Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Veret electric bed warmer, Ernest Paul Feakes, 1937

Mindful of the cost-of-living crisis, my family have been using our rubber hot water bottles far more this winter than we have done in previous years. They are a fantastic invention and help with the energy-saving mantra I keep reading everywhere: ‘heat the person, not the room’. 

MoDiP does not actually have a rubber example in the museum yet, but we do have this lovely bakelite version (refer image below) by Rothermel, part of the Plastics Historical Society collection. It is a great object because being made from a plastics material, it could have been any shape the designer wanted it to be. On this occasion, the form chosen was an exact replica of the familiar rubber hot water bottle we all know and love, presumably so that when a customer saw it for the very first time, they would instantly recognise what the product was.


PHSL : 3
Image credit: MoDiP



We have two other electric bed warmers in the collection that operate in a similar way but look very different (refer image below). They were both manufactured by a company called Veret in the late 1930s/1940s, compression moulded in phenol formaldehyde (the brown example) and urea formaldehyde (the green example). Until recently we knew nothing more about them, but in November 2022 we were contacted by the designer’s granddaughter who was able to give us some additional information.


AIBDC : 0_2423 and AIBDC : 0_2425
Image credit: MoDiP




The Veret bedwarmer was designed by Ernest Paul Feakes, a carpenter and builder from Belvedere in Kent, who is rather well known in the Bexleyheath area due to his property development partnership with Robert Richard Richards (Feakes & Richards). He can be seen in the image below on the left, standing next to his business partner.


Ernest Paul Feakes (left) and Robert Richard Richards (right) with a
contemporaryadvertisement for their Bostall Park Estate development.
Image credit: Cordelia Olds and
https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/374572894014296602/



Ernest Feakes was always interested in making and inventing things and held at least nine patents registered between 1904-1938 for a variety of items including furniture and fastener improvements. He set up the Veret company sometime around 1937 for the manufacture of his cylindrical bed warmer, establishing the business from his family home in Woolwich Road, Abbey Wood, London. An improvement to the device was patented ten years later, but we have been unable to locate the original application.


The 1947 Veret Ltd patent for an improved cord connection.
Image credit:
https://worldwide.espacenet.com/patent/search/family/
001733375/publication/GB595969A?q=pn%3DGB595969A




The bed warmers were sold at chemists and electrical hardware stores, advertised as ‘shock-proof, fool-proof and guaranteed. No water to leak, suitable for all voltages and consumption is only one unit a week when left on day and night. Price 14/-'.


Two contemporary adverts for the Veret electric bedwarmer.
Image credit
https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Veret (left) and https://bakelietverzameling.nl/Products/586/Bedverwarmer%20Veret (right)




Feakes’ granddaughter recalled her father passing through Charing Cross on his journey to and from work each day in the late 1930s. E.P., as she affectionately referred to Ernest, would ask him to ‘nip into Boots as he went past and buy a couple of the bed warmers, telling everyone how good he had heard they were’. Upon return home, he would be reimbursed and the bedwarmers returned to stock! She also described her experience of using one when she was a child in the early 1950s, standing on her bed to remove the ceiling lightbulb in order to replace it with the fitting attached to the bed warmer. She remembered the appliance made a gentle humming noise when it was switched on and considered it old fashioned as by then, rubber hot water bottles had proven more popular and cost effective.

Sold boxed and with a cover, the Veret electrical bed warmers were available to buy in pastel blue and green colours, as well as the typical brown and black bakelite. Providing 150 hours warmth for just one penny sounds amazing given the price of electricity now and I wonder just how warm they were. Sadly, we cannot test our examples to find out but if you would like to view them, the Rothermel, or any other objects, please contact us.
 
Katherine Pell
Collections Officer
 
References:

Olds, C. 2022. Veret bakelite bed warmer. (email).

https://bakelietverzameling.nl/Products/586/Bedverwarmer%20Veret

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