Imagine waking up in the morning to find that you’re sharing a bed with some work colleagues, family, friends and even strangers, all in one bed…this was a normal occurrence around 100 years or so ago. It was a communal place for many people to share, and you were happy to share it at the time, more people generally meant more warmth as there was no central heating in those days! Other than that, all you would have had to keep yourself warm for the night would be a blanket or cloak. There was no space to have separate rooms, so the main hall was the used as a dormitory of sorts.
Medieval beds were very basic, often all it consisted of was a sack 9ft x 7ft stuffed with hay – this is where the saying “hit the hay” came from. Because they were so big and basic, they were designed to be shared by many people, which is why you would be glad for the warmth of many people in one room.
Over time the Victorians added rooms to the house, and specific uses for each room. Victorians were much more high class than the medieval because they had the luxuries of money, and time to spend at home. With this higher class look on life, the Victorians developed bed linen, sheets, blankets, pillowcases, an iron frame and more to make the bed a much more sophisticated object. I read somewhere that in those days, you should make your bed up of an iron frame, a thick brown sheet to cover the metal springs, a horsehair mattress, a feather mattress, under blanket, under sheet, bottom sheet, top sheet, 3-4 blankets and pillow covers. The pillow covers should have been changed twice a day and the mattress turned every morning…this sounds like a LOT of work compared to beds now.
In the 1970s the task of bed making became a much easier task when the duvet was introduced to us by a Scandinavian fellow named Terence Conran. This is when some things which would once be considered risqué were now allowed, such as an advertising campaign ‘sleep with a Swede’ which was used for these duvets.
In the 19th century all of the bedrooms social uses fell away, and it finally became a private room for sleeping.
Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics