If, like me, you grew up in a house with no central heating and remember frost patterns on the inside of your bedroom windows on icy mornings, then you probably still love a good hot water bottle. A recent survey by a leading bed manufacturer claimed that electric blankets were making a comeback thanks, particularly, to millennials.
Apparently, Britons aged 25-34 are the most likely to own an electric blanket, while 48 per cent of the nation’s electric blankets are owned by those aged 18-34. But for me, the rubber hot-water bottle remains a firm favourite, especially as you can now get hundreds of snuggly covers for them.
Considering our climate, it is no real surprise that Gallery Oldham, has quite a large selection of bed-warmers in its collection. These range from old-fashioned ‘stone’ hot water bottles to some more curious early electrical devices. The practise of heating the bed goes back hundreds of years. Originally, copper warming pans, filled with hot coals or embers, were used to warm between the sheets.
Later as mass-production grew with the industrial revolution, they were replaced by ceramic hot water bottles. Water was somewhat safer than hot coals and the vitreous china or ‘stonewear’ bottles were cleverly designed so they could be stood on their small, flat end in the bed, making a tent under the sheets to spread their heat.
Stone hot water bottles lasted well into the twentieth century but were gradually superseded by ‘vulcanised’, rubber ones that you could actually keep in bed to warm your toes. The invention of the rubber hot water bottle is widely accredited to Serbian, serial inventor Slavoljub Eduard Penkala. In 1903 he patented the ‘Termofor’ hot water bottle, although, ironically, he died of pneumonia on a business trip in 1922.
Over the years there have been many attempts to modernize the art of bed warming. Caged electric light bulbs and heating elements have been used since the 1920s; made by companies like Belling, Swan, Veret (who advertised ‘150 hours of warmth for one penny!’) and Failsworth-based PIFCO.
More recently still, we have had the electric blanket, invented in the USA by another serial inventor, George Crowley. At just six-years-old, Crowley invented an electrical early warning device on the stairs of his home, to warn of approaching parents. Obviously destined for great things, he went on to work for the General Electric Company and developed heated flying suits for use at high altitudes during WW2. In peacetime, he adapted this technology to create a range of thermostatically controlled, over and under-blankets and also found time to invent an electrified device for chasing squirrels from bird tables.
Electric blankets were popular in the 1960s and ‘70s and makers have included Northern Blankets of Vine Mill, Royton. But somehow, the quirky and peculiarly British hot water bottle has remained incredibly popular. They are easy to use, safe – although do remember not to use boiling water – and above all comforting. Keep warm!