Before the invention of the rubber hot-water bottle, the best way to avoid the discomfort of cold sheets was to fill a copper warming pan with hot coals.
Warning pans originated in the 15th century and were reserved initially for the sick.
In the 17th century they came into more general use among the rich. Pans from this period can still be found, but most examples date from 1720 onwards.
The device consists of a long-handled metal pan, with a hinged, pierced lid that fitted over the hot charcoals with which the pan was filled.
It would he carried into the bedroom and moved between the bed sheets until the bed was aired and warm.
Less efficient servants might have the pan in place too long -
household accounts indicate that a great many beds were destroyed by fire.
The design of the warming pan was slowly in modified over the centuries. The pan became smaller and shallower and shapes changed a little too - ear ly examples generally have flat lids and straight sides, but from the 18th
century onwards, domed lids and curved sides were favoured.
However, the main change was in materials, iron giving way to brass and
then copper (which was rarely used for warming pans before the 18th century).
Handles of metal were soon replaced by wood, which was lighter and less hot to hold.
The lid of a warming pan was pierced to let heat escape, but piercing was also ornamental,
the owner's coat of arms being a popular motif.
Warming pans became a popular wedding present, and many 17th-century examples bear the initials of the
couple and the date.
Towards the end of the 18th century., water-filled warming pans came into vogue, a
screw stopper making them watertight.
They were replaced by earthenware hot-water bottles, known as 'pigs', and
later by rubber hot-water bottles in the 1890s.
The decorative effect of the wall-hung warming pan led to a revival of its popularity from the 1970s.
Reproduction warming pans are much less substantial than the real thing - the metal is
thinner and they usually lack the ornate piercing and hammered decoration.