Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The History of Bed Bugs

by Maggi Andersen



Cimex lecularius is a blood-sucking insect which plagued the domestic house for centuries. Well established by the 16th Century, they were widespread by 1730 and an obvious hazard for overnight travelers. Quite flat, they were able to live in the tiniest cracks in bedroom furniture or panelling, but when fed with blood they swelled. They loved to lay eggs in wallpaper paste.





Canny creatures, they would allow you time to go to sleep before attacking, but then nothing would distract them, attacking around the head, face and neck. One did not feel their bite but woke to a painful swelling like nettlerash which could develop like boils. 


The experienced traveler of inns refused to sleep on a bed, preferring two tables with a sheet placed over them. 


Bed bugs did not respect persons of class and entered even the most aristocratic household along with second-hand furniture or servants. Many of the houses built in the London squares – Hanover and Grosvenor – were infested with bedbugs even before they were first occupied. They loved carved four-poster bedheads and feather and wool mattresses, which could be crawling with them even when new.


Thomas Carlysle’s wife, Jane Welsh Carlyle wrote in her journal of her encounters with bedbugs … “I flung some twenty pailfuls of water on the kitchen floor … to drown any that might attempt to save themselves, then we killed all that were discoverable, and flung the pieces of the bed  … into a tub full of water, carried them up into the garden, and let them steep there for two days; and then I painted all the joints, had the curtains washed … and hope and trust there is not one escaped alive to tell the tale. Ach Gott, what disgusting work to have to do!


Many remedies were tried: Washing or cooking the contents of mattresses three or four times a year, setting wicker bug traps under the bed, anointing the bed with infusions of various herbs or with mercury mixed with egg white, or fumigation with sulphur or arsenic. 


In 1814, a professional bug catcher, Mr. Tiffin, advertising himself as ‘bug-destroyer to Her Majesty’ and claimed “I have noblemen’s names, the first in England, on my books”.


Manuals for housemaids were to dismantle bedsteads, scrub the frame and pour boiling water into the joints. Many recipes were available: In 1830 The Servant’s Guide recommended brushing the bedstead with petroleum oil the smell of which would drive the bugs away – thankfully, it did warn the servant not to do this by candlelight!


And apparently, they live among us today.


The Reluctant Marquess available from Amazon
Research: The Country House Servant, Pamela A. Sambrook. Sutton Publishing.





18 comments:

  1. Fascinating - even if it does make me want to scratch an itch just reading about it! That, and head lice infesting the wigs men wore, must have made for uncomfortable skin conditions!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh my giddy aunt! This is quite the most revolting thing I've read in weeks! (And yes, I'm feeling itchy now!) But didn't they also often sprinkle their mattresses with camphor to drive the little nasties out? Lad's love was used under the bed as well, I think. Eugh! This is one of those reasons why I do not EVER want to time travel!

    And accounts from those who travelled on the Continent, like Sir Thomas Lawrence and Beethoven, record that the German and Austrian inns were so filthy and bug-infested, that they preferred to sleep in their coaches and not even alight at such places.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great blog and now following, why not follow me at

    http://thewrongplaceatthewrongtime.blogspot.co.uk/

    Great to connect with you!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. My skin is crawling! One of my father's friends had an encounter with bedbugs at a hotel near our home. Eek!

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is timely because my Dad, who bought a "new" mattress with extra visitors, had the pleasure of dealing with bed bugs and those @#$$%^ things are really horrible. They are so hard to get rid off once they visit.

    ReplyDelete
  7. My mom said you can't get rid of the horrible things, unless you burn the mattress. Rather extreme, but there you have it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I can't remember the exact wording, but Martha Ballard mentions in her diary - several times - scrubbing down her bed to be rid of the bugs...

    ReplyDelete
  9. I had never encountered bed bugs until a couple of weeks spent in a motel while waiting for our house to be ready in NZ. Now I know too much about them. Actually, it can take up to a week for the rash from the bites to appear, so most travelers have moved on by then and will arrive at their next destination, or home, and then the rash will appear. The rash is truly hideous and it stays with you for weeks. The bites take at least a month to completely disappear. There is a toxin in the saliva of the bed bug that can cause those that are bitten to experience episodes of high anxiety as well as a general feeling of being unwell. The bites were awful and itchy and I looked like a plaque victim (I have photos!). But what was truly hideous was the thought of these bugs on my face, arms and torso feeding for up to five minutes! Bed bug spray is readily available in supermarkets here in NZ, as well as specialist pest control agents to deal just with bed bugs. But, please, don't let that put you off visiting NZ! It is truly beautiful, and it is just my luck that we happened to get the only room in the motel with the infected mattress! Of course no on else here has ever seen a bed bug or been bitten by one. Really? Yea, right!:)

    ReplyDelete
  10. How horrible it must have been! Thanks for the article.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I went to a lecture recently about skin parasites in dogs (I'm a veterinarian). One salient fact that had everyone itching was that by the time the pillow on your bed is 10 years old, half its weight is made up of bed mites!!!!!
    If that doesnt make you buy new pillows nothing will.
    G x

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great article! ANd yes, the little monsters are on the rise today. Here in the States, they tell you to check between the sheet and mattress to look for tiny black dots which are their droppings or eggs, I forget which. And never place you suitcase on a bed but rather on a table. Not the carpet! Anyway, I have not yet encoutered one and hope I never will! THanks again!--Anne Barnhill

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Sir, You are really good writer.

    Excellent website on English Historical Fiction Authors.It help us variously. I know a few people who prefer freelance blogging to more traditional freelance writing jobs. It’s nice to hear one feedback and tips from someone who’s doing it.So I want to share There are special products designed for different situations to meet the requirements of customers. A bed bug trap is a very efficient way to prevent them from raiding your bed and other home furnishings. You can place a Climb Up bed bug traps under the bed legs of your bed or even under your chairs in the dining room. Our traps are versatile control products.

    Oh Thank You Very Much For Write That Fantastic Article.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hello sir, Are you ok? You have written a unique content.

    Great post!! Very interesting reading thanks… I shall bookmark this site! It quotes is very latest things. This is very nice post! I will bookmark this blog. There are special products designed for different situations to meet the requirements of customers. A bed bug trap is a very efficient way to prevent them from raiding your bed and other home furnishings. You can place a Climb Up bed bug sticky traps under the bed legs of your bed or even under your chairs in the dining room. Our traps are versatile control products.



    Thanks For Very Interesting Post.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hey, How are going on?

    Looks cool, I never knew you could post about it, good to know thanks! You show very There are special products designed for different situations to meet the requirements of customers. A bed bug trap is a very efficient way to prevent them from raiding your bed and other home furnishings. You can place a Climb Up bed bug trap under the bed legs of your bed or even under your chairs in the dining room. Our traps are versatile control products.


    Thanks For Only You Create That cute Article.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Bedbugs are small, reddish-brown parasitic insects that bite the exposed skin of sleeping humans and animals to feed on their blood. Kate Woodruff

    ReplyDelete
  17. I have read a few of the articles on your now, and I really like your style of blogging. I added it to my favorites blog site list and will be checking back soon. Please check out my site as well and let me know what you think.
    pest control san antonio

    ReplyDelete