Harvesting and Hibernation: Sleeping Through the Winter

Eating the right kinds of food at the right times of day formed an important part of early modern sleep-management techniques. Contemporary advice also points us in the direction of certain foods that can help make you feel sleepy and these foods share some common ground with early modern diets, as our previous post outlined [click here]. So, as the team at Little Moreton Hall have turned their attention to food preservation this autumn, we thought we’d share some information about what the Hall’s residents stocked up on to ensure they slept well over the winter. 


Our sleep bed in the garden at Little Moreton Hall has been going from strength to strength over the summer and it has been a joy to harvest its goodies. We have rosehips, the last of the rose petals, bergamot, lettuce, orach, chamomile, lavender, rosemary, violets, sea holly, strawberries, gillyflowers and borage. Elsewhere in the garden we have been harvesting our squashes (gourds), courgettes, mulberries, bay leaves, fennel, poppy seeds, apples, pears, peas and beans as well as foraging locally for nuts and hops. Lots of these ingredients have gone into our recipes, listed below.  



In Tudor times, September, October and November were busy months when home-grown herbs and plants were processed. The aim was to make sure that the Hall’s residents had enough food and medicines to see them through the winter until Easter of the following year. Those all important foods and sleep remedies that have featured in our Sleep Trail, and that helped to keep the body’s humours in balance, could only be made if their core ingredients had been harvested in advance.

Autumn was also the time at which the Hall’s residents completed the last of their annual dairying activities: making butter and cheese, before their animals stopped producing milk. Some animals would then be pinpointed for slaughter if they could not afford to be kept alive over winter. Their flesh was preserved with brine and salt, dried or smoked. 

The residents of Little Moreton Hall were well aware of which foods were best consumed before bedtime, and which were best to avoid. As part of our aim to ‘think like a Tudor’, we have followed in their footsteps whilst candying, pickling and preserving. The list below shows how different food types helped to regulate different humoral ‘complexions’ and thus ensured that everyone could enjoy a good night’s sleep.  

Sanguine: being hot and moist, a sanguine person needed to avoid hot sweet flavours like sugar or lamb and instead turn to melancholic (cold and dry) things such as sour or tart tasting foods like citrus or vinegar, or meats such as chicken and dairy produce. 

Choleric: hot and dry, this person had to temper their natural heat by eating cold and moist foods with insipid flavours such as fish, fruits, lettuce and pork. 

Phlegmatic: cold and moist, these people had to avoid similar qualities in their food. Whilst cucumbers or fish were their enemies, they might enjoy hot and dry foods like parsley, capers, olives, rabbit, garlic and spices. 

Melancholic: a cold, dry complexion demanded warm and moist foods. Beef, onions, lamb and basil were particularly helpful for those of a melancholic complexion.  


Visitors to Little Moreton Hall frequently ask for Tudor recipes so if you want to have a go at home, here is a sample of the tasks we’ve been completing as we have stocked up our supplies for winter, alongside details of other food processing jobs that took place at the Hall at this time of year. Autumn was an extremely busy time of year for the family and servants at Little Moreton Hall. Why not try some of these different ideas to get a flavour (quite literally) of the Hall’s favoured recipes and find out exactly how early modern people prepared themselves for a good night’s sleep throughout the winter months. 

Rosehip Preserve: boil up your rosehips with a little water. Next strain the rosehips through muslin or a sieve to remove all the skin and filaments. Return to the pan and boil up with a like quantity of sugar before potting up in a sterilised jar.1  



A Tudor Pickle: choose your vegetables and layer up in a large bowl between layers of sugar, salt and distilled malt vinegar. The distilled vinegar will help to keep the colour in your vegetables. Add spices and/or herbs to the liquor before potting up in a sterilised jar.2  



Pickled Flowers: choose colourful, edible flowers – choose from violets, roses, nasturtiums, borage, marigolds – and layer up in a sterilised jar between layers of sugar, salt and distilled malt vinegar. The distilled vinegar will help you to keep the colour in the petals.3 



Viola Preserve: simply pick your violet petals and grind up in a pestle and mortar with a like quantity of sugar before potting up in a sterilised jar. The same can be done for rose petals, however, do remove the white parts of the rose petals or else they can be bitter.4  

Sugar Coated Fennel Seeds: this was a very laborious task in the 16th century involving repeatedly dipping fennel or aniseeds in sugar syrup, allowing the seeds to dry out after each coating. They would then be coloured with natural colouring agents such as beetroot, cochineal, woad, saffron, spinach or parsley.5 The pre-curser to modern ‘hundreds and thousands’, they can be purchased easily in Asian supermarkets today.  


Crystallised Roses: this can be done with whole rose flower heads as well. Dip the flower head or petal in egg white until completely covered. You might want to use a brush to ensure that all the parts are covered. Then dip into sugar – again a clean, dry brush might come in handy here. Allow to dry somewhere dry and warm. Your petals should go hard and be perfectly preserved. If you prefer to avoid egg whites you can dip in rose water first instead.



Marchpane: take ground almonds and mix with an equal amount of icing sugar before binding together with enough rose water to make a firm dough. This will be less sweet than modern marzipan and more like the sweetness of Elizabethan marchpane. You can then mould or shape the marchpane into figures, flowers etc or roll out into a round, plate-like shape before painting with an icing sugar and water glaze and baking in the oven until set and crispy.



