Saturday, 23 February 2008
The early history of the Bed . . .
I thought I'd share this piece with you, from an excellent book I have called "Home is Where the Heart is". This extract by Thomas Wright:
'The bed itself seems usually to have consisted merely of a sack (saeccing) filled with straw and laid on a bench or board. hence words used commonly to signify the bed itself were baence (a bench) and streow (straw); and even in King Alfred's translation of Bede, the statement 'he ordered to prepare a bed for him' is expressed in Anglo-Saxon by he heht him streowne ge-gearvian (he ordered to prepare straw for him). All in fact, that had to be done when a bed was wanted, was to take the bedsack out of the cyst, or chest, fill it with fresh straw, and lay it on the bench. In ordinary houses, it is probable that the bench for the bed was placed in a recess at the side of the room; and hence the bed itself was called, among other names, cota, a cot; cryb, a crib or stall; and clif or clyf, a recess of closet. The modern word bedstead means, literally, no more than a place for a bed; and it is probable that what we call bedsteads were rare and only possessed by people of rank. Under the head were placed a bolstar and a pyle (pillow), which were also probably stuffed with straw. The clothes with which the sleeper was covered, and which appear in the pictures scanty enough, were scyte, a sheet, bed-felt, a coverlet, which was generally of some thicker material, and bed-reaf, bed clothes. We know, from a multitude of authorities, that it was the general custom of the middle ages to go into bed quite naked.
The bedroom, or chamber, and the sitting room were usually identical. Though built separate from the hall it was still easy of access, and in the middle ages the same idea or privacy was not connected with the sleeping-room as at the present day. Gaimar has preserved an anecdote of Anglo-Saxon times curiously illustrative of this point. King Edgar - a second David in this respect - married the widow of Ethelwold, whom he had murdered in order to clear his way to her bed. The king and queen were sleeping in their bed, which is described as surrounded by a rich curtain, when the Archbishop Dunstan, uninvited but unhindered, entered the chamber to expostulate with them on their wickedness, and came to the king's bedside, where he stood over them and entered into conversation.'
So you can see there are distinct links right back to Anglo-Saxon English with some of the wording. My parents had a bolster as the under-pillow on their bed - it stretched the width of the bed, and was in black and white striped ticking. A baby's bed is still a cot or a crib. I think we now know the derivation of the word "cottage" too . . . There is a village called Pyle near Bridgend in Wales . . .