Mr. Darcy, It’s Cold Outside: Regency Era Winter Survival 101

Having just taken a month long sojourn in Belize only to return to the belly of the beast (aka WINTER), I have to ask myself whether or not I would have survived winter in Jane Austen’s day.

Simply put, I hate winter. I hate cold. I hate gray. I hate snow.

When I wake up, I find that it’s hard to get out of my warm toasty bed in the morning. The air is cold. The floor is cold. It takes a good half an hour or so to start feeling the impact of the heat.

And then forget about going outside and having to sit in a carriage to travel to other homes! I would never have left my house, that’s for sure and certain!

How did they survive winter in the late 1700s?

Interestingly enough, the way that general population kept warm during Jane Austen’s life was very similar to how the Old Order Amish keep warm today!

I bet you hadn’t made that connection, right?

Amish families have wooden burning stoves or, in some cases, small space heaters, fueled by a propane line, in the main room of their house which is always the kitchen. The families gathered together and spent the day cooking, sewing, reading the Bible, and talking. Imagine that! No children with their heads bent over cell phones, furiously taking selfies to post on Instagram or Snapchat!

cat

Think of Fanny Price and her family in Jane Austen’s book, Mansfield Park. Bedrooms were for sleeping and the only extra warmth came from bodies sharing mattresses. Once people woke up, they would shiver as they dressed before running downstairs where the fireplace provided their heat throughout the day and night (if the dying embers managed to make it until morning). Wealthier families, such as Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, could afford to have more rooms kept warm as their houses had multiple fireplaces and the staff to monitor them.

As for travel, the Amish mostly use horse and buggy to travel. Some communities have closed buggies (but the sides are made of a heavy vinyl, not wood and glass) while others use open buggies, despite the elements. And let me tell you…it’s COLD! I know that some Amish use hand-warmers for their hands and feet. But that’s about it.

Amish Buggy

In Jane Austen’s time period, the wealthy could escape the elements by riding in their covered carriages. The rest of the population was not so lucky. Horses provided travel for long distances and, if that wasn’t available, people had to walk. Clothing played an important role then as it does now. Layers upon layers would help fight chills and, of course, the wealthier people might use heated rocks to help keep their feet warm while riding in the carriages.

I guess the bottom line is that I have great respect for people who managed to survive winters in the Regency era!

While I love most everything about that time period—the clothing, the mannerisms, the social structure–I confess that I much prefer rolling out of bed and hurrying to the thermostat. With a quick push of a button, the heat rumbles on and I only have to wait a short while for the entire house to feel comfortable. And when I have to leave the house, within minutes, my car seat warms up and I barely realize that it’s 32 degrees outside!

In our world of development and advancement, we sometimes take a lot of things for granted. For me, the simple comfort of a heated house and comfortable travel are greatly appreciated

12 Responses to Mr. Darcy, It’s Cold Outside: Regency Era Winter Survival 101

  1. I grew up with no indoor plumbing or running water. We got all our water from a well [best water ever], and horror of all horrors…we drank from a communal bucket with the same dipper. We also had an outdoor privy [how I hated that trek], and if it was night or bad weather…the chamber pot was your only option. As children we took our baths in a wash tub where Mother had to heat the water…and it was shared bath water…least dirty went first. Being the only girl, I went before my brothers.

    Winter heat was provided by this huge iron monster of a coal stove. Talk about hot; if you were not careful, it glowed red. We always kept a pan of water on top to add moisture to the air and for baths or household use. The best place to read or play on a bitter cold day was near that stove where it was toasty warm. Daddy was a sleepwalker and Mother’s fear was that he would walk into the hot stove. His only offense was to wake up when the cold air hit him and he found himself standing on the front porch in his small clothes.

    The best sleep is on a feather bed. You simply collapse into the mattress and it envelopes around you. Quilts were then folded around and tucked under the mattress and you were cocooned for the night. Good memories, but I wouldn’t want to live that way now. I like my modern conveniences thank you very much.

    • Yes, my grandfather in MIssissippi kept a pee-can under the beds to avoid a walk in the cold, rain or dark to the outhouse. Heavens forbid that you pronounce the nut from that area as a Pee-can. It is pee-cahn. We too used a big aluminum tub to wash in or used the sink when we were smaller but we had no running hot water so it all had to be heated. When we got bigger we would heat and haul our own hot water up to dump in the tub. We would only have about an inch of water when we dumped it all in the larger tub. Thank goodness we got heat and with it hot water installed in our house when I was about 9 or 10 years old. Puberty would have been difficult without running hot water for daily baths and washing clothes, etc.

      • We didn’t have the pee-cans…we had the old fashioned porcelain chamber pots. We lived next door to my great-grand parents so I assume we got them from them. I wonder what ever happened to those pots…not that I’d want them. I just don’t remember what happened to them. I’m sure they are/were in some antique store…had I been famous…So-And-So’s butt sat here. No thank you.

  2. Well I remember seeing something on the history channel that talked about a mini ice age lasting from about 1000 to 1850ish so I don’t think I would have liked it at all. How about the frost fair that was mentioned here on AUAU. I’m with you … let me keep my central heat and air. Jen

  3. We did not have heat in our house until I was in 5th grade. We had a wood burning fireplace in one room and an electric heater in the bathroom. We piled blankets and clothes on our bed at night and I did sleep with my sister in a double bed so our body warmth was shared. Living in SE Pennsylvania we are near the Amish community. My mother’s late home was next to one of their farms and several times she provided transportation to a hospital when there was an accident on the farm as her car was faster then their horse and buggy. I am so glad we have heat and A/C which we didn’t have growing up.

  4. I agree – and if I had lived in the late 1700s, I hope I would have been wealthy enough to have someone ELSE have to crawl out of bed to start the fires. 🙂 Thanks for reminding us to appreciate the “simple” things in life.

  5. I get twitchy when I think of bathrooms (or rather, the lack of them), chamber pots, cleanliness (or also the lack of) and the general messiness of London during that era (poor air quality, trash overflowing, raw sewage). My mother grew up in rural Ohio and their home did not have an indoor bathroom until she was 5 years old. Prior to that, they had to walk outside (even in subzero weather) to use an outhouse. They had fresh water from a well available inside through the use of a hand pump, but the water was incredibly cold. She thought it was heaven on earth when they got a water heater and a bathtub with water available by simply turning on a faucet.

  6. I’m with you Sarah! I hate the cold and would love to learn year round where it is warm. Alas, I cannot afford to move. I do remember my grandmother putting heated items at the foot of the bed and piling the beds with quilts until you could not see your feet sticking up. “smiles” Great memories although I would not want to live that way now.

Your thoughts are precious!