Victorian Bedding

I got the following extracts from Judith Flanders’s The Victorian House (2003).

Hey, guys, are you feeling bogged down with too much to do and not enough time to do it? Is your ‘To Do’ list worrying away your life?

Well, come take a healthy dose of Victorian history, because at least you don’t have to put up with the incessant bullshit that was “trying to get a decent night’s sleep in the fucking Victorian era”!

Bedding was rather more complicated than we have learned to expect. Mattresses were of organic fibre: horse-hair mattresses were the best; cow’s hair ones were cheaper, although they did not wear as well; even less expensive were wool mattresses. A straw mattress, or palliase, could be put under a hair mattress to protect it from the iron bedstead.

“Chain-spring mattresses were available in the second half of the century, but they were expensive, and they still needed a hair mattress over them. It was recommended that a brown holland square should be tied over the chains, to stop the hair mattress from being chewed by the springs. The hair mattress itself then needed to be covered with another holland case, to protect it from soot and dirt. If the bed had no springs, a feather bed – which was also expensive, hard to maintain, and a great luxury – could be added on top of the mattress” (10-11).

This sounds awful. BUT IT GETS WORSE.

“After the basics (all of which needed turning and shaking every day, as otherwise the natural fibre had a tendency to mat and clump), the bedding for cold, usually fireless rooms consisted of an under sheet (tucked into the lower mattress, not the upper, again to protect from soot), a bottom sheet, a top sheet, blankets (three to four per bed in the winter), a bolster, pillows, bolster- and pillow-covers in holland, and bolster- and pillow-cases.

“With all of this bed made of organic matter, it is hardly surprising that bedbugs were a menace. Oddly, the usually fastidious Mrs Haweis [who wrote The Art of Housekeeping (1889)] thought that blankets needed washing only every other summer, although sheets needed washing every month – ‘the old-fashioned allowance’ – if on a single bed; if two people were sharing a bed it was every fortnight.

Not all the sheets were changed at once: bottom sheets were taken off, as were the pillow- and bolster-cases, and the top sheet was moved down and became the bottom sheet for the next fortnight. It was recognized that it was impossible to go to bed clean: Mrs. Haweis noted that pillow-cases needed to be changed ‘rather oftener [than the sheets], chiefly because people (especially servants) allow their hair to become so dusty, that it soils the cases very soon” (11).

Right, well, I’m off to boil my bed sheets and maybe even burn my bed in an abandoned field. I’ll be sleeping on freshly bleached linoleum in my kitchen where nothing bad can ever happen again.

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One Response to Victorian Bedding

  1. Pingback: BizarreVictoria: Celebrating 4 Years | BizarreVictoria

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