The Great Bed of Ware
The Great Bed has been on a year-long loan to Ware Museum, Hertfordshire, which came to an end on 7 April 2013. Over 34,000 visitors and groups saw the bed whilst it was in Ware. A year-long programme of events was organised such as Tudor re-enactments, music, crafts and drama as well as a Great Bed of Ware Heritage Trail that visited the places that housed the Great Bed between 1590 and 1869.
Martin Roth, Director of the V&A, said of the loan:
'The Great Bed of Ware is one of the V&A’s most loved exhibits and has never before been off display since it was acquired in 1931. We are delighted that HLF (Heritage Lottery Fund) has supported this project to enable the bed to be seen in the town of its origin in 2012. To remove the bed from the British Galleries, transport and reinstall it in another location is unprecedented, requiring much skill and dedication. We hope that the people of Ware will enjoy visiting this historic bed and that it will bring their local history alive.'
The bed is now being dismantled and packed for return to the V&A. where it will resume its place in the British Galleries at the beginning of May 2013.
One of the V&A’s greatest treasures
The Great Bed of Ware is probably the single best-known object in the Museum’s collections. The four-poster bed is famously over three metres wide – the only known example of a bed of this size.
The Bed was probably made in about 1590 as a tourist attraction for one of the inns at Ware, in modern-day Hertfordshire. Ware was a popular overnight destination for pilgrims on the route from London to Walsingham or travellers going to Cambridge University, and had many inns by the end of the 16th century.
Publicised as being able to sleep 12, travellers were reputed to choose the town of Ware to break their journey just to spend a night in the Bed. Visitors often carved their initials on the Bed or applied red wax seals, which are still visible on the bedposts and headboard today.
The Bed became so famous that Sir Toby Belch describes a sheet of paper as '...big enough for the Bed of Ware!' in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (1601). It continued to be mentioned in plays and bawdy tales, and is first recorded as ‘The Great Bed of Ware’ in 1609, when it was referred to by this name by Ben Jonson in Epiconene.
Although unique in size, in form and decoration the Bed epitomises the flamboyantly carved and painted beds of the late Elizabethan period. The woodwork is profusely carved with anglicised Renaissance patterns, acanthus leaves and strapwork. The human figures carved on the headboard and the underside of the tester (wooden canopy) show traces of paint and would originally have been brightly coloured. The hangings and bedclothes on the Bed are modern reproductions.
Further images of the Bed, and details about its history, can be found in the Great Bed of Ware Search the Collections record.
You can explore the Bed in more detail in this video. It has no sound, but is captioned.