Offbeat Objects: The Great Bed of Ware

If you’re in London and the queue for the Natural History Museum is looking a bit too manic for you, pop across the street to the V&A Museum to see an Offbeat Object that you very well might have missed otherwise, and makes for a great tale. Today’s recommendation is – the Great Bed of Ware!

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Human on the side for comparison.

You may be thinking, “It’s just a big bed, what’s the deal?” Well folks, let me tell you the story of this bed. It’s 3 m wide (~10 ft), so already larger than a California King sized bed (measuring in at a paltry 1.8 m / 6 ft wide). History says that it could comfortably accommodate up to three couples in it. Allegedly twenty-six butchers and their wives spend the night in it for a bet once.

And not only is it gigantic, it’s pretty old. We aren’t sure of the exact year, but it was constructed around 1590. The first mention of it in writing comes from a letter written by a travelling German prince staying in the White Hart Inn in 1596. It was already 100 years old at the time of the 26 butchers stunt! It was likely always in the town of Ware until it’s movement to the V&A in 1931. The local inns purchased it off one another over the years as an Elizabethan tourist trap, as Ware is on the road between London and Cambridge. The bed was as famous in its day as some of the more unique American road stops are, like the giant ball of twine or world’s largest chair. One could even argue it was more famous than that, as Shakespeare used it in 1601 to describe something enormous in The Twelfth Night with Sir Toby Belch describing a sheet of paper as “big enough for the Bed of Ware.”

Moving it from Ware to London proved an interesting challenge for the V&A. The bed had to be carefully dismantled and packed up over six days. In total, it weighed 1413 pounds! It took another nine days to physically move the behemoth, and then required ten strapping carriers to porter it through the museum’s corridors. Unsurprisingly, it’s not been moved from its display since – but that’s mostly because it’s been a crowd-pleaser since arrival.

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Once a tourist attraction, always a tourist attraction.

On its display now, you can get very close and personal with the bed. If you do, you’ll quickly notice another thing about tourist attractions that seems to withstand the test of time – graffitied initials all over the bed. Visitors have carved initials all over the wood, or applied red wax seals with their stamps on it. Not even the lion at the top of the headboard was spared the indignity of a seal to the nose. Whilst it was probably pretty tacky then, it’s fascinating to see this 400 year old graffiti and wax seals up close today.

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Ye olde “RB <3s EH” kind of action going on here.

A final note – this is an authentic Elizabethan bed, and although much larger than most, it gives a great idea of how people of some means would have slept. The wood is mostly bare now, but conservators have found evidence that the carvings would originally have been painted. The busy scenes around the bed would have been meant to be enjoyed and looked at for some time. The bedding is obviously more recent, but has been made with period materials and kept to look as much like a bed of the time as we understand it to be.

It’s not often one goes to see furniture on a museum visit, but I cannot recommend this one enough. Also, if you’re big into Elizabethan era things in general, you’ll find that the bed is in the middle of a bunch of artefacts from the period. Now go! Find something new and obscure to tell your friends about!

 

— Kate

Touring Cambridge (Spring 2016)

In what is perhaps a running theme, M had a conference to go to and I’d not seen Cambridge, so I went along. The train out from Norwich was not overly remarkable, and the train station into Cambridge lets you out into a fairly modern bit of town. So far, I was not seeing the magic that everyone says is Cambridge. We dropped our bags off at the hotel and split up, and it was from there that I began to get a better idea of what people meant. My goal for the day was the Fitzwilliam Museum that I had heard so much about. On the way, I ran into a house that Darwin used to live in that seemed to merit a blue badge?

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For an entire year!

After a short bout of confusion and getting lost – a standard feature of leaving me alone in a city – I did find the museum. The Fitzwilliam is a stunning piece of architecture in the centre of Cambridge founded by the 7th Viscount FitzWilliam in 1816 and built in 1848. For such a magnificent looking building, they only receive about 470,000 visitors a year. I suppose you really go to London to see most artwork and history, but still. There is a lovely collection of Greco-Roman and Egyptian artefacts, so I was all on it. The museum also hit the news back in 2006 when 3 priceless porcelain vases in a window were accidentally destroyed by a tourist when he tripped and fell into them. The public at large thought that repairing them would be impossible, but after a year of painstaking work from the conservators at the museum, they were able to repair and restore the vases. Unsurprisingly, they are no longer housed in an open windowsill.

After my wander around the museum, my favourite human and I met back up and then headed out for dinner at the famous Eagle pub in town. It is one of the larger pubs in Cambridge and has been on site since 1667. In the back of the pub there is a bar with graffiti from WWII airmen covering the ceilings and walls, earning it the nickname of the RAF bar. Whilst this is pretty cool on its own, the most recent claim to fame goes back to the 28 February 1953. It was in The Eagle at lunchtime that day that Francis Crick and James Watson announced that they had discovered the structure of DNA. The pub serves a special ale in honour of this occasion, called Eagle’s DNA. When we went, they were in full dinner swing and we were absolutely stuffed into a corner table to manage a seat for food. It was really good fun though, and I’d definitely recommend popping by if you’re in the area sometime.

The next day we decided to have a wander around central Cambridge together and see all the famous colleges. Honestly, they truly are stunning. However, you cannot stop very long to take a photo before you are quickly swarmed by salespeople trying to sell you tours of the city or punting journeys on the river. It really does ruin the moment a bit, but unless you’re in the mood to constantly be barking “no” at someone, there’s not much you can do but snap a quick picture and scurry along.

All in all, I can see why people come to visit Cambridge, but I’m glad we only stayed 2 days. Unless you have business there, you’ll find you can see all the touristy bits pretty quickly. I’d definitely go back though, as there were a few more museums I didn’t get time to see. Maybe this year!

 

— Kate

 

Castles? Castles!

Okay, so maybe the title is a bit of a letdown as the photos I’m posting aren’t exactly castles, but still. I get to hop on a train or a bus and after sitting for awhile get to see magnificent old buildings on a semi-regular basis here and it’s AMAZING. With no further ado, let me catch you up on the cool things I’ve gotten to visit in between essays and an exhibition project for coursework. We begin with Hampton Court Palace, one of the famous residences of Henry VIII and his assorted family.

It’s not all beautiful buildings and charming countryside here. There’s mostly the real world of modern Britain, which is great in its own way. An entire country cannot exist on its history alone (contrary to what you may think when visiting the touristy bits).

After the visit to Hampton Court, I got to see such exciting things as a building detonation… (No seriously, that was really cool.)

You could hear the boom from my place with the windows shut!
You could hear the boom from my place with the windows shut!

Then there was the adventure in moving a dead sofa out to be collected by the city council…. (The new sofa is so comfortable.)

The sofa is dead! Long live the new sofa!
The sofa is dead! Long live the new sofa!

There is always something to be witnessed on an Asda trip…

It was nearly 3 feet tall.
It was nearly 3 feet tall.

And there was the one time we came across what could only be described as an onion fight that happened only moments before we arrived. I’m serious.

This weekend, I took a spur of the moment trip to Nottingham. It’s only 30 minutes north of Leicester by train and I’d kept meaning to go, so I finally just went. It’s good for the soul to go wandering a new city by yourself where you don’t know a soul there. I’d recommend everyone try it at least once. I may have to go back when it’s summer and my portable charger is actually charged to have a more leisurely stroll.

 

Well, it’s gonna be more chaos and busy life for me in the next few weeks, but I hope to have something interesting to show y’all again next weekend!

 

— Kate