Trundle bed or truckle bed?

trundle bed 18th century
Trundle bed from Massachussetts, late 1700s.

What do trundle beds mean to you? The last one I saw was in a hotel where a small child’s rollaway lived under the main bed in daytime. This is exactly how they were used in thousands of American homes in the 19th century and before. And their history goes back much further too. For some people, trundle beds say “pioneers” or “log cabin” . You come across them in stories evoking that way of life.

By the time the dishes were all wiped and set away, the trundle bed was aired. Then, standing one on each side, Laura and Mary straightened the covers, tucked them in well at the foot and the sides, plumped up the pillows and put them in place. Then Ma pushed the trundle bed into its place under the big bed.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods

They were certainly used in more prosperous homes too, like the 18th century Lexington MA house in the first picture. Their origins are actually in the grandest homes of all.  Royalty and noblemen used to have a servant sleeping at the foot of the bed. Their high bed draped in fine fabrics easily hid a small, simple rollaway during the day. These rolling or trundling beds probably first came into use in late medieval times.

trundle rope bed
19th century cabin in Georgia with trundle. Both beds strung with rope. Photo by Beneteau Sailor.

Truckle beds are just the same thing by another name. Both truckle and trundle originally meant rollers or castors or little wheely things. There are a few other names around: trumble beds in some parts of the US, hurly beds in Scotland, and sometimes simply rolling beds, or the modern rollaway.

American trundle beds

In the log cabin pictured right, both the big and small bed have cords to form a base for the mattress. Mattress covers were filled with corn husks, straw or any suitable plant material that was available, and spread over the rope “netting”. Surprisingly often, songs in the USA of the later 1800s and early 1900s mentioned trundle beds. They evoked a sentimental image of life back home, a cosy childhood with Ma and Pa. (See sheet music below.) But as life got more prosperous for many, with bigger houses, space-saving trundle beds had other meanings too, and some American children from small homes got called “trundle bed trash”.

European trundle beds

trundle bed 1930s
Oklahoma c1939 - trundle bed in a one room cabin occupied by tenant farmers.

In Europe, truckle beds or trundle beds were less likely to summon up visions of a warm, cosy family life. They were rooted in a master or mistress and servant tradition, where it was not at all unusual to have a valet or maid sleeping in a small bed near the big one, ready to be of service when required.

The medieval picture below comes from a French romance where the wife is in the servant’s truckle bed, unbeknownst to her husband, to find out about his goings-on in a story which is more risqué than The Little House on The Prairie. In 17th century London Samuel Pepys’ maidservant slept in the room with both him and his wife, on occasion.

So all to bed. My wife and I in the high bed in our chamber, and Willet in the trundle bed, which she desired to lie in, by us.
Pepys’ Diary, 1667

trundle bed 15th century
Trundle bed for a nobleman's valet. Black and white sketch of illustration in 15th century French manuscript: Roman du Comte d'Artois.
victorian trundle bed
"Nestled in the trundle bed" sheet music with sentimental 19th century picture. USA, 1880s

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here: Rope bed, or see more picture info here


Marrow scoops, spoons & table manners

marrow spoons or scoops from 1700s and 1800s
Silver marrow scoops from 1720s to 1850s (left to right). Photo by miladus

A silver marrow scoop is an elegant solution to a problem most of us don’t have today. How can you get the tasty marrow out of meat bones without abandoning your table manners?

Upper class diners adopted new rules of etiquette during the 1600s. Forks appeared on posh tables to help people eat with a less hands-on approach to cooked food. But forks didn’t help take the savoury jelly out of the marrowbones. You can get an idea of how this was done once upon a time by reading a mid-17th century etiquette book. The author thought it best for people to stop handling and “mouthing” bones altogether, but he would allow you to use one hand for meat bones as long as there was no gnawing, sucking, slurping etc. And definitely no banging, cracking, or biting. Get the marrow out neatly and decently – with a knife.