Butter: you can make Tudor butter without the need for a butter churn. Take a clean, sterilised jar and add double cream. Secure the lid tightly. Then either shake until the cream splits into butter and butter milk or place the jar somewhere you pass regularly, somewhere in the kitchen is perfect, and shake at regular intervals each time you pass it. The mixture will go through several stages – like whipped cream, like cottage cheese – and then eventually splitting into the solid butter and watery buttermilk. The buttermilk would be saved to make cakes, to give to the poor, old or sick or curdled to make cheese.  


Medlar Paste: medlars can only be eaten once they are rotten. Eating before then can give you a very poorly stomach – in fact, eaten before they are ready, medlars are actually poisonous. Therefore you need to wait until around the end of October for the fruits to drop from the tree before storing somewhere while they ‘blet’ (go rotten). You will know when they are ready to process as you will be able to squeeze the fruit and see the flesh pop out – like if you squeezed a blueberry. Squeeze all the flesh from the fruits (you need a good bag full to get a decent amount of flesh) and then press through a colander to remove the skin, seeds and fibres. Add to a large pan with a like quantity of sugar and boil up until the mixture is firm. Pour into dishes or moulds to allow to cool. This can then be used for meats and cheeses or made into pies and tarts. It also keeps well in the freezer until needed.8 


Green sauce: take a good few handfuls of sorrel leaves and grind in a pestle and mortar before adding 4 tablespoons of white bread crumbs, 6 tablespoons of white wine vinegar and 1 grated apple. Grind down until the mixture is the consistency of ketchup. This is a lovely tart, citrusy sauce that is served traditionally with cod or goose and also goes well with things like tongue or veal.9  


Quince Paste: Peel and slice the quinces before roasting in the oven. Extract the flesh and boil up with a like amount of with sugar until you get a firm consistency. For a clean jelly, boil up quinces in water and then strain the pulp through a muslin/cheesecloth overnight. Then for every 600ml/21 fl oz of juice add 450g/16 oz of sugar. Boil vigorously for 15 mins. Pot in sterilised jars.10  



A Tudor Salad: there is nothing more Tudor than a rocket salad with edible flowers. It’s very trendy today but in fact, it’s nothing new. A very fashionable 16th century salad was a ‘grand salad’ with various leaves, dried fruit, lemon slices, rosemary, boiled eggs, olive oil, white wine vinegar and sugar. This would be topped with edible flowers such as borage, nasturtiums and violets. For a Tudor dressing mix up 4 tbs olive oil with 3 tbs red wine vinegar, ½ tsp of salt, ¼ tsp of brown sugar. For the finishing touch arrange your halved boiled eggs around the edge of the salad and place a rosemary sprig in each to create a tree-like effect.11  


Salt Beef: score large chunks of raw beef before rubbing salt into the flesh and then soaking in brine over a couple of days. Pack the said salted beef into a large barrel with lots of salt before closing up tightly. Done properly this will ensure that the beef is perfectly preserved and it will give you a hearty, warming beef stew in the depths of winter.12 A nice recipe is this one from 1450 – Beef y Stywyd. Take 3 lbs/1.5kg chopped beef (stewing or braising steak) and boil up in a pan of water. Add cinnamon, cloves, mace, grains of paradise (if you have them), peppercorns, finely chopped or minced onions, parsley and sage. Continue to simmer for 1 ½ hours at least (or put in the slow cooker). Then take a small loaf of rustic bread and soak in some of the cooking liquor and some vinegar. Strain and add to the pot. Add saffron and stir until the sauce is thickened. As there are no quantities listed for the spices you can adapt to your own taste. If the vinegar is too strong, adjust with some beef stock.13  



  1. Adapted from Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book (1604). 
  2. Adapted from Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615). 
  3. Adapted from Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615). 
  4. Adapted from Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615). 
  5. Ivan Day, www.historicfood.com  
  6. Adapted from Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book (1604) and Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615). 
  7. Adapted from Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615). 
  8. Adapted from a recipe for fruit cheese from Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book (1604) 
  9. Taken from Peter Brear’s Cooking and Dining in Tudor and Early Stuart England.  
  10. Adapted from Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book (1604) and Grandma’s Special Recipes: Jams, Jellies and Preserves (2012). 
  11. Adapted from Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswifes Jewell (1596). 
  12.  Instructions taken from Ruth Goodman, Tudor Monastery Farm (2013). 
  13. Adapted from Harleian M.S. 279, 1450.  



Hard Work and Sweet Slumber on Radio 4’s ‘Start the Week’

A storage shelf at Little Moreton Hall that may well have doubled up as a comfortable alcove in which to catch some ‘shut eye’

Sleep and the question of whether, as a society, we are getting enough is becoming increasingly topical. In fact, even during our project this year we have seen a whole range of articles, programmes, books and discussions on the issue. Radio 4’s Start the Week looked at sleep and society this week by talking to our very own Dr Sasha Handley from the University of Manchester alongside Professor Matthew Walker from The Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Susan Foister from the National Gallery in London and Matthew Taylor from the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce. Their discussion picks up on many of the concerns being raised today about how we live our lives and our attitudes to a healthy work/life balance. Looking back at how people in other periods considered sleep, dreams and working conditions, the panel consider whether we are at another liminal point in our understanding of sleep, healthcare and balance. This is all the more important as technology and work patterns effect our everyday lives in new and unchartered ways. As a project How We Used to Sleep has aimed to address similar questions, looking back to early modern approaches to sleep and holistic healthcare practices to see if we can find any analogies with our modern waking and sleeping behaviour or pick up tips on how to make changes for the better. Are we coming full circle in rediscovering previous approaches? Are we now starting to review how we, as a society, live our lives and questioning what is truly good for us the way previous people in the early modern period or the industrial revolution have done before us?

