One of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) ‘greatest treasures’ – the Great Bed of Ware – has returned to its home of Hertfordshire.
The renowned bed has been at the V&A since 1931 but is now on display at the Ware Museum where it is on loan for 12 months. A programme of activity is in place to support the loan which includes performances of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; photography exhibitions; embroidery demonstrations and family events.
The solid oak bed is thought to have been created in 1590 by Hertfordshire carpenter, Jonas Fosbrooke as a tourist attraction for travellers on the pilgrim route from London to Walsingham. More than three metres wide and said to be able to sleep 12, travellers were reputed to break their journey at Ware just to spend a night in the bed.
The Great Bed of Ware is one of the most famous historical beds, mainly because of the number of literary allusions and the sheer size of it – it is definitely the biggest ambassador for the message that bigger beds are better!
In 2001 The Victoria & Albert Museum unveiled its new British Galleries for which the Great Bed of Ware was refurbished according to history. The bed construction starts with a layer of tightly stretched hemp rope, rather than boards. 16th century households then laid bed mats on the ropes to give a firm base for the mattresses. The bed mats were made of plaited East Anglian rushes sewn together with hemp twine. The new mats (two to cover such a large bed) were made to the traditional pattern.
On top of these are two middle mattresses covered in plain canvas. The originals would have been filled with woollen flocks or unspun wool (lowest), feathers (middle) and down (topmost). In the reconstruction these have been filled with inert polyester because of the danger of infestation. An upper feather mattress is then finally placed on top. It is covered in striped ticking of a period pattern. All fabric used appeared in 16th and 17th century inventories. Doesn’t it sound lovely?
So this year, try if you can to go and have a look at one of the most famous beds in history – it’s definitely not to be missed!
Lisa – The Sleep Council Team