Suck no bones…Take them not with two hands…Gnaw them not…Knock no bones upon thy bread, or trencher, to get out the marrow of them, but get out the marrow with a knife…To speake better…it is not fit to handle bones, and much lesse to mouth them.
Make not use of a knife to breake bones…also breake them not with thy teeth, or other thing, but let them alone.
(Youths [sic] behaviour, trans. from French by Francis Hawkins, 1646)

marrowbone served with toast or bread
Cooked marrowbone served with bread. Photo by Sifu Renka

Before the end of the century marrow spoons had arrived, starting in the 1680s. These new implements for eating marrow had a rounded spoon at one end with a narrow scoop at the other. In 1710 one was described as “a marrow spoon with a scoop at the other end”.* Soon the spoon evolved into an elongated scoop, usually with a narrower version at the other end. Many more were made during the 18th century: an era when an impressive variety of new culinary paraphernalia was developed for the prosperous classes – from gravy warmers to caddy spoons.

I wish I could find a written description of someone taking marrow jelly out of a bone in the early days of the new scoops.  Did no-one write about it at all? Later there are recipes for dainty dishes of prepared marrowbone that could be eaten quite easily; by this time the bones were being cut and served in a special way. Diners could still enjoy the traditional delicacy, but without handling the bones at all, not even excavating with a knife as a polite alternative to sucking. Probably the late 19th century marrow scoop in the last picture on this page was intended for this kind of dish. It doesn’t look suitable for fiddly excavation of bones cut from a big joint of meat, or from a whole animal roast on a spit.

marrowbones served Victorian style
Marrowbones from Mrs. Beeton's recipe

Ingredients.—Bones, a small piece of common paste [pastry], a floured cloth. Mode.— Have the bones neatly sawed into convenient sizes, and cover the ends with a small piece of common crust, made with flour and water. Over this tie a floured cloth, and place them upright in a saucepan of boiling water, taking care there is sufficient to cover the bones. Boil the bones for 2 hours, remove the cloth and paste, and serve them upright on a napkin with dry toast. Many persons clear the marrow from the bones after they are cooked, spread it over a slice of toast, and add a seasoning of pepper; when served in this manner, it must be very expeditiously sent to table, as it so soon gets cold. Marrow-bones may be baked after preparing them as in the preceding recipe; they should be laid in a deep dish, and baked for 2 hours.
(Isabella Beeton’s recipe from 1861)

marrow scoop by spoon maker George Smith
Marrow scoop by George Smith - London 1780-1781. Photo by HomeThingsPast

The marrow scoop by George Smith III (picture left) comes from an important company of English spoon makers and silversmiths started by Thomas Chawner. They were active in London from the mid-18th to early 19th centuries.

marrow scoop late 19th C
Late Victorian marrow scoop - silver plate, mother of pearl handle. Photo by Leeds Museums and Galleries

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here: 5 marrow spoons – n.b. dates and details on original photo, cooked marrowbone, Gge Smith scoop by HomeThingsPast, Victorian marrow scoop. More picture info here


* From The Lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaffe in Joseph Steele’s Tatler: “a marrow spoon with a scoop at the other end”.

See also: a pewter marrow scoop


Household expenses for a “middling” 18th century family

Mary Johnson's household costs
Weekly expenses for a middling family laid out in Madam Johnson's Present: Or, Every Young Woman's Companion in Useful and Universal Knowledge (1770 edition)

What could you afford if you were of “middling station” in England in the 1760s and 1770s? You would have plenty of beer, ale, meat, and soap, but no wine, according to a detailed budget in Madam (Mary) Johnson’s book on household management. She suggests the mistress of her middle class home will spend £16 a year on her own clothes, and acknowledges this does not allow for “very fine laces”.

Mother and children have pocket money for fruit and toys, and may occasionally go to a “country-lodging” for “health and recreation”. Yet this hypothetical family of two parents and four children have only one live-in maid.* This surely means Mother will have to work hard in the house, on top of the “lying-in” (childbirth) which is budgeted for every other year.

The largest sums go for savings, rent and taxes, clothing for four children, and money set aside to cover bad debts. The bad debts give us a clue that this 18th century “middling” family is a tradesman’s family. Other costs confirm this, like the “expenses of trade with customers”.

Some of the smallest items are the most unfamiliar to us. Who puts sand, fullers earth, whiting, smallcoal, and brickdust on their shopping list today? All these were for cleaning jobs except the smallcoal, or charcoal.

The haberdashery (sewing bits and pieces) expenses were essential then, but more like hobby accessories now. By the way, when she says worsted I think she means worsted wool thread for darning socks etc., not worsted woollen cloth.

Buying two and a half pounds of candles a week seems a lot to most of us. In England day lengths vary hugely between winter and summer so the candle budget would fluctuate accordingly. When she says candles cost 1s 3d “per week the year round” she means on average.