Click on the link here to listen to the show: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b095psnz


Top Sleep Tips for Children



Siblings Posing for a Portait

One of the motivations for the How We Used to Sleep project was the ongoing ‘global sleep crisis’ we are currently experiencing. In our 24/7, always connected, constantly illuminated western culture, many of us are guilty of neglecting sleep or of not devoting much thought to how we might sleep better. We have heard the voices of neuroscientists, governmental agencies and medical professionals, often with mixed results, but what can historians add to this conversation? What can early modern people teach us about how to sleep well?   

Early modern sleep-management practices look remarkably similar to contemporary advice. The following tips blend early modern sleep advice with the tips developed by one of our project partners, The Children’s Sleep Charity, who are on a mission to improve the sleeping lives of the UK’s children and young people.  

1. Routine:  

Sleep advice for children recommends rising from and retiring to bed at the same time EVERY day. This familiar routine helps to regulate circadian rhythms to make sure they get the right amount of sleep.  

Early modern people get top marks for this – they went to bed consistently as it went dark and woke at daybreak. They would stick to these bedtime routines as much as possible. 

The Tudors took their cues about bedtime from changes in natural light throughout the year. Bedtimes were regulated by routine habits such as ‘shutting in’, when the doors and windows of households were locked or secured to keep out external intruders.  This was followed by ‘candlelighting’, a quiet period of an hour or so before bed in which to wind down and relax, before bedtime.  Certainty and discipline were important.  

It’s a good idea to give children a warning that bedtime is approaching, stipulating a time when the bedtime routine will begin. Perhaps use a timetable somewhere to show them that this is what happens every night and that this routine doesn’t shift, drift or slip.  


 2. Environment: 

Modern sleep advice warns about the dangers of exposure to ‘blue light’ in the hour before sleep. Blue light, emitted by computers, TVs, and other devices can interfere with the body’s production of melatonin – a hormone that eases sleep’s onset. These devices should be shut down to improve the chances of sleeping well.  

Early modern people didn’t have blue light but they did have their hour of ‘candlelighting’ when they stopped the hard graft of the day and relaxed before bed. Light was available from candles, oil lamps or rushlights. The use of candle-light, subtle night-lights and dimmer switches can help us to replicate some of these practices today.  

Calming music before bed can help your child to get into the right frame of mind for sleep. Subtle sounds such as soothing music, nature sounds or white noise are believed to be particularly helpful for helping children to wind down.  

The tester bed at Little Moreton Hall with comforting curtains, linen, candles and embroidery

Early modern households were rarely quiet at night-time. Floorboards creaked and groaned as timber houses settled at the end of the day. The sound of trusted family members, servants and companions sleeping in close proximity, bed creaks, quiet prayer or even, in towns and cities, the cries of the watchmen calling out the time on the hour, created a familiar soundscape that likely offered reassurance on a nightly basis.

You can also pay attention to the visual dimensions of your child’s bedroom. Do the colours create a feeling of calmness? Are there too many posters on the walls that might over-stimulate your child? Where are the toys stored? Early modern people paid careful attention to their sleeping environments. They favoured familiar and personalised bedding textiles that replicated the same sensations each night. Textiles could be used to create a feeling of enclosure and security. Servants often used blankets or strips of linen to create partitions between bedsteads in shared sleeping spaces. 

Try not to banish a child to their bedroom for a disciplinary ‘time out’ as they may start to associate this space with feelings of anger or guilt. Instead, it is helpful for a child to see their bedroom as a sanctuary. Early modern people appear to have regarded their sleeping spaces in much the same way. They used religious images and even protective wall markings and charms to ward off evil spirits around their beds to create a space in which they felt positive and secure .  


 3. Meaningful Objects: 

Meaningful objects such as a teddy or blanket can help comfort and settle your child at bedtime, and in the middle of the night, should they wake up unexpectedly. Early modern people drew comfort from familiar bedside objects. They cocooned themselves in familiar bedding textiles to provide a feeling of protection. Pillows, blankets, quilts and curtains were often embroidered with relaxing natural images of flowers and animals, or with religious symbols that were believed to invoke spiritual protection during the night. Textiles often included family names, dates of births and weddings, which may have conjured comforting thoughts of loved ones, just as our family photos on the bedside table do today. It certainly helps to keep the sleeping environment constant, so that a child experiences the same conditions in the middle of the night to the ones they fell asleep in. Needing a grown-up with them to help them go to sleep or a light that is too bright will cause a child to panic if these things are suddenly missing should they wake up. 

  4. Darkness and Light: 

Researcher and Interpreter Anna lighting the way to bed

It is a good idea to invest in a black-out blind. This will reduce the infiltration of street lights into your child’s bedroom, optimise darkness and help your child to fall asleep and to stay asleep. Some sleep experts insist that darkness is important for the body during the night and that light sources can be detrimental to health. If a completely dark room is too much for a sensitive or visually impaired child, a low level night-light can help.

