“The Great Bed of Ware”

The Great Bed of Ware

The Great Bed of Ware

I chanced upon this magnificent four-poster bed in The Victoria and Albert Museum whilst I found myself in London a week or so ago with a few hours to kill. And crikey…what fabulous monster of a bed this is! Surely the king of beds…!? For it measures approximately eleven feet square and is reputed to be able to accommodate 15 people sleeping together at the same time.

Originally built by Hertfordshire carpenter Jonas Fosbrooke circa 1590, we cannot be entirely sure for whom it was commissioned, although it spent its early years in The White Hart Inn at Ware in what must have been a sizeable bed chamber. Privileged travellers must have been somewhat taken aback at the grandeur of their nocturnal decadence and it seems likely that it might have attracted curiosity from far and wide. Certainly, many of those who slept in the bed over the years had carved their names into the enormous corner posts. Something of a lasting legacy still evident today.

Like much furniture made at the time, the bed is carved with patterns derived from the European Renaissance. Originally it would have been brightly painted as was the preference of the time, and traces of these colours can still be seen on the on the figures of the bed head. With the passage of time, the colours have all but vanished to leave the sumptuous rich patina that is the hallmark of all fine English oak period pieces.

The design of the marquetry panels is derived from the Dutch artist Hans Vredeman de Vries and were probably fashioned by English craftsmen working in London in the late Elizabethan period. But if only this beautiful bed could speak, what a tale it would have to tell!

Whilst still at The White Hart (although some reports state, The Crown) it is documented that, during the early eighteenth century, six prominent citizens and their wives travelled from London, and “for a frolic”, slept in it together. It gets mention in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, in Ben Jonson.s “The silent Woman” and George Farquhar.s “The Recruiting Officer”

By the 1800s the bed had moved from The White Hart to another Ware Inn, The Saracens Head, and in 1870, William Henry Teale, the owner of Rye House acquired the bed for an unknown sum to put in a pleasure garden. Such an unceremonious ending hardly befits a bed of this standing, but when interest in the garden waned in the 1920s, it was again sold to languish forlornly until being acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it proudly rests today.

Restored to its formal splendour and surely quietly smiling to itself as it recalls generations of beguiling nocturnal memories….


Comments are closed.