Market Lavington Museum

A Hot Water Bottle


In the days of the rich having servants, one of the jobs for the downstairs folk was to warm beds using warming pans. These items were often made of a copper or brass container with a long, turned wooden handle. Hot coals were put in the container. A servant could them push it between the sheets to pre-warm a bed before the occupants arrived.

After the First World War, servants began to be found only in the homes of the very rich. But this was long before the time of central heating. Your average house probably had a kitchen range to provide heat for all. Bedrooms were cold in the winter. There’ll be many older folk who remember ice on bedroom windows. Did we all try to turn the random patterns in the window ice into imaginative scenes? Getting into bed in such a room was an unpleasant experience – so enter the hot water bottle.

Here were the requirements. Such a bottle had to be waterproof and have an effective seal to hold in the hot water. It also had to be able to withstand the thermal shock of near boiling water being poured into it.  Glazed stoneware met the requirements. Such bottles became standard household items and we have one at Market Lavington Museum.

Stoneware hot water bottle at Market Lavington Museum

Stoneware hot water bottles were often referred to as ‘pigs’. Some say this was because the carrying handle – supposed to stay cool enough to manage, looked like a pig’s snout. Others suggest that in Scotland, cylindrical, stoneware bottles were always called pigs, no matter what their function and we Sassenachs adopted the term just for hot water bottles.

Ours has no maker’s name but is slightly unusual in having a blue outer glaze. We know almost nothing about it. It was given to the museum by a White Street lady and was categorised as mid-20th century.  We think it might be earlier than that.

The marks on the base of the hot water bottle

The only marks tell us that it has a two pint capacity and there is a letter M also embossed in the base.

Can anyone tell us any more?