Early modern people were exposed to far fewer sources of artificial light than we are today. Street lights only emerged in urban centres from the late 17th century onwards, and they were not very bright, thus reducing any potential sleep disruption. People taking part in experiments where they have been deprived of electric lightning will often revert to sleeping in two blocks during the night. We know that many early modern people slept like this, in two separate cycles, which they called their ‘first sleep’ and ‘second sleep’.  

 5. Chats, Stories and Activities: 

Doing activities that encourage the use of fine motor skills are great before bed as they relax the body and mind. Jigsaws, colouring, simple craft activities such as sewing or threading beads are all good examples. During the evening ‘candlelighting’ hour, the activities people focussed on included knitting, sewing, reading, prayer, chatting or catching up on quiet, therapeutic jobs such as carding wool or husking corn. These activities may well have had a calming effect that helped to ease sleep’s onset. 

We know that a bedtime story is a perfect way to end the day. Providing relaxation and escapism. It can help to clear the mind of any worries a child may have. This part of the day is a good time to have a chat about things and give your child your full attention. This provides a sense of security, love and protection as well as ensuring that your child has a chance to get things off their chest and empty their minds before drifting off to sleep.  

Early modern people were also very keen to get things off their chests before bed. Often this would be through having chats during candlelighting or with sleeping companions once in bed. Furthermore, evening prayer before bed was another means of putting worries to one side through seeking forgiveness, reassurance and solace from God.  


All of this goes to show that people in the past knew their stuff. They knew the importance of sleep to physical and mental health and they knew how to optimise their rest. If we want to address today’s sleep ‘crisis’, we could learn some valuable lessons from sleep’s history in the early modern world. 


The Dreamer is Still Asleep – A Dreamy Soundscape at Little Moreton Hall

At Little Moreton Hall the team have been very lucky to have a new sound installation from Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner. The work is part of the National Trust’s Trust New Art programme in conjunction with Cheshire East Council’s SHIFT programme which encourages engagement with digital arts. The artist Robin took inspiration from Dr Sasha Handley’s work on sleep, particularly her book Sleep in Early Modern England. This informed the dreamy, surreal soundscape now playing at the hall. Visitors can imagine themselves in the liminal space between waking and dreaming, listening to the comforting, creepy and disturbing sounds that would be familiar to someone sleeping at the hall in the early modern period as they drifted in and out of sleep. Come and experience the dreamscape for yourselves – The Dreamer is Still Asleep is at Little Moreton Hall until 29 October 2017. Perfect timing for Little Moreton’s exploration of a Tudor Halloween and those things that go ‘bump’ in the night!

Little Moreton Hall’s Sleep Remedies


Visitors to Little Moreton Hall have been helping us prepare our sleep remedies over the past month, stocking up our still room with lots of different ingredients from our sleep bed and seeing what they think of some of our tips for getting a good night’s sleep Tudor-style. There are no surviving recipe books from the Moreton family who lived at the hall but they may well have used similar remedies to those that follow, which date to the same period. Try them for yourself and see which, if any, work for you. Our remedies have been taken from 16th and early 17th century housewifery and medical manuals and personal handwritten recipe books from the Wellcome Trust’s collection, which are digitised and available online.[1]


Fennel Seeds and Rose:

In a pestle and mortar, crush your fennel seeds and add to them a little rose water. Empty the mixture into a piece of linen (you could use a piece of old cotton sheet if you have it) and roll into a pouch. Tie each end with string and then tie around your head so the pouch rests under your nose. Go to bed with your sleepy nose bag attached and let the cool, refreshing scent clear your head and help you drift off to sleep. As with a lot of these remedies, its ingredients were believed to cool the body. The smell they emitted is similar to various chest rubs and oils you can buy today to clear a blocked nose and head.


A Lettuce Poultice:

With your pestle and mortar, crush lettuce leaves (including the stems) so that you can extract the lettuce juice. To this add a little rose water and milk. Early modern recipes called for breast milk but, for obvious reasons, we’ve been using a little full-fat milk at the hall. Mix together and then spread over a linen strip (again an old piece of cloth will work well). Lie down on your bed and place the poultice on your forehead. The poultice gives a lovely cooling sensation, relieving any tension in the head and helping to cool the mind on a hot night and lull you to sleep. Advice stated not to keep the poultice on above four hours – we have been trying to guess at the hall why that might have been. Maybe your brain or stomach would be in danger of over-cooling, or the smell from the poultice would be too much to bear! Certainly any Beatrix Potter fans will already know of the soporific properties of lettuce from when the flopsy bunnies fell asleep after over indulging in the stuff!



Lettuce Seed, Rose and Nutmeg:

Another poultice where the ingredients were ground up together and applied on a strip of linen to the forehead. Expensive spices like nutmeg or cinnamon were often included in sleep remedies but only the wealthy could afford to use them on a regular basis. With many of these remedies, the use of pleasant, relaxing scents was important for getting you in the right frame of mind for sleep.



You may know that too much caffeine in the latter part of the day may interfere with your sleep. As an alternative you might try a herbal tea – the Tudors were no different. They didn’t have tea or coffee as we do but they still knew that a hot drink before bed would help. They made herbal infusions with a whole variety of soporific and calming ingredients. Brewed individually these make a relaxing cuppa or you might want to try mixing a few together. At the hall we brewed up a batch using the following herbs, infusing hot water with them before straining through a linen cloth into our cups – fennel, camomile, hops, lemon balm, rose, lavender, bergamot and cowslips. There are a wide range of these herbal teas available in the shops as well as ‘sleepy’ teas which include different sleepy combinations. Certainly warming the body through a hot drink is a good idea whatever the temperature at night as the subsequent cooling of your body after drinking supports the natural drop in temperature your body experiences as it gets ready for sleep, causing the drinker to feel drowsy.


