grave of the unknown warrior was left open for one week, and every day an almost continuous line of people filed through the nave to see the coffin that contained the body which had become a memorial to all the British dead. Even when the time came to close the grave on the 18th there were hundreds in line who could not get through.

At the very last moment a lady came to the deanery with a maple leaf from Canada, sent by a soldier who had earned the Victoria Cross at Lucknow. She asked that it be placed in the coffin, and her wish was carried out. Then, after a pause for the completion of an organ recital, the grave was filled with soil that had been brought for the purpose from the battlefields of France and Flanders.

Current History v13

Video courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Guest Post: Downton Abbey Bingo

Downton Abbey Bingo © 2014 Paste Media Group

Downton Abbey Bingo © 2014 Paste Media Group

By Jane Dolton

Fans of Downton Abbey are still trying to keep up with the twists of Series 5 Episode 4, and while this latest episode introduced a few new plot twists, it also brought back some old characters we haven’t seen in a while. You may be tempted to rewatch some of the old series just to see the significance of some of these characters, and if you’re doing this, then you may want to invite some of your friends to play a round of Downton Abbey Bingo with you!

In these past few years, we’ve seen bingo transform into a popular pastime, thanks to its migration to the internet. A booming hobby in the 1950s, the game had seen dwindling memberships until the introduction of online bingo, and we’ve seen more people become entranced by the game. This is thanks mainly to the big prizes that can be won from online bingo games. Reports from Free Bingo Hunter, a website specialising in cataloguing the hundreds of online bingo portals out there, show that online bingo games now give away prizes ranging from £50 shopping vouchers to a brand new Peugeot 208 – something land-based bingo halls could only dream of.

But the popularity and versatility of bingo is also the reason behind Paste Magazine’s invention of Downton Abbey Bingo, a game that you can play with your friends as you sit down for a Downton Abbey marathon. Simply print out the cards that Paste Magazine has made available on their website and get your markers and daubers ready. Look over each of your cards and study them carefully, and decide on what pattern you’re going to be aiming to complete. As you plough through each episode, mark off the elements of the show that appear on your respective bingo cards. The first person to complete the predetermined pattern wins the game!

About Jane Dolton: Ever since Downton Abbey aired its first episode, Jane has been infatuated with the show regularly holding Downton Abbey-themed parties for her friends. Jane also enjoys reading poetry and spending time her with husband of 15 years.

Post Navigation