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History of the Four Poster Bed

Page One

I started making furniture some years ago, and when we were at college we studied the history of furniture making. Since then I have developed a range of furniture that I enjoy making, and hopefully will appeal to the public. I have spent sometime designing, building and developing four poster beds within my furniture range, probably one of the most sought after pieces of furniture that can be made for someone. If only I had a pound for the number of times I have heard, "I would love one of those," or "I will come and see you when I win the lottery."

Since then, I have been reading up on the history of the bed, in particular the four poster, the bed of kings, and the king of beds. These are some of the facts that I have discovered.

The furniture made and used by the Saxons and Normans would have been scanty in amount and crude in craftsmanship. The two essentials in their lives were "bed and board," a phrase still used today, however it did have a literal meaning in those days.

The Saxon bed was usually made up against a wall, as a type of bunk or cabin, sometimes in a recess, with a rough mattress placed on boards, together with covers, and curtains suspended from above. The curtains could be tightly drawn at night to keep draughts and light out, while keeping warmth and also illness in. The bedstead was a term used to denote the place, or stead, in which the bed was made, but when the bench was superseded by more elegant pieces of furniture, it still retained the now familiar name.

The 'board' was literally a board or boards, set up on trestles or tree stumps. The bed clothes would consisted of pillows, quilts and fur rugs, and would have only been for the well-to-do, everyone else would have slept on the floor of the hall, around the fire.

In the later Saxon period, some wooden bedsteads were wooden platforms with bedding placed on them. The Norman bedstead was similar, but sometimes had curtains drawn at the sides, hung from horizontal iron rails, which were attached to and projected from the wall.

The truckle-bed was the first step forward from the rough plank. It was a plain, low framed bedstead without any ornamentation, and it was used for some years to come as a bedstead in the basic servant's quarters. A lady's maid would sleep on the floor beneath the bedstead of her mistress, and the trenchor chaplain would "lie upon the truckle, whilst his young master lieth o'er his head." (Hall's Byting Satyres, 1599)

In the thirteenth century, a canopy or tester was introduced, which was suspended overhead by cords from the beams above, from which curtains were hung. This then developed into a bed chamber which was becoming more usual by the fourteenth century. Then came an elegant bedstead, similar to those now in vogue, called the Arabian, and perhaps first found by our ancestors during the crusade, with bed curtains hung from wooden or metal rails.

The four-post or great standing bed was introduced in the fifteenth century, and was probably brought from Austria, they developed into an enormous size, for example Great Bed of Ware, filling half the chamber, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which measured 11 feet square, this was however an exceptional size, and not the norm.

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