Sleepy Sweet Bags:

Another familiar remedy we may have all used – a lavender or hop pouch you place under your pillow to ease you to sleep. If we were asked to name just one sleepy ingredient the majority of us would probably say lavender and it definitely does the trick for a lot of people. We made our sweet bags by combining dried lavender, rose petals, hops and camomile with a little orris root powder. The orris root powder (dried and ground iris root) is a fixative which will preserve the scent of the floral ingredients as well as adding an extra violet note to the pillow. Tried with a ribbon these can be taken to bed and used amongst the bed sheets.


Gill making sleep remedies at Little Moreton Hall.


Crystallised Petals:

These are very fashionable again nowadays in vintage-style cake decorations but they were also used a lot in Tudor cooking to decorate puddings, marzipans and sweetmeats. Some little crystallised rose or violet petals before bed would be a good idea so the sleeper could benefit from these flowers’ sleep inducing properties. Separate the petals from the roses and violets, removing any white, bitter parts. Then dip in either egg white or rose water before dipping in sugar and allowing to dry. These petals will set hard and will keep for a long time.




Rose Petal Preserve:

Similar to the crystallised flower petals, this could be added to puddings or used to flavour hot milky drinks before bed. It was also a useful way to preserve valuable ingredients at the height of summer. Place rose petals (again, removing any white, bitter parts) in a pestle and mortar and crush with sugar until the mixture resembles a pink paste. Pot up in jars and this will keep for a long time. The Tudors wouldn’t have done this but a little on some hot toast with butter is a very welcome treat.  There are many rose petal jams and conserves available to purchase in Asian supermarkets and they are well worth a try.


Poppy Seed Drink:

Now we wouldn’t advocate messing around too much with poppies, especially not consuming the petals and leaves as these can be far too strong! The Tudors, however, used a whole variety of different poppies, picking the leaves and petals to make syrups and conserves. They knew to be sparing with it but a little spoonful before bed would certainly help you to sleep. For something a bit gentler, you might prefer to try this old recipe. Take poppy seeds (purchased from a shop so you know they are safe) and grind them in a pestle and mortar. Once ground add them to the following alcoholic drink, depending on your age: If you are young mix your seeds in beer or ale, for the middle aged you need to consume your poppy seeds in white wine and for the elderly, your seeds need to be taken with a strong, fortified wine. This was because the Tudors believed the elderly body was dry and cool and so needed the concentrated moisture and heat of a fortified wine to aid sleep. For someone young, they were hot and moist already and so didn’t need something that packed such a punch. Again, we’ve been wondering at the hall whether it was the wine or the poppy seeds that did the trick (or both!). We’ll leave it up to you to decide which age bracket you fall into.


Other Things We’ve Been Trying:

  • Infusing water with floral, sleepy essential oils like lavender, rose and bergamot and sprinkling them on our rush floor mats with our watering pot. This would keep the mats supple so that they lasted longer but also added to the layers of sleepy, sweet scent in the bedchamber that aided sleep and kept infection at bay. The Tudors believed you got sick through bad smells and noxious night time air so fumigation through scent would keep the air ‘clean’.
  • We’ve been looking at how our fuming pot would work. The equivalent of a ceramic oil burner, pieces of smouldering charcoal would be placed in a little hole at the bottom of the pot and herbal material such as rosemary placed inside the body of the pot. This has holes in and so, as the rosemary was gently heated, the essential oils from the herb would be distributed through the air. For an extra layer of scent, a separate bowl of essential oil could be placed on the very top of the pot as you would with an oil burner today.
  • We have also been making our own sleepy pot pourris which have been contributing to our wonderful smells in our activity room. We have certainly been a little drowsy by the end of the day. Lavender, rose, camomile, hops, fennel, lemon balm, bay and bergamot have all been dried and added, filling the air with fragrance and keeping those nasty infections and nightmares at bay.
  • We have been making sure that our bedchamber itself is full of relaxing, soothing, sleepy scent too. The room has a display of sleep remedies as part of our Sleep Walk Trail. If you go up close you will notice the floral aromas, particularly rose, coming from the bottles. We have also been creating more sleep pot pourris and sprinkling rose petals on our bed to further build up those sleepy smells. Do you sleep better when the bedding smells nice and fresh?
  • Lastly we have been having fun with our posset pot and puzzle jug. Both were fun ceramic pieces used to consume sweetened milky drinks curdled with ale or wine. These would be drunk as part of a celebration but also were of use in preparing for sleep if the milk was infused with a sleepy element such as rose or carduus thistle. Spouts would allow the drink to be shared whilst the curdled, custard like froth that floated on the top could be eaten with a spoon. Certainly an acquired taste and not that easy to drink in practice. Possets or caudles were often treated as a medicinal drink given to the sick, young and elderly.

Jane at Little Moreton Hall getting to grips with a Tudor puzzle jug. To successfully drink from the jug without getting wet, the user needs to block a series of holes and figure out how to access the drink without the water coming out of the various cut away pieces in the neck of the jug!


