History of the bed Ever wondered how we came to sleep on the beds we commonly use today? Take a trip back in time with Bensons for Beds and discover how where we sleep has evolved through the ages. From simple feathers and fur to technologically advanced iGel… it's a journey that will help you appreciate your bed at home that little bit more. Read on to find out more.
Sleep where you lay In the beginning there was no such thing as a bed. Sometimes, pits would be dug, if the ground was particularly soft, and these would be packed with grass and moss. The sleeper could then curl up inside and enjoy some protection from the elements. In each dwelling sat a large stone slab bed, which would then have been topped with soft fern and animal skins.
If the first European beds were basic, elsewhere they were anything but. Between 3, and 1,BC the Egyptians were building elaborate beds for the Pharaohs.
The first bed of leaves, straw and animal skin. Ornate wooden bed frames were carved then covered with gold sheathes. Woven mats were placed on top to provide stability, then topped with a wooden slat mattress.
And wool cushions would be added, along with sheets fashioned from linen. Meanwhile, around BC, the Persians started filling sewn-up goatskins with water in what is considered to be the first example of a waterbed. Yet these early experiments in bed technology were reserved purely for people in the higher reaches of society.
If you were poor, it would be after the turn of the century before you had something you could call an actual bed. In medieval times, for example, most people would doss down on the floors of the hall in which they lived. Curtains would be suspended from above and drawn round the bed. This served two purposes: But that was a rare luxury.
Typically you had no bed at all — you slept where you worked. The most important thing was to keep warm, so people slept together in groups, with the oldest sleeping closest to any source of heat.
It was perfectly normal for the lady of the house to entertain guests in her bedroom. Warm, cosy and inviting, the bedroom became the typical reception room of the average Tudor house. The birth of the bed frame By the 14th century, the standard of bed started to improve.
People recognised the advantages of sleeping above the ground, away from insects and cold draughts. So basic bed frames were built, usually no more than rough wood and rope straps with a bag of straw or hay as a mattress on top. This is where we get the term 'hitting the hay' from. Eventually, the rope straps would be replaced with bed strings, an intricate criss-crossing of ropes, threaded up and down and from side to side across the bed frame.
Over time these strings would sag and require tightening. The phrase 'night, night sleep tight' comes from this process. The concept of the portable bed was born around this time too. In some instances, particularly if the nobleman and his lady travelled a lot, bed frames were designed so that they could be dismantled and then rebuilt quickly and easily.
Though these would not be nearly as ornate, usually no more than a wooden box on legs that could be carried fairly easily by a group of servants. Meanwhile in the richest houses, beds began to be regarded as more than a piece of furniture. Magnificently ornate bed frames were built, complete with ornate canopies, carved wooden bed frames , rich embroidery and soft mattresses filled with feathers, a new luxury imported from across the Channel in France.
Beds as a status symbol The bed most synonymous with wealth, and the social standing of its owner, is the four-poster. It was first introduced into the UK by the Tudors.
Tudor noblemen and women would compete with one another to see who could make theirs the most elaborate.
The counterpanes were sometimes very costly, generally purple embroidered with figures in gold ; and rich hangings fell to the ground masking the front. In the chambre de parade, where the ceremonial bed was placed, certain persons, such as ambassadors or great lords , whom it was desired to honour, were received in a more intimate fashion than the crowd of courtiers.
Solid oak, intricately engraved pillars up to 18 inches round, fine velvet drapes, woollen curtains, heavily embroidered hangings bearing the coat of arms, resplendent colours and vibrant designs, lavish canopy to offer protection from twigs and feathers falling from the roof… the list of adornments went on and on. Naturally the person with the most decadent bed of all was the most noble woman of all, The Queen.
There were also curtains cut from extravagant tapestry with each seam bordered with gold and silver lace, a headboard of scarlet satin, edged with silk, and plumes of ostrich feathers garnished with gold leaf.
If the decoration on the bed was lavish, the mattress was still of a fairly basic standard. But over the next few years, this would start to change dramatically. The development of the mattress By the turn of the 17th century, people had begun to appreciate the benefits of sleeping on feathers, and this had become a more common mattress filling.
