Winters can be cold! Temperatures drop, winds blow, and the clouds bring rain, snow, and ice. Turtlenecks and warm sweaters become staples in my wardrobe. An extra quilt (or two) get piled onto the bed, and my heating pad warms my feet when I crawl in.
You would think having lived in a northern climate all my life (some places colder than Halifax), I would have adjusted to the cold, but I haven’t.
I don’t know about you, but I am not fond of cold toes. Neither is the young lady in the vignette below. As you read, take note of how Violet, our cold-toed Regency lady, keeps warm. I’ll give you my list of Violet’s warming methods at the end so we can compare notes.
Violet yawned, pulled her blankets more snuggly about her, and drew her knees up. Curling into a tight ball sometimes helped ward off the chill of a winter morning when the fire was in need of stoking. However, this morning, such actions were not going to be sufficient. If only her warming brick was still warm! Then, her toes would not feel like icicles, and she could drift off again for a few more moments of sleep. But, alas, her toes were cold, and Violet hated having cold toes. She knew she should not complain about such a thing. Cold toes were a common occurrence in the winter, and she knew that while she need only scamper over to what remained of her fire to be warm, there were those less fortunate than herself, who would not know true warmth until spring. Yet, despite such knowledge, she was not happy. With a resigned huff, she pulled back the thick curtains that hung around her bed and, placing stockinged feet on the cold floor, hurried from the bed to behind the screen which stood near the fireplace. The warmth emanating from the hearth, reached out and wrapped her in its embrace. She sighed contentedly as a maid finished her work of tending the fire before scurrying away.
“’Tis a three petticoat day today, miss,” said Molly. “It’s a right cold one this mornin’.” Molly rounded the screen carrying the required number of petticoats to keep her mistress warm along with a sundry other items, such as a dress, which would be needed to prepare Violet for the day.
Today, Violet was to accompany her mother on a shopping excursion.
Once, she was properly clothed, Violet sank into her chair near the fire and stretched her slippered toes towards its warmth. With warm toes, she would be able to share a cup of tea with her mother while wearing a pleasant countenance. And a pleasant countenance was of great importance, for Mother would tolerate no complaining in the morning room. She said it was an entirely backwards way to start a day, and since Violet knew how short her temper could be when she was uncomfortable — and cold toes were definitely uncomfortable — she always spent a few moments warming her feet before venturing out of her room.
She wiggled her delightfully toasty toes and then rose to go meet her mother as Molly placed Violet’s outerwear near the fire to warm. (It was so much more pleasant to go out into the cold when one started wrapped in warmth.)
About an hour later, having had her tea and toast, Violet donned her warm jacket, scarf, hat, gloves, and muff. Her slippers were exchanged for leather boots, and she was off. Her gown must be fitted today if it was to be ready for Lady Wortham’s musicale next week. This fitting really could not be delayed no matter what the weather. So, she straightened her scarf, made sure her gloves were properly on each finger, and hurried down the steps to the waiting carriage where Thomas stood ready to hand both she and her mother in.
Violet settled unto the bench, placed her feet on the foot warmer, and tucked a woolen blanket around her legs. She smiled contentedly. Thomas always did such a good job of preparing the confines of the carriage for travel. She would be perfectly comfortable until she reached the dressmaker’s. The ride home, she knew, would be less pleasant as the coals in the foot warmer would lose much of their warmth before the fitting concluded. However, if this appointment went well, and there was no reason to expect it would not, she would be home in time to change her clothes and warm her toes in front of her fire before greeting the gentlemen, well, one in particular, whom she expected to call on her that day. And that was a pleasant thought indeed!
How did you do? Were you able to identify all the methods Violet used to keep her toes warm? How many do you share with her?
Here’s my list:Objects to block the cold and retain heat: There were curtains around Violet’s bed and a screen in front of the fire. These would help to both block drafts and contain heat. Perhaps the chair she sat in as she warmed her toes was a wingback chair. The design of these chairs kept the warmth around the person who sat in them.
Layers: It was a three-petticoat morning, so Violet layered her clothing and, though not mentioned, likely wore a shawl when she went to greet her mother. Even grand houses could be drafty and cold.
A heat source: Violet’s family was well-to-do, so there was a fireplace in her room. Coal and wood fires were the sources of heat in a Regency home whether it was a large townhouse or a tiny peasant’s cottage. The amount of fuel you could burn and the number of fires you could have burning varied, of course, according to your financial means.
Outerwear: Violet wore boots and a coat along with a hat, scarf, and gloves to go out. Her outerwear, including her muff, would have been made of warm materials and probably included some sort of fur.A carriage, a blanket, and a warmer: Violet travelled in a closed carriage, but she still used a blanket and a foot warmer. A foot warmer was a box that contained a tray of hot coals and had a patterned array of holes on the top and sides that allowed the warm air to escape. These were not just used in carriages and sleighs, but also in other places that might be cold, such as a church. A lady would place her feet on top of the box and her skirts would cover it. This had the added benefit of containing the heat and warming the legs.
My methods for keeping warm on a cold winter day are similar to Violet’s, though more modern, of course. My warming brick is an electric heating pad. My fireplace is a furnace. I pile on blankets and wrap up in sweaters. I even wear socks to bed when the temperatures plummet. I have boots and gloves and scarves and jackets for going out. My closed carriage has heat that I can blow on my toes, and when I am fortunate, I even have a Thomas who will brave the cold and make sure my carriage is warm before I climb in.
Blocking drafts, retaining the heat, providing a warm spot to be is an activity that transcends the ages. For what can be more comforting than — ah! — warm toes?
Sources: "Keeping Warm in the Regency Era, Part One." Jane Austens World. "Ways to Keep Warm in the Regency Era, Part 2." Jane Austens World. "Word Wenches: Ways of Keeping Warm in the Regency Period." 'Word Wenches'