When I lived in rural France I found a strange metal dish with holes in the lid left by the previous owner of the house I lived in (see image). Intrigued I asked a neighbour what it was and she explained that it was a foot warmer, designed to be filled with live coal from the fire and popped under the table at meal times to give a pleasant glow to the diners nether regions. I’ve since discovered there are all sorts of foot warmers for different occasions in different materials – and of course, (too late since I gave mine away) they are very collectable.
When you think about it past generations have all suffered with the same physical irritations as we do: it shouldn’t come as a surprise that cold feet were one of them. Homes were colder than they are now as was travel by coach or later in unheated trains and cars – not to mention that old bug bear, cold feet in bed! However, there was a solution to all these problems with a foot warmer designed for each situation. Some warmers held charcoal, others held hot water. Pottery, tin, and soapstone were the favoured materials to conduct the heat. The warmer was kept under the feet and then the legs and feet were often tucked into a blanket, providing welcome warmth in a cold carriage or church. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, first-class passengers on trains had a piece of carpet or a carpet-covered hot water bottle and third-class passengers had some straw for foot warmers. I might try one of these outdoors under a table – could extend al fresco dining for a week or two!