Here at Stay In Britain, everything we do is focused on helping people to find the perfect place to stay overnight when in the United Kingdom (UK). The photos of a hotel or guest house bedroom on an accommodation website like Stay In Britain might look perfect but this doesn’t guarantee a perfect night’s sleep!
Some hotel or B&B beds feel ‘just right’ when others are too soft or too hard. Conversely, some beds seem to have a valley in the middle of the mattress and others are so uneven it feels like you might roll out of the bed and on to the floor at any given moment!
And this got us thinking! What constitutes the perfect bed? To properly answer this question, we decided to look back in time to properly understand the origins and our perception of what makes the perfect bed. What we found out is truly fascinating…
How old is my mattress?
Based on modern day advice, we are told that we should change our mattresses every seven years. For this purpose, all modern mattresses are date stamped when manufactured. But what if your mattress is a lot older than that?
Amazingly, historians think that humans were sleeping on mattresses back in the Stone Age (circa 77,000 years ago). When people largely lived in caves, the stone floors were not overly comfortable so they started to make simple mattresses made from animal hair with a cover made from animal skins and simple woven fabrics. These would be passed on from generation to generation!
Please rest assured (if you will excuse the pun), none of the mattresses found in Stay In Britain properties are this old!
Pocket springs, memory foam or mattresses made from hay?
Yes, you did read that right! Although most of us in the western world sleep on internally spring mattresses or ones made from memory foam, this was not always the case! In Medieval Europe, most poor people were sleeping on mattresses made from straw or hay.
A simple material fabric would simply be made into a ‘bag’ and then stuffed with hay or straw – the former being more comfortable but also more expensive. In fact, in many alpine youth hostels in Austria and Germany, you can still sleep on mattresses made of straw even today!
Why is my bed too hard?
Did you know that the first beds were made from stone? If we travel back in time to the Neolithic period (10,000 years ago) we discover that humans were sleeping on raised platforms made from stones.
The main benefit from raising the bed off the floor was so to help prevent bugs and insects from getting into your bed. If the floors in your cave or hut were also wet, this also helped to keep you dry at night.
Why does my bed slope downwards?
Historians have discovered that it was the Egyptians who first made bed frames made from wood. The more elaborate the bed frame, the more the design said about your status and influence. Many of the early Egyptian beds had beautifully carved legs on their beds shaped like animal feet.
Interestingly though, early bed frames were not designed to be flat. They tended to bow in the centre to help stop people falling out of the bed. They also sloped downwards and often had footboards to stop you from sliding off the bottom!
How high should a bed be off the floor or ground?
In the past, having a bed that was raised off the floor signalled that you had a higher social status but this was not the case in all parts of the world. For example, in Japan, people slept on traditional Tatami mats simply laid out on their floor. The modern Futon is still based on this ancient concept.
It is still extremely common in many parts of the world to sleep on the floor on a rolled up mattress and sleeping bag and then store them away during the day. In smaller living quarters, this helps to make space during the day for other activities. Rooms with fold away beds still make use of this space saving concept today.
Is a bigger bed always better?
Many of us today in modern Britain think that a ‘Queen Size’ bed or a ‘Super King’ sized bed is better than a mere ‘Standard Double’. But has this always been the case? Our obsession with large beds, aside from them given us more space to move around at night, may come from the ancient belief that a larger bed signals a higher status.
In medieval Europe, the wealthy started developing what became known as the ‘Great Bed’. These beds were absolutely huge in size. They were designed to be dismantled so the wealthy could take them with them when they travelled to another one of their residences. The Great Bed of Ware was just under nine feet wide and eleven feet long!
And it is worth remembering that in the 1500s when this bed was made, people were much smaller than they are today! In the 1500s a man of 170cm (5 foot 7 inches) would have been considered very tall!
Hotels with four-poster beds?
Are you looking for a hotel with a four-poster bed? Well, we have several here on Stay In Britain! Interestingly, we still hold the perception that a four-poster bed is luxurious and romantic! But where does this impression come from?
Four-poster beds became popular with the wealthy back in the 1400s and 1500s. Before the charms of central heating, bed chambers were often very cold at night. The canopy over the top and the curtained sides on a four-poster bed were designed to retain heat at night.
Four-poster beds also became a mark of status. Some four poster beds were so large and elaborate the owner would need a team of servants to help them get into and out of bed every day. When servants were constantly present, it also have a married couple a certain degree of privacy!
The bed as a throne!
In the Early Modern Period (circa 1500 to 1800), heads of state were famous for conducting their daily business from their beds! King Louis XIV of France and England’s King Charles II helped to shape this practice. The so called ‘beds of state’ evolved to become overly ornate pieces of furniture that became a reflection of the King or Queen’s wealth and power.
The ‘state bed’ became the epicentre of political life. In Baroque political culture, the closer you were to the monarch’s body and their intimate daily routines the more favoured you were. The bed became a platform for the monarch to ‘hold court’ and to disseminate information to his or her subjects.
How much should you spend on a new bed mattress?
This is a common question that we ask ourselves when looking to buy a new bed. However, in ancient times, the question was less driven by comfort and more by the need to communicate wealth and status.
From the 1600s, European families invested an incredible amount of money, time and resource in their beds. Depending on how important you were, you might have up to six mattresses stacked on top of each other!
In much the same way as we might invest up to a third of our liquid assets in a car today, in the Early Modern Period your bed, mattress and bedding would account for around a third of your total net worth!
Why are metal bed frames so popular?
Iron bedframes first became popular in the Victorian era (from the 1830s onwards). Before then, almost all beds were made from wood but these attracted lice and other bugs to take residence not just inside the mattress but the bed frame too.
The Victorians, who became extremely focused on cleanliness and hygiene, replaced their old wooden bedframes with iron ones as they were much easier to keep clean. The Victorians also introduced the sprung mattress which improved comfort but also hygiene as the metal spring only had a limited amount of material over the top.
How many people regularly have breakfast in bed?
Many of us think having breakfast in bed is a luxury! But did you know that the Romans ate all their meals in bed! Beds were not just for sleeping in they were places to entertain and socialise! So the next time you decide to take a slice of toast and a cup of tea up to bed with you, don’t feel embarrassed… you are simply honouring a long standing tradition from the Roman era!
We hope you have enjoyed this brief insight into the history of the bed! The next time you climb into your bed please spare a thought for the generations of people before you who have slept on matresses made of hay on beds made of stone!
Here at Stay In Britain, we take guest comfort very seriously, so please come back and leave a review about the place you have booked and stayed at. Thank you very much indeed! We hope that you enjoy your stay in Britain!