A recipe for a Tudor Posset: taken from J. Partridge The Widowes Treasure (1585) and adapted by English Heritage in their book Tudor Cookery: Recipes and History (2003)

3 eggs

575 ml (1 pint) milk

275 (1/2 pint) strong brown ale

Cinnamon and ground ginger – optional – you could substitute these for some other sleepy ingredients like rose or lemonbalm

Beat the eggs into the milk, and heat gently, stirring continuously, until the mixture has thickened and is about to rise to the boil. Meanwhile, heat the ale almost to boiling point and pour into a large warmed bowl. Quickly pour the hot egg and milk mixture into the ale from a good height, cover the bowl and leave in a warm place for 5 minutes to allow the curd to set. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and ginger over the posset, which is now ready to be served. Alternatively, infuse your milk with lemon balm or add a little rosewater before you use it.



We have been having lots of fun with our sleep remedies throughout June and will be continuing our work in the still room in August, making possets, preserves, candies and cordials to help us sleep well. Monday 14 – Sunday 20 August 2017.

[1] For early modern recipe collections see: The Wellcome Library, https://wellcomelibrary.org/collections/digital-collections/recipe-books/ , last accessed 27th June, 2017.




A Day in the Life of a Tudor Child

For the past few years Little Moreton Hall’s costumed interpreters have been looking at the day-to-day life of Tudor children. Visitors can follow a typical daily routine of one of the Moreton children from daybreak to bedtime. As part of our look at Tudor childhood this year we will be looking at bedtime routines and preparations. The Tudors believed that good-quality sleep was essential for physical and mental health for all men, women and children. Sleep was one of the ‘six non-natural things’ – elements of your everyday life that you would regulate in order to keep your humours in check and therefore stay well; everyday life balance used as preventative medicine. Our young visitors can have a go at getting dressed, Tudor lessons, mealtimes and manners, games and medicine, and experience what Tudor children did in the run up to bedtime and how their preparations compare to our own. As part of the ‘How We Used to Sleep’ project we are working with The Children’s Sleep Charity who provide tips and training to parents and professionals in how to ensure children and teenagers sleep well. Come along and see if we can spot any similarities and, yet again, learn something from the Tudors about the importance of sleep.


Siblings Posing for a Portrait

Runs Saturday 1 July to Sunday 30 July, Weds-Sun




The Truth About Sleep? We’ve Known How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep for Centuries!


Last week I sat down to watch a BBC documentary that focused on a theme that I’ve been quietly obsessing about for the last few months: sleep. Or more accurately – how to get a better night’s sleep. The programme followed the genial Dr Michael Mosley as he attempted to discover the ‘truth about sleep’ in a bid to overcome his own sleep problems. As Mosley dejectedly explained to the viewer, he suffered from insomnia and was ready to become a human lab rat in order to cure himself of the condition. Mosley talked to a variety of scientists and sleep experts that confirmed how detrimental sleep loss can be for a person’s health and well-being. Not only can it lead to irritability and loss of productivity, new studies are also showing that sleep deprivation could be an underlying cause of the obesity crisis and the explosion of people suffering from type 2 diabetes.[1]


Want to find out if you’re sleep deprived? Try out the sleep onset latency test!

Equipped with this worrying information, Mosley set out on a quest to discover what he described as ‘pioneering’ methods for improving our sleep. These ‘surprising’ and ‘unusual’ cures included practicing mindfulness before bed, taking a hot bath before settling down to sleep, eating two kiwi fruits an hour before bed, and taking a supplement of dietary prebiotics. Mosley recruited a further three sleep-deprived Britons to help him test out these innovative treatments. But as Dr Mosley and his group of plucky volunteers set out to put these apparently cutting edge approaches to sleep to the test I couldn’t help but feel that all this sounded remarkably familiar. Relaxing the mind before bed; ensuring a cool body temperature before sleep; regulating what you eat in the hours leading up to bedtime. These are not new ways of thinking about how to get a better night’s sleep. For centuries similar advice has been meted out. From early modern health regimens, to household recipe books, there is a plethora of evidence that suggests that the ‘pioneering’ methods identified by Mosley have actually been in use for centuries, begging the question: is the truth about sleep that we’ve just forgotten how to do it properly?

  1. Mindfulness and Relaxing the Mind

Mindfulness may seem like a very modern technique for dealing with the stresses of modern life. The OED defines mindfulness as ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations’.[2] Whilst early modern people obviously did not use this specific therapeutic technique to help them nod off effectively, they did practice similar methods of relaxation before sleep. The medical advice of the period encouraged men and women to put aside their worldly concerns and anxieties and calm their passions at bedtime. As the sixteenth-century English physician William Bullein advised his readers in his health regimen The Government of Health, when sleep approached ‘beware of carefulnes for worldly thynges: looke not into the glasse of desperacion, with agonie and hevines of minde, hope ever for the beste’.[3] Bedtime prayer could also offer people a means by which to relax their minds before bed. By begging forgiveness for sins, asking for God’s protection, and reiterating their faith, early modern Christians relieved themselves of the day’s anxieties and prepared their bodies and souls for restful slumber. These devotional practices had a calming effect and helped alleviate the stresses of work and family life; bedtime prayer thus represented a combined source of spiritual, physical, and psychological comfort.[4] In turn these soothing effects ensured a peaceful and restorative night’s sleep.

