One of the exhibits at the Great Exhibition of 1851 that caused the VV most amusement was the invention of an alarm clock bed, created by Mr Theophilus Carter (the very same inventor and furniture dealer who was said to have inspired Tenniel when the artist created his illustrations for the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland).

Sadly the VV can find no illustration to show such an intriguing mechanism. The closest example is shown below - a combination cot and step ladder - the explanatory details of which have been taken from the sections on INVENTION AND DISCOVERY in The Great Round The World And What Is Going On In It magazine of 1897 -

Combination Cot And Step-Ladder.—We have had lots of clever inventions for saving room in small houses, but the most original is certainly this combination of a bed and a step-ladder. It should prove a very useful article where the occupant of the bed is a light sleeper and doesn't mind having to get up when the step-ladder is needed. It might also be useful in very large families where chairs were scarce. By day it could be stood upright, and the children roosted on its various steps. By night the little brood could come down from their perches, the steps be laid lengthwise, and the family put to bed on the cot. With the addition of a strong wire spring attached to an alarm clock, it should also make an excellent servants' bed. At 6:30 every morning the alarm would work the spring, and the bed immediately be transformed into a pair of steps. This would promote habits of punctuality and early rising in domestic servants that would be invaluable to them.

It is true that they might resent the invention, and leave the situation, but the mistress would still have the combination bed for the newcomer.

It would be an invaluable article for house decorators and paper-hangers. They could use it as a step-ladder until they got tired of working, and then turn it over and sleep on it until they were rested.

In fact, the uses of this combination cot and step-ladder are infinite. It seems to be an article that no well-regulated family can do without.

Perhaps, much like this invention, it really is little wonder that Mr Carter’s bed was not an overnight success, being no doubt considered by some as the height of sheer insanity - for at the appointed hour of alarm, after the sound of ringing bells to wake the 'modern' sleeper, an automated mattress tipped and flung the poor wretch from his bed to a bath of cold water  - supposedly refreshed and restored for the brand new day ahead! Even so, the Hyde Park demonstrations proved to be very popular, resulting in much laughter – and one very wet, cold and miserable man who’d been employed to show ‘the works’.

Another Victorian bath time invention advertised the stated intention of increasing the health of invalids: not forgetting children of fragile constitutions. And no doubt it was the children who fully appreciated the thrill of the Niagara rocking bath. Then again it might have come in rather handy if used for training purposes by those brave Victorian adventurers who careered over waterfalls in barrels. The VV simply cannot understand how such a remarkable enterprise failed to win over English hearts and minds - for who could fail to be enticed by the prospect of having a Seaside At Home, when the “NIAGARA” WAVE AND ROCKING BATH promised the following –

A TREAT never experienced before. Gives the FULLEST ILLUSION of a Sea or River Bath. ABSOLUTELY no water splashing in the room. ONLY 3 pails of hot or cold water required. Keeps the blood in ACTIVE circulation. STRONGLY made of tinned steel, and ARTISTICALLY enamelled. Will last a lifetime. 

And should that model not appeal, appearing a little too masculine, then why not send off for this version instead which went by the name of THE NAUTILUS, though - and the reason eludes the VV, who cannot differentiate between the two illustrations shown - it does come with a heftier price tag.

With thanks to Lee Jackson of VictorianLondon.org for these wonderful NAUTILUS advertisements - and for making the VV smile.


  1. I quite fancy a Nautilus, sounds fun.

  2. Considering that it takes me at least an hour to make it from the bed to the shower each morning, the alarm clock bed doesn't sound half-bad.

  3. I adore this blog, simply because I learn something new every time I read it! (Also, I am a finalist at Durham University, currently writing my dissertation on Victorian literature - and am doing a Masters next year here, on the same topic!) Such a rich and interesting era. Thank you!

  4. Thank you Hermes, Haystack and Emma.

    I know that feeling about not waking up in the morning - all too well but the alarm clock bed might be a little too brutal!

    Emma - I'm very envious.

  5. What complete heaven! O dear discovering your blog will not be good for my productivity. You would need a serious wet room for those rocking baths. Think of the mess! I am fond also of the rustproof swimming corset.

  6. I'm so glad you did, Josa. I saw you at the Windsor Bookswap and much enjoyed your book, One Apple Tasted.


  7. Every time I read this blog I realise I have been born in the wrong time period! Great fun to read as usual.... :o)

  8. Ha ha the alarm clock bed is hillarious! I love the illustration of the mad hatter too!I have never read Alice in winderland, but really need to I think.

  9. Thanks Michelle...I would have loved to see the demonstrations for that alarm clock bed!

  10. hi, We have recently come across what appears to be a rocking bath but unfortunately the only information we have been able to get is from here, do you have an approx age or know where we would find anything else about it.

    Kind regards


  11. The advert appeared in Pick Me Up magazine in 1891. Hope that helps Vicky. You might find out more if there is a museum in Stroud, where the ad refers to manufacture... And if it really was patented, via the Patent records. Good luck. How amazing to have one.

  12. Is it me, or does the alarm clock bed sound like something Wallace and Gromit would use?