Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Great Bed of Ware

Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Loretta reports:

Following up on Susan’s post about 18th century beds

There’s quite a famous one in my August book, Last Night’s Scandal:
Olivia burst into the bedchamber ten minutes later.
“You,” she began.  But even in one of her blind rages, she could hardly miss the bed, and it stopped her dead.  “Good grief!” she said.  “It’s enormous.”

Lisle casually looked up from his examination of one of the bedposts at the head.

Her bonnet was askew and her hair was coming loose, red curls tumbling against her pearly skin.  Her clothes were rumpled from traveling.  Anger still sparked in the impossibly blue eyes, though they’d widened at the sight of the famous bed.

“That’s why it’s called the Great Bed of Ware,” he said calmly.  “You’ve never seen it before?”

She shook her head, and the curls danced madly.

“Quite old—by English standards, at any rate,” he said.  “Shakespeare mentions it.”*
*"…as many lies as will lie in thy sheet of
paper, although the sheet were big enough for the
bed of Ware in England."
SIR TOBY BELCH, Twelfth Night: Act 3, Scene 2

Lord Byron mentions it, too, in Don Juan:
  "All (except Mahometans) forbear/ To make the nuptial couch a Bed of Ware."

You can read more in the 7 February entry of Chambers’ Book of Days.

At the time of my story, the Great Bed of Ware was installed at the Saracen’s Head, Ware, Hertfordshire, twenty-one miles from London.  Though approximately 12 feet square, it nonetheless moved numerous times in the course of its history, and gave me a little trouble pinning down its location in 1831.  These days you can visit it at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  If Kensington isn’t down the street or in your immediate travel plans, you can find photos at the V&A website, as well as watch a (soundless) video. More photos are here and here.

Like so many other famous destinations, the bed has its otherworldly legends.  Charles G. Harper (one of my sources for the great days of coaching) tells one of them in The Cambridge, Ely and King's Lynn road: the great Fenland highway.

The original photograph on Flickr was taken by -mrsraggle


Vanessa Kelly said...

Sigh. Loretta, now you're just teasing us! I can't wait till this book comes out!

Jennifer said...

Oh, joy! Only a few more weeks before this book is out!!! Olivia and Peregrine and the Great Bed of Ware. Who could ask for more?

Mme.Tresbeau said...

If the great bed was mentioned first by Byron and Shakespeare, then surely it's a fine omen for your new book, too. Congratulations on your publication!

LorettaChase said...

One of the joys of writing a "road book" is coming upon objects like this--now in museums, but tourist attractions on the road in their day. Thank you all for the good wishes--and Vanessa, I just want to make sure you don't forget!

Felicia J. said...

I'm reading "Last Night's Scandal" and got to the "Great Bed of Ware" scene yesterday. I had to Google it to see if it was real!

I love how Peregrine is so enjoying showing Oliva "the sights," even if he still wants to throttle her!

Felicia J. said...
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