  1. Regulating the Body’s Temperature

The theory behind having a warm bath before bed stems from the fact that sleep is brought on when our body temperature starts to decline. By having a warm bath, immediately followed by spending a couple of hours in a cooler environment, the process of cooling is stimulated, which in turn encourages the onset of sleep.[5] In Mosley’s documentary, fancy thermal imaging cameras are used to show this process in action. Yet despite the elaborate technology, the argument that being cool helps you sleep better has been made for centuries. In the early modern period, sleep was understood as a process in which the body’s extremities were cooled as the body’s heat was drawn inwards to the stomach to help digestion. A cool sleeping environment therefore naturally facilitated this process and regulated the body’s inner heat, which in turn stopped the body from over-heating and waking prematurely. The physician Andrew Boorde advised his readers therefore to lie in bed ‘not to hot nore colde, but in temporaunce’.[6] Instead of taking a warm bath to encourage this process, early modern people were advised to use thinner quilts in summer, open their windows to ventilate their bedchambers, and avoid lighting fires at night.

  1. Eating Foods Rich in Prebiotics and Serotonin

Of all the techniques trialled in the documentary, it was Dr Mosley’s use of a prebiotic supplement that looked most space-aged to me. Pouring a sachet of suspiciously non-descript white powder into his cup of tea, Mosley seemed convinced that it wouldn’t work. But like the other experiments undertaken in the programme, the use of prebiotics to combat poor sleep also seems to have a long and rich historical pedigree. Whilst Mosley used a concentrated powdered form of dietary prebiotics they can also be found in an array of foods that many of us consume regularly, such as onions, garlic, leeks, artichokes, and asparagus. In the early modern period onions in particular were considered an ingredient that helped provoke sleep. William Bullein explained to his readers that onions were known to ‘make thin the blood, and bring sleepe’. [7] This belief was corroborated by many other physicians. Writing in the early sixteenth century, Thomas Elyot claimed that onions ‘beynge eaten in great abundance with meate’ ‘cause one to  sleape soundely’.[8] The reason that prebiotic foods could potentially help us sleep better is down to the fact that they are believed to buffer the physiological impacts of stress. Stress and anxiety can lead to a reduction of healthy gut bacteria that helps the body regulate temperature. When this healthy bacteria is reduced, then, the onset of sleep can become inhibited. By eating foods rich in prebiotics  – which serve as food for this healthy gut bacteria – you could potentially reduce the impact of stressful events on your sleep.[9] Similar processes are at work with foods that have high levels of serotonin, such as kiwis (as seen in the documentary), tomatoes, and various types of nuts and seeds.[10] Serotonin boosting almonds, in particular, were used as a common cure for sleep loss in the early modern period.[11]




In the early modern period getting a good night’s sleep was considered crucial to both bodily health and spiritual well-being. People went to great lengths to make sure they slept well, developing a range of seemingly effective techniques that ensured this. Whilst knowing about the scientific and neurological basis of these potential sleep cures is undoubtedly important, a reliance on science alone will not solve the sleep crisis currently gripping our own society. If we want to improve our own sleep, we need to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and place much more value on sleep and recognise how integral it is to our health and happiness.



[1] Jean-Phillipe Chaput, ‘Is Sleep Deprivation a Contributor to Obesity?’, World Obesity Federation, last accessed 16th May, 2017, https://www.worldobesity.org/news/wo-blog/august-2015/sleep-deprivation-contributor-obesity/.

[2] ‘Mindfulness’, Oxford English Dictionary Online, last accessed 16th May, 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/mindfulness.

[3] William Bullein, A Comfortable Regiment (London, 1562), sig. E3v.

[4] Sasha Handley, Sleep in Early Modern England (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016) 88-89.

[5] Abigail Abrams, ‘How Showering at Night Helps You Sleep’, Time Magazine, last accessed 16th May, 2017, http://time.com/4665489/hot-shower-before-bed/.

[6] Andrew Boorde, A Compendyous Regyment or a Dyetary of Healthe (London, 1547), sig. C1v.

[7] William Bullein, The Government of Health (London, 1595), fol. 44.

[8] Thomas Elyot, The Castel of Helth (London, 1539), fols. 26-27.

[9] Lisa Marshall, ‘Dietary Prebiotics Improve Stress’, University of Colorado, last accessed 17th May, 2017, http://www.colorado.edu/today/2017/02/23/dietary-prebiotics-improve-sleep-buffer-stress.

[10] Ryan Hurd, ‘How Does Serotonin Affect Sleep?’, Live Strong, last accessed 17th May, 2017, http://www.livestrong.com/article/136959-how-does-serotonin-affect-sleep/.

[11] Elyot, Castel of Helth, fol. 25.

Early Modern Soporifics



A couple of weeks ago, with the help of our friends and colleagues at Carter House Day Centre and Cheshire East council, we completed the initial planting of our early modern sleep bed at Little Moreton Hall. The sleep bed was carefully designed by the service users at Carter House Day Centre. As well as being instrumental in the conception and installation of the sleep bed, they will also be producing their own mini replica of the garden back at Carter House. From lavender and roses, to poppies and violets, we planted an array of herbs, flowers, and shrubs that early modern people believed aided sleep. But what was it about these plants that convinced the people of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries that they would help their pursuit of a sound night’s sleep? In this post we explore some of the ideas behind these soporific ingredients and the ways in which they were used to treat early modern sleep loss.

Volunteers from Carter House Day Centre preparing our soporific seed trays!

What was sleep for?

