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Four-poster Beds

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Way back in the mists of time, our ancestors finally decided that they had had enough of sleeping on the floor! So, they decided to invent... the bed!

Phase One

The earliest beds were oak frames with wooden planks, or slats, laid across them. Several thin mattresses made from straw or hair were then laid on top. This probably wasn't too comfortable, but it was a great improvement on the floor.

It wasn't too long before someone decided that the wooden slats were too hard, and came up with a better way of doing it. Holes were drilled into the sides of the frame at regular intervals, and ropes threaded through. These were knotted at the sides, and by adjusting the tension of the ropes, you could have the bed hard or soft, to your liking. This is probably the origin of the phrase 'sleep tight'.

Phase Two

In Tudor times, most houses did not have corridors. People literally went from room to room. As you can imagine, this did little for the privacy of the occupants. So, along came another idea - posts were added to the corners of the bed, with poles running around the top. Curtains or tapestries were then hung from the poles, affording the occupants some privacy. Thus the four-poster bed was born.

Phase Three

The plaster used in Tudor times was of poor quality, often containing hair and straw to give it strength. Pieces of plaster often fell from the ceiling during the night, along with various creepy crawlies living in the plaster. So, to stop this, the next phase was born. A top was added to the posts, to protect the sleepers beneath. Originally, this was made from wood, but later on, material was also used. The wooden tops were called testers, and so the tester bed was born!


The posts, tester and headboard would have originally been plain, but as time passed, and people wanted to show off their wealth and standing, they grew ever more ornate. Some surviving beds are covered in the most fantastic carvings, some even depicting entire stories from the Bible, or scenes from classical mythology.

We should be eternally grateful to our ancestors, for without them, we might still be sleeping on the floor.

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