Exhibition Taster: Do you know what this is??

 

Whether you think you know what this object is or you’re still guessing, read on to find out more.

Veret Bed Warmer

Winter is coming. The nights are slowly drawing in and getting colder; the other day I finally succumbed and turned the central heating on. But before the luxury of central heating, how did people combat the cold in their homes?

A roaring fire was one obvious method, but not everyone could afford a lit fire in the bedroom as well as the living area. So various other methods were devised so that people didn’t have to climb into cold beds on a winter’s night. The most rudimentary was heating a stone or a brick in the fire and slipping that beneath the blanket, but by the 16th century, warming pans – better known as bed warmers (right) – had been adopted. Often made of brass or copper, these saucepan-shaped objects (sometimes seen hanging up beside fireplaces for decorative purposes today) contained coal from the fire to heat the bed.

Then along came the hot water bottle: metallic and stoneware containers, like the ones below, before rubber bottles were introduced and widely adopted.

 

But with the rise of electricity, a new method of heating the bed was devised: the electric bed warmer. The one pictured at the start of this post is the Veret Bed Warmer, made by Veret Ltd., Sidcup, Kent in the 1940s. For the technical heads amongst you, the 1945 patent states: ‘An electric bed-warmer comprises a cable entry in the form of a screw-threaded stopper 12, on the inner end of which the elements 13 are mounted, and having a central longitudinal passage through which the cable emerges, wherein at its outer end is a cup-shaped recess 25 having a diameter and axial length of several times the diameter of the central passage so forming a tubular shield for the cable and restricting the angular flexing 32 thereof to less than 120 degrees.’

 

Basically, it consists of a cylinder of red bakelite, an early form of plastic popular because of its resistance to heat and electrical nonconductivity. The electrical lead connects to an internal heating element. Today’s modern equivalent is the electric blanket, only with the Veret Bed Warmer there was no on-off button, nor any way to control the temperature – you simply plugged it in and voila: a toasty bed to climb into.

Check back every second Monday for a new taster in the lead up to the opening of the Electric Generations exhibition.

Electric Generations: The Story of Electricity in the Irish Home will be at dlr LexIcon in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin from 2 October until 2 December 2017 and at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester in spring 2018. Learn more about the Electric Generations team here.

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