Madeira Mondays: Inside an 18th century bedroom

A few weeks back, I took you inside The Georgian House with me and we visited an 18th century parlor. We talked a bit about education, the hobbies and pursuits of the Georgian elites, as well as globes and mapmaking, tea ceremonies and more. If you’re curious to read that post, you can check it out here!

This week, we’re going back into The Georgian House – the recreated 18th century townhouse here in Edinburgh where I volunteer. The townhouse is a ‘show house’, not a traditional museum, so if you were to visit you could see a house fully furnished with 18th century art and objects, giving you a sense of what daily life was like back then for those living in Edinburgh’s New Town. Each room in The Georgian House offers a glimpse into a different aspect of the past, and it’s very hard for me to pick a favorite, but I do love showing visitors around the bedroom, which is where we’re heading today!

The bedroom in The Georgian House

In the photo above, you can see the elegant four-poster bed (made in 1774 for Thomas Hog of Newliston, near Edinburgh). A bed is, of course, totally something you’d expect to find in, well, a bedroom, so no surprise there, but what a lot of guests are surprised by is how multifunctional bedrooms were in the 18th century.

Seating in the bedroom for socializing

These days, I think we tend to think of bedrooms as quite private spaces, perhaps tucked away on the upper floors of houses and not really a space where you’d gather if you had friends over. But – and I could go into this in greater depth in another post – the concept of private, individual spaces was different back then. In the 18th century it was still very common (even in wealthy households) for bedrooms to be shared among members of that family and, as you can see from the photo above, bedrooms were also places for socializing with guests. The bedroom at The Georgian House might have been used as an informal breakfast room, or ladies sitting room – which would have allowed the hosts the show off their four-poster bed – which was a bit of an 18th century status symbol!

Another difference between bedrooms then and now, which guests often find surprising, is that there were no coat hangers during this time period! Clothes were folded up and stored in drawers, rather than hung in wardrobes. Coat hangers weren’t invented until the later part of the 19th century, so you won’t find a wardrobe or a closet in an 18th century bedroom for hanging up your clothes! (This is so interesting to me – how this one invention really changed the whole layout of a space.)

One final thing I wanted to show you in the bedroom is the medicine chest. This is probably my favorite object in the bedroom!

The medicine chest in The Georgian House

Most houses would have had some sort of medicine chest stocked with remedies for minor ailments. A visit from a physician was expensive, and, especially if you were located further outside of the city, it often wasn’t even possible. Or, at least, it would take the doc a long time to reach you! It was common (and I know this was true in Colonial America too) for the lady of the house to take care of the entire household, including servants, if one of them got sick, especially if it wasn’t something major. This medicine chest is from 1830 and retains 22 out of its original 29 bottles. Some of the contents are things we would recognize today – Epsom salts and peppermint oil, for example. Some are things that we definitely wouldn’t be able to get over the counter now, like laudanum, derived from opium.

The chest would have come with detailed instructions about how to use its contents and recommended doses. There were also books available at the time, such as the popular Domestic Medicine by William Buchan (1772), which explained home remedies for all sorts of things. It’s worth a flip through if you’re curious.

There are so many more aspects of the bedroom at The Georgian House that I could go into, but I’ll leave it there for now! I didn’t even touch on personal hygiene, bathing (or lack thereof!) and all that jazz, so if you’d like a post about about that stuff – let me know! In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a couple of recommended further readings, and thank you again for joining me this Monday! At some point in the upcoming weeks, we’re going into the dining room (yay! food!) and the kitchen (yay! more food!) of The Georgian House. See you then!

Recommended Further Reading:

William Buchan’s Domestic Medicine (1772) – Buchan was an Edinburgh physician and this book was popular in both the UK and the soon-to-be USA

Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New England Home 1760-1860 by Jane Nylander (okay, so this one is technically not about Scottish homes of this period, but a lot of the customs were transatlantic and this is a great window into domestic life in this time period)

‘The Edinburgh medicine cabinet and the city high life’, article in The Scotsman newspaper (goes into a lot more detail about the dangerous over-uses of laudanum in the period)

And if you’d like to book tickets to visit The Georgian House, you can do that here. Definitely check their opening times (which have been reduced and changed due to Covid) and they recommend booking in advance! If you fancy coming along on this upcoming Saturday Oct 24th, I’ll be there (hi!) and would love to talk with you more about all things Georgian!

‘Madeira Mondays’ is a series of blog posts exploring 18th century history and historical fiction. Follow the blog for a new post every Monday and thanks for reading!

 

7 thoughts on “Madeira Mondays: Inside an 18th century bedroom

    • Carly Brown says:

      Thank you! 🙂 That’s a great question – chamber pots (and small wash basins for washing for you face, for instance) were kept in the bedroom for daily use and emptied out by chamber maids when need be. I’m guessing that maids brought in fresh water for the wash basins maybe in the mornings. People did wash their faces regularly – although not their full bodies (more on that in another post).

      In The Georgian House, you can actually see an 18th century a porcelain chamber pot (and a wash basin on a stand), which I didn’t include in my post – again, so much to talk about in this room alone! In the Georgian House there’s also an early water closet/toilet, which also had to be emptied by a maid (since there wasn’t any plumping, to take the waste out of the house).

      This is such a fascinating topic, and definitely one that I want to look at in future posts, especially because so few primary sources write about it in any detail! Not just for politeness sake (you’re not going to be writing much about using the bathroom haha) but also perhaps because it was just a feature of daily life that everyone understood and there wasn’t any special need to write about it.

      Thanks again for your comments. Hope you’re having a good start to the week xx

      Liked by 2 people

      • Bon Repos Gites says:

        Many thanks for such a full response! I agree, there does not seem much written on the daily habits of the middle class Georgians as opposed to the Victorians. I had no idea that they had ‘thunder boxes’ as early as that either. Great post!

        Liked by 2 people

    • Carly Brown says:

      Thanks for reading!

      Cool, I can definitely go more in-depth into 18th century medicine in future posts. It’s a topic that really interests me and I had to do a bit of research into during my PhD. I’ve actually read most of Domestic Medicine (the home remedies book which I mentioned in this post!) and it’s a fascinating read.

      Hope you’re doing well!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Content Catnip says:

        Domestic Medicine sounds like a fascinating book. I loved the medicine cabinet, thank you for yet another interesting post Carly. I need to check out this place next time I go to Edinburgh. Have a good weekend xx

        Liked by 1 person

      • Carly Brown says:

        Thanks for reading! Yes, the medicine cabinet is one of my favorite things in The Georgian House. And yes it’s definitely worth a visit next time you’re in Scotland. Hope you have a good weekend as well! x

        Like

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