Here’s half a dozen funny old facts about the history of the bed..!!
The Romans and the Greeks ate their meals in bed
Roman and Greek beds were multi-functional: they were for sleeping in, but they were also used at mealtimes. People would recline on one side and reach out to pick up whatever morsel they fancied from the table. (We actually get the word recline from the Greek word for bed.) No need to feel guilty the next time you take that bowl of cereal to bed – you’re simply following in the footsteps of the Roman rich.
Medieval great beds could accommodate a whole football team
In Medieval Europe, most poor people were sleeping on straw and hay but the wealthy were beginning to develop what’s called the “great bed”. These were a whacking great piece of furniture, the most famous of which is the late Elizabethan Great bed of Ware. These beds were so vast you could probably get a whole football team in them! They were designed to be dismantled so the wealthy could take them with them when they travelled to their next country pile or castle.
The phrase “sleep tight” is all to do with how beds were made
These Early Modern beds would have been wooden in the legs and frame and then across the middle there would have been a lattice-work of cords made of natural fibres. These cords would stretch and go slack so they would need to be tightened. And that’s where the phrase “sleep tight” comes from.
We used to hang knives above babies’ cradles to fight off evil
Christians used to believe they were very vulnerable from spiritual attack as they slept – the devil’s powers being at their peak during the hours of darkness. The bible is full of examples of people being murdered in the night whilst asleep. This resulted in an enormous amount of bedtime rituals. Aside from bedside prayer, which was the most common, people would have charms and amulets made from coral, which was thought to preserve life. They would also wear wolves’ teeth around the neck, and (despite the obvious hazard) iron knives were hung above the cradles of babies. The metal was thought to be a defence against supernatural attack.
We used to sleep on as many as six stacked mattresses
In the Early Modern period, families invested an incredible amount of money, time and resource in beds. Depending on how important you were, you would have between one and six mattresses stacked on top of each other, and typically the bed and its textiles would account for around a third of your assets. In his will, Shakespeare famously left his second-best bed to his wife!
The Victorians invented the children’s bedroom
Historically, a family would sleep all together in the same bed. But the Victorians really started to tussle with the idea that people should sleep separately. Victorian health experts wrote that children should sleep away from their parents to prevent the adults sucking out the children’s youthful energy during the night!