Sleeping in “his chair” – Spaces of Nocturnal Sleep

As I begin scrutinising some recently gathered 19th century coroners’ inquest reports for a study of sleeping arrangements in the homes of the working classes, one of the areas I am particularly interested in is the use of dayrooms and non-bedroom furniture for the purpose of night time sleeping.

In my recent work on lodgers, I have revealed how private dwelling lodgers could find themselves accommodated on a sofa in dayrooms when there was a shortage of beds.[1] In an inquest I recently uncovered in the late 19th century provincial press, I found that in a small household short on bedsteads “the child slept in a bed on a sofa in the lower room.”[2]

Though, what I want to explore in this particular post is the use of chairs for nocturnal sleeping. Throughout my research in past years I have frequently come across references in the inquests to the elderly napping in chairs by the fireside during the daytime – an inquest often having been brought about after they fell from the chair and into the unguarded fire. However, I am now also beginning to uncover cases which refer to chairs in lower rooms being used for the purpose of sleeping during the night, as demonstrated in the following inquest report.

Aaron Cansdale, a 63 year old agricultural labourer of Bures St Mary (Suffolk) slept in “his chair” in a downstairs room on the nights he had been out drinking and returned home “worse for drink.”

[On] the Friday evening [Aaron Cansdale] went to a beer-house and had two pints of beer, returning home at ten o’clock, apparently a little worse for drink. When this was the case his usual plan was to sit and sleep in his chair, and not go to bed. He did this on the present occasion. His wife went downstairs and found him asleep at twelve o’clock [returning to her bed thereafter]’.

Why the Cansdale’s had this arrangement is not explicitly stated in the inquest report, it is likely, however, given that the other inhabitants of the household appear to have retired to bed before his return from the beer-house, that the intention was not to disturb those already asleep by sleeping downstairs. Or perhaps, given the treacherous design of staircases in these homes, he was simply too intoxicated to climb the stairs to bed on these occasions?

Sadly, for Aaron Cansdale, “his chair” was to be his death-bed. ‘When his son-in-law went down at five the next morning he found him lying on the floor, as if he had slipped off the chair. He called the wife, who almost immediately went downstairs, who found her husband in his chair, to which his son had assisted him, but he did not speak, and it subsequently appeared he was quite dead’.[3]

[1] Vicky Holmes, ‘Accommodating the Lodger: The Domestic Arrangements of Lodgers in Working-Class Dwellings in a Victorian Provincial Town’, Journal of Victorian Culture,Vol. 19, Iss. 3, 2014.

[2] Ipswich Journal, 15 Jan 1870.

[3] Ipswich Journal, 3 June 1882.

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