The Great Bed of Ware

About 1590 with later modifications

[Now in the Victoria & Albert Museum]

 

Ware is a great thorow-fare, and hath many faire Innes, with very large bedding, and one high and mighty bed, called The Great Bed of Ware: a man may seeke all England over, and not find a married couple that can fill it. Ware hath three Taverns; Wil: Cross, or Wil: Raste at the Crown, Shelton Amery, Christopher Robinson, Widow Hall at the George; also she keeps a wine-seller at the Christopher.

John Taylor, The Taverns of Hertfordshire, 1636

The Great Bed of Ware - Posted 1905

 

The Great Bed of Ware
10 feet 7 inches wide, 10 feet 10 inches long, 8 feet 9 inches wide
From John Lucas's book Hertfordshire Curiosities

(same picture in Hertfordshire Countryside, April 1947)


The Great Bed of Ware, which at one time was kept in Rye House - Postcard with no publisher details - circa 1920s?

 

     During the year 1596, when Queen Elizabeth occupied the throne, and eight years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, our country was traversed by Prince Ludwig, of Anhalt-Kohten, a duchy of the German Empire that lies to the south-west of Berlin, and our visitor amused himself by composing an account of his wanderings in verse. He did not omit to see the Great Bed of Ware; and a translation of the lines that he wrote about it informs his readers that:

At Ware was a bed of dimensions so wide,

Four couples might cosily lie side by side,

And thus without touching each other abide.

     Five years later, Shakespeare reveals that the fame of this bed had reached him; for in his play of Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch urges Sir Andrew Aguecheek to send a defiant challenge to a rival, advising, among other suggestions, that he shall write as many untruths in his letter "as will lie in thy sheet of paper, though the sheet were big enough for the bed of Ware."

       ... Later than Tudor times, the bed was housed in the" Crown" Inn, at Ware, then in the "Bull" Inn, and next in the "Saracen's Head." There was a sale at the "Saracen's Head" in 1864 when the bed was bought by the then owner .of the Rye House for a hundred guineas.

        In our own twentieth century .the bed was purchased by Mr. Frank Partridge for 4,000; and although Americans were eager to buy it for 10,000, he promised patriotically, to sell it to the Victoria and Albert Museum for the same amount that he had paid for it, when that institution could accumulate the money. In this way, in the year 1931, the bed was taken, very properly, to its present home, to be cherished as one of our national treasures.

Bed with a History, by Harold Armitage, in Hertfordshire Countryside, April 1947

Pictures take in the Victoria & Albert Museum, 2010

 

This bed has been famous for over 400 years in account of its size. It was used at various inns in the town of Ware and by 1836 it was already being shown as a historic relic. Originally the woodwork would have been brightly painted. The fantastical creatures and the male and female figures at the back suggest the potential for sexual pleasure. The panels of inlay are of a type made by German-born woodworkers who had settled in the Southwark district of London.

The hangings are modern reconstructions based on records of  hangings used in inns for the period 1560-1640

Wikipedia: The Great Bed of Ware


Hertfordshire Genealogy Newsletter, 12 April 2012

Did your ancestor travel from London to Cambridge? If so they may have spent a night in the Great Bed of Ware. It was built in the late 16th century - almost certainly as an advertising gimmick to encourage travelers to break their journey in the town/ It soon became famous - even being mentioned in one of Shakespeare's plays! For the last 80 years it has been on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum but a Heritage Fund grant [pdf] means that from April 2012 to March 2013 it will be on display in Ware Museum. If you visit the town there is also a history trail [pdf] which guides you round the inns where the bed is known to have been in the past

August 2010

 

Page created

April 2012

 

Bed goes to Ware