Yet it was still something of a luxury. A feather bed was a prized possession, often handed down from one generation to the next. If you were a maid working in the kitchen of a large manor house, you might be permitted to keep the feathers from the birds you roasted as a kind of dowry towards your own marital bed — such was their value.
It was during this time however that a much wider range of materials became available for bedding. Pillows and mattresses stuffed with wool, horsehair or coconut fibre began to be sold.
And cotton sheets, the vast majority of which were produced in the mills of Manchester, began to dress the beds of the common man up and down the country. Indeed bedding became as much a display of wealth as the ornate beds of the era. A typical bed would be dressed in sheets, including a top sheet, blankets and an eiderdown — basically, the more bedding you had, and the longer it took your servant to make your bed, the better.
Comfort is key At the start of the 19th century, Britain was in the midst of the industrial revolution. Realising the limitations of the standard wood frame and rope strap set-up, many tradesmen began constructing iron or steel bedframes.
These offered two advantages: This was a period when tuberculosis was rife, and while wooden bed frames would often harbour lice, metal bedframes were practically sterile by comparison. Meanwhile, several bed manufacturers began to use steel coils to support the mattress and in , a man named Samuel Kettle patented what is now recognised as being the first ever open spring mattress. It was a huge success and the combination of a metal bedframe and a coil-sprung mattress would become the norm for decades to come.
What the coil-sprung mattress offered was comfort.
The springs spread the weight of the person sleeping on the mattress more evenly, easing pressure and ensuring a more peaceful sleep. In however, James Marshall, an English engineer living in Canada went one better, patenting the first ever pocket-sprung mattress. Each spring provided support independently of its neighbours. It was a revolutionary idea: Meanwhile, across the border, an American by the name of William L.
Murphy was writing his own name into the history of the bed. Having moved to San Francisco to seek his fortune, he found himself frustrated at the lack of space within his tiny studio apartment. His solution to the problem involved several experiments with a doorjamb and the hinges of his wardrobe.
The result was what is now know as the fold-away bed, pull-down bed or, as he would probably have preferred it to remain, the Murphy Bed. Mattress Innovations The innovations kept coming. Around January , another man named Murphy was working for Dunlop, creating foam from natural latex. This was then poured into giant moulds and set, to create an entirely new type of mattress.
Natural, hypoallergenic, and extremely supportive, latex mattresses became very popular, particularly amongst people with back troubles. By , over 30, had been sold in the UK alone.
But then during the Second World War the supply of latex was cut off by the Japanese, and they became more and more expensive, in some cases only available if prescribed by a doctor. Sprung mattresses began to enjoy a resurgence and would remain popular until a new mattress fad arrived in the late s.
Their plan was to fill a vinyl bag with warmed cornflour, though this proved unsuccessful, as did a subsequent attempt using jelly as the filling. So instead he decided to focus on creating the ultimate bed. Over the next 20 years waterbeds became hugely popular, but not really for the reasons Hall had hoped. While he saw his invention as a bed designed to ease pressure points and provide warming relief from aches and pains, everyone else saw the waterbed as something else entirely.
The waterbed became synonymous with the sexual revolution. Hugh Heffner boasted of having one in the Playboy Mansion. Memory foam was developed by NASA in the s to make the seats on aircraft more comfortable for the pilots. They created a kind of solid foam that was heat sensitive. When it came into contact with bodyheat it would soften, then firm up again when it cooled.
Memory foam was not without its drawbacks. What was needed was a mattress that could cool you in the summer and warm you in the winter. And that dream became a reality in , following the launch of the iGel mattress range. Each mattress contains thousands of tiny gel support beads that conduct heat away from your body and prevent you from getting too hot.
Revolutionary temperature-sensitive iGel mattress. From bedding down on the cold hard ground, to innovative mattresses that help regulate your temperature as you sleep, beds have come a long way.
Wherever they go next, you can be sure Bensons for Beds will follow, trying to do whatever we can to ensure our customers get a great night's sleep. An Intimate History of the Home.
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