Mary Johnson's household budget 1750
Annual budget for the same middling family, as suggested by Madam Johnson.

A chaldron of coal was 36 bushels. Five chaldrons might have filled between 60 and 80 sacks, all delivered to the house, of course. A ferkin or firkin of small beer would have been about 8 or 9 gallons. Small beer was fairly weak, for everyday drinking, and considered inferior to ale.

The soap for “family occasions” was not for special occasions or events! Occasions here just means needs.

Money abbreviations:

  • l  … pound
  • s … shilling (20 in a pound)
  • d … penny (12 in a shilling)
  • f …  farthing (4 in a penny)

*The mistress of the house had other help as well as the live-in maid: a washerwoman would have needed the soap bought for use “abroad” (away from home), and a wet-nurse would be employed for “nursing a Child abroad”. And it looks as if repair costs covered work that would have been done by live-in servants in much bigger houses.

There’s no perfect way to adjust the prices to today’s values. This website suggests multiplying by somewhere between 75 and 100. That would mean the family’s annual expenditure was equivalent to £30,000+ in today’s world – maybe $50,000. All very rough estimates.

The first edition of Mary Johnson’s book (1753) says she was “for many Years a Superintendent of a Lady of Quality’s Family in the City of York”.

Want to compare prices, incomes etc. over the years?

This page on “changes in the value of money over time” has links to many useful resources.


Drying clothes near the ceiling

laundry drying on ceiling rack
Drying clothes indoors in the laundry area of a big historic house in the UK. A high Victorian ceiling leaves plenty of space for this wooden rack with pulley and ropes for raising and lowering. Displayed as it would have looked a century ago.

It’s winter in northern Europe, and there’s no electricity. How can you dry your laundry? One of the best places of all is a laundry room in the servants’ quarters of a mansion house. A generous ceiling height means you can have frames for wet clothes and household linen in the warmest, dryest part of the room. The estate handyman would make them, and by the later 19th century he would probably add ropes and a pulley to raise and lower the rack. No need to climb on a chair to hang laundry.

ceiling clothes drying in swedish peasant home
One pole near the roof holds laundry. The other has Swedish hard-bread rings and a basket that needs to be kept dry and airy. From a museum display of Swedish folk life 19th century style.

It was different in a small cottage. With life centred on one room there could be a lot hanging from the ceiling: foodstuffs needing a dry, vermin-free spot, baskets empty or full, medicinal and culinary herbs drying, as well as a steady stream of laundry and clothing soaked by bad weather.

One simple pole attached to roof timbers was better than nothing. Drying washing on frame airers by a fire is effective, but getting some of it up and out of the way is a relief in a small space.

Ceiling clothes pulleys used to be common in the UK, and they are still used in older houses where there is enough height in the room. In ordinary-sized houses they often used to be in the kitchen, so the fresh smell of newly-aired linen might be masked by a vague aroma of cooking. This is the only disadvantage I know of with ceiling drying.

Advantages are obvious. It’s simple. It’s cheap. It uses rising heat that’s wasted otherwise. It’s not much work spreading out the laundry and taking it down later. You can fix racks on lower ceilings if you don’t need the room when you’re drying things.

overhead clothes rack
Opening of instructions from 1911, sent in by a Kentucky reader of Popular Mechanics.

Although drying racks on the ceiling were not unknown in American homes of the early 1900s, they seemed to vanish later. But recently they have come back to the USA, perhaps for people interested in saving energy.  You could make one yourself, but you can buy ready-made ones with metal bits imported from the UK, plus US timber. The racks cost a bit more than in Europe, but they are still a practical, environment-friendly way of drying and airing for some people – and money-saving over time.

Clothes Driers vary from the hemp clothes-line, taken down after each drying, copper wires, stretched taut and left out permanently, to revolving driers mounted either on a post in the yard or on a projecting arm from a porch or window. Indoor driers vary from the clothes horse to a rack which is pulled by pulley to the ceiling (very convenient for limited spaces, costing about $5.00).
From: Laundering, by Lydia Ray Balderston, Philadelphia, 1914 & 1923)

An easy way to have your own ceiling clothes airer

The traditional UK pulley clothes dryer is now available in the USA from There’s a range of sizes and fittings come in different colours. Click the one on the left if you’re in the US. The one on the right comes from Amazon UK.

USA:                               UK:        


Photos on this page by HomeThingsPast.
More picture info here.