At Soak&Sleep we spend a huge amount of time thinking and talking about bed and bath products. Recently we got to thinking about how beds have developed over the years. We’ve done a little digging and found some interesting things about what people slept on in years gone by – prepare to be dazzled by The History of the Bed.
There is archaeological evidence of the very earliest forms of beds, which were no more than piles of straw, palm leaves, or animal skins, and the earliest example of bedding is to be found in a cave in South Africa, dated to around 77,000 years ago!
Some of the earliest raised beds were made by the Egyptians, some amazing examples of which are the gilded wooden beds found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Wealthy Egyptians also had raised wooden beds with feet carved into the shapes of animals and protective deities, and featured very uncomfortable looking headrests.
The Romans had mattresses stuffed with reeds, hay, wool, and feathers. Their bedsteads were so high that they needed steps to reach them, and were usually made of bronze decorated with silver. They also had many different types of beds for use with different activities, such as feasting and studying.
The Middle Ages
In Medieval Europe, beds became very prestigious and expensive objects, only owned by the most important people. A lord’s household would usually sleep all together in the main room of the house, such as a great hall, while only he and his wife would have the luxury of a bed. The bed would have been richly carved and draped with fabrics, and would likely be the most expensive and precious possession in the house. They would also be a place of social gathering and important meetings, a tradition that would continue into the following centuries
Royal beds also had to be transportable, as monarchs would travel around their kingdoms calling on their lords and castles, carrying most of their furniture with them. This meant that bed frames were often covered up with sumptuous hangings, so they could be designed with practicality rather than decoration in mind.
Early Modern Period
By the start of the 17th century, when Guy Fawkes was taking part in the Gunpowder Plot, beds were becoming more and more elaborate and magnificent. Towards the end of the century, France in particular was leading the way in luxurious bed design, with Louis XIV having a staggering 413 described in his inventories, his palace at Versailles containing the grandest.
What seems very odd to us now is that the bed once held more power as a royal symbol than the throne, and important meetings of state were often held in the king’s bedroom, the king comfortably reclining. Most palace designs followed the convention of a procession of rooms that eventually led to the monarch’s bedroom, and reflected the different levels of society; the closer you were allowed to the royal bedchamber, the more important you were.
By the late 18th century one of the most unpleasant features of even the most prestigious beds was being eliminated, as the increased use of cast iron frames and cotton mattresses was creating a less attractive environment for bugs. By the 1930s the modern bed as we recognise it today was becoming prevalent, followed by the invention of the foam mattress in the ‘50s, the waterbed in the ‘60s, and the airbed in the ‘80s.
Today it’s possible to get almost any size or kind of bed or mattress design, including the popular memory foam mattress – originally developed by NASA for use in aircraft – and there is a whole variety of feather and synthetic pillow and duvet fillings for different climates and times of year.
You can find the ultimate range of mattresses and bedding on our website, built on thousands of years of bed development and evolution, so you can get the best night’s sleep in history.