Catch-up on Sleeping Well at Ordsall Hall with Anna Fielding

by | Jul 24, 2023 | Uncategorised | 0 comments

Since my last blog post, I have been working hard at Ordsall Hall on a series of workshops aimed at general visitors, adult learners, and school children. These all explore the connections between sleep practices, health, climate, and landscape in the past and today. Work by researchers on the Sleeping Well in the Early Modern World team has been fed into these explorations alongside information taken from various sources specific to Lancashire such as recipe books, herbals, inventories, health regimens, maps, and personal journals.

Family making sleep poultices and applying them to their foreheads

A family making sleep poultices at Ordsall Hall. Photo Credit: Anna Fielding.

The workshops provide an opportunity for participants to try early modern sleep remedies, soporific foods, bedding materials, and sleep tips. These various re-creations and craft sessions demonstrate how people in the 16th and 17th centuries sought to eliminate anything that would interfere with good sleep through carefully thought-out daily and seasonal routines, sleep aids, and diligent management of external and internal natural environments. Through the sessions, participants can compare these practices to 21st century advice, drawing inspiration from the links between bedrooms, diet, healthcare, environments, and the senses.

Workshops so far have included:

  • Mattress stuffing
  • Medicinal sleep remedy making
  • Culinary sleep recipe recreations
  • Embroidery
  • Planting and sowing plants, crops, herbs, and vegetables
  • Creating recipe books
  • Candle making
  • Sleepy salve making
  • Garden designs
  • Harvesting ingredients and preserving techniques
  • Sleepy drink making

Participants have been able to bring together different elements of early modern life that coalesced around sleep and health such as domestic and outdoor conditions, air quality, temperature, food, household cleaning, fabrics, religion, gardens, hygiene, scent, agriculture, and historical understandings of the body and mind.

Candles in jars at Ordsall Hall

Candles made at Ordsall Hall. Photo Credit: Anna Fielding.

Local school Primrose Hill in Ordsall have also been joining me at the hall, on a monthly basis. These sessions allow year 4 school children to explore sleep with a specific focus on historical sources, re-creations, and the connections between adequate sleep, personal healthcare, and the importance of time spent outside. Through these school workshops Ordsall Hall provides a cross-curricular offer for Key Stage 2 children which combines history with PSHE.

The children have worked with Jo Green, head gardener at Ordsall Hall, on garden designs which Jo has incorporated into sleep garden planting outside our school classroom space.

Head gardener tilling toil at Ordsall Hall

Head Gardener Jo Green tilling soil at Ordsall Hall. Photo Credit: Anna Fielding.

Barley and other crops at Ordsall Hall

Crops of barley and rye planted by school groups at Ordsall Hall. Photo Credit: Anna Fielding.

They have also made and tested early modern medicinal recipes such as sleepy lettuce and rose poultices, sleepy fennel-scented pouches, herbal washing waters, sleepy drinks such as posset and whey, candied flowers, dairy foods, grains and bread, as well as sowing crops that would help with sleep such as wheat, barley, and oats. During this school programme, the pupils have created their own sleepy recipe and remedy books, putting together their own favourite historical sleep aids from the workshops that they can share with others.

Children making candied lavender

School group making candied lavender. Photo Credit: Anna Fielding.

Mattress stuffing sessions have also given the school children and other visitors a chance to consider the natural materials of early modern beds and the connections between landscape, sleeping conditions, and physiology.

Feeling mattress stuffings at Ordsall Hall. Photo Credit: Anna Fielding.


Next up at Ordsall is our summer holiday programme for families which includes lavender and flax pillows, corn dolly weaving, outdoor games, bread making, and herbal sleep aids. These are all designed to highlight how sleep care encompassed the home, diet, outdoors, seasonal rhythms, and daily habits. For more details and to book onto these free events, see here: What’s On – Ordsall Hall.

Over the course of the summer I will be sharing here, and on the Ordsall Hall site Sleeping Well at Ordsall Hall – Ordsall Hall, many of the culinary and medicinal recipes we have used so far at the hall as well as documenting our upcoming historical recreations using our new outdoor oven. There is plenty to get involved with and try throughout the rest of 2023 and up to September 2024.