To understand why early modern people believed that plants could aid their slumber we must first understand what they thought the function of sleep was. By the end of the period two theories coexisted, one that linked sleep to the process of digestion, the other to the brain and nervous system’s vitality. Within both of these theories, the regulation of body heat was central to the onset of good quality, restful sleep. Should the body overheat during the night, either in the stomach or in the brain, sleep would be interrupted and the body prematurely awoken. Without the requisite amount of sleep, food would remain undigested, the nerves would become disorderly, and the body’s spiritual and physical health would be thrown into disarray. Medical understandings of sleep’s function thus ensured the popularity of plants and herbs that appeared to cool the body thereby ensuring peaceful slumber and restoring disrupted sleep.[1]

Cooling Soporifics

In humoral conceptions of bodily health, individual bodies were believed to have specific elemental make-ups, so too were different foods. A person’s ‘complexion’ or humoral temperament was shaped by their own particular balance of humours. These humours – blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile – had different elemental qualities. Blood was believed to be hot and moist, phlegm cold and moist, black bile cold and dry, and yellow bile hot and dry. Those of a sanguine complexion, for example, were believed to possess an excess of blood, meaning that their bodies were naturally hot and moist. For melancholics, the temperature and humidity of their bodies was the opposite. Their abundance of black bile left their bodies naturally cold and dry. In a similar fashion, different foods were categorised by their individual elemental composition; pepper was hot and dry, whilst fish was cold and moist.[2] In order to maintain your natural complexion, physicians of the era encouraged people to consume foods that possessed a similar quality to their own complexion. According to the English physician Thomas Elyot, an individual’s complexion is ‘conserved in his state, by that which is lyke therto in fourme and degree’. Following this logic, Elyot advised that ‘to them whose naturall complexion is moyste, ought to be gyven meates that be moyste in vertue or power’ whilst those whose complexion is dry ‘ought to be gyven meates drye in vertue or power’.[3]

Because of this strong connection between the qualities of food and the maintenance of humoral balance in the early modern period, the list of ingredients that were considered to have a cooling effect was extensive. It included, but was not restricted to, chamomile, cucumbers, poppy, lettuce, and eringo roots (sea holly), all of which were used to aid sleep. Other ingredients that were believed to dissipate excess heat in the brain and stomach, and therefore treat sleep loss, included aniseed, rose, violet, lavender, lily, parsley, saffron, dandelions, and onions. As well as their cooling properties, many of these ingredients were also prized for their calming effect on the mind. The somniferous scents of rose, violet, and poppies helped calm an anxious mind, which was a common cause of sleep loss. Some of these ingredients could be cultivated in kitchen gardens, like ours at Little Moreton Hall, whilst others could be easily purchased from groceries and apothecaries.[4]

Concocting a Remedy

A variety of remedies were concocted using these cooling and calming ingredients in the early modern period. Many appear in recipe books of the era as cooling liquids, syrups, and possets. Essex clergyman Ralph Josselin, for example, used both ‘carduus posset’ – a hot drink steeped with Carduus thistle – and a ‘sirrup of roses’ to help him sleep better.[5] These syrups, distillations, and conserves could be drunk or externally applied to the body, most commonly on the head, neck, and temples. Other remedies were slightly wackier. In a recipe from a book belonging to the family of the philosopher Robert Boyle, a concoction of aniseed and rose water was recommended to treat sleep loss. Rather than consuming the mixture, or applying it to the temples, the recipe advised to place the ingredients in a string bag which should then be tied to the upper lip. The logic was that the ingredients in the bag would give ‘a cold smell and procureth sleep’ as the fumes entered the nostrils and infused through the brain during the night.[6] Another sleep remedy from the early eighteenth century seemed equally uncomfortable, and potentially malodorous. It advised the sufferer of poor sleep to comb up their hair ‘with vinager and nutmeg’ before bed.[7] How this would help you get to sleep was seemingly left to the imagination of those willing to give it a try! Once our early modern sleep plants have matured at Little Moreton Hall, we will be trying some of these sleep remedies out for ourselves. We will, of course, let you know how effective (or possibly ineffective!) they are!

Whilst some of these concoctions may seem strange to us today, many of the ingredients used by our forebears to treat sleep loss are still considered to have considerable soporific effects. Just take a look at many of the remedies you can buy today, from balms, oils, and bath soaks that contain lavender and rose, to pillow sprays that contain calming aromas of chamomile and bergamot. So the next time you settle down to a cup of chamomile tea before bed, remember that this sleep remedy is already hundreds of years old!

Volunteers from Cheshire East Council planting an array of sleepy herbs and shrubs.



  *             *             *



Want to learn more about early modern remedies and maybe try some out for yourself? Check back soon to see our compilation of early modern sleep recipes and visit us at Little Moreton Hall to find out more about early modern soporifics!


[1] Sasha Handley, Sleep in Early Modern England (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016), 20-38.

[2] Ken Albala, Food in Early Modern Europe (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003), 215-216.

[3] Thomas Elyot, The Castel of Helth (London, 1539), fols. 17-18.

[4] Handley, Sleep in Early Modern England, 63-67.

[5] ‘Ralph Josselin’s Diary’, cited in Handley, Sleep in Early Modern England, 64.

[6] ‘Boyle Family Recipe Book’ (c. 1675-1610), Wellcome Trust MS 1340, fols. 17, 122, 132.

[7] ‘A Book of Phisick’ (1710), Wellcome Trust MS 1320, p. 107.