Foot Warmers: Keeping a Carriage Warm
Prior to electric and gas heating, if one traveled in cold weather a foot warmer of some kind in your unheated carriage, sleigh, or train compartment was a common, desirable solution. Known as foot warmers, or foot stoves by the Dutch, the simplest were punched tin in a wooden frame with an earthenware or iron pot inside. Hot coals, wood embers, or rocks were placed inside the pot. Foot warmers made of brass were more stylish, and silver warmers were preferred by the wealthy even if not as practical since they heated so thoroughly that one’s feet could not rest on the top.
Obviously, the biggest problem with these portable warmers is the need to be refueled, so to speak. Hot coals or rocks will cool, swiftly if the temperature is very low. A few clever inventors attempted to solve this issue, essentially seeking a constant heat source for the carriage. One intrepid creator was William Felton, an established London coachmaker who gained additional renown when he published a comprehensive Treatise on Carriages in 1796. Felton’s main claim to lasting fame was in working with Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick, who had in 1803 invented the “London Steam Carriage.” With improvements by Felton, it was the first steam-powered carriage for transporting passengers. This is an aside to the topic of foot warmers, of course, but as the plaque to the right notes, while the vehicle only made a few short trips and didn’t prove wildly successful, it was a precursor to the automobile.
The point for today’s blog is that coachmaker William Felton was an innovator. Another worthy idea, which he patented in 1805, was a “Carriage Warmer” as is described below—
This warmer consists of a pan to hold the fuel, and a heater to convey the warmth within the carriage. The heater a is about 19 inches square, and one and a half inch deep, having a grove on each side for the draw to slide on; the draw is about four inches deep and ten square, with holes at the bottom, edge, on the fore-side, and a square pipe on the back side, which conveys the vapour away, by the current of air passing through. There is a false bottom, full of holes, except on the side next the air-holes of the draw, which is, to prevent the embers falling through; at the front of the draw is a springbolt, which secures it when in its place; the heater is sunk level with the bottom inside, and drops about half an inch below the bottom, and when fixed, it is impossible for air or vapour to pass through; the draw need never be applied but when the fire is wanted. The heat may be checked, and the fire putout by turning the fly-plate within the pipe, as it stops the draft, which is done by a key from the inside, that can only be put in one way.
In other words, the vented pans under the carriage contained fuel to burn, providing a constant heat for at least a longer time than hot embers alone. Tests of his carriages revealed successful heating for up to 25 miles. Alas, for unclear reasons, this invention didn’t take hold either, travelers keeping to the familiar portable foot warming devices.