StorageWorks - May 2 2022
Ware is Your Bed?
Famous Bed in History: the Great Bed of Ware
Throughout history, beds have been shared – not just by couples. People shared beds innocently with total strangers just to get a good night’s sleep while traveling by coach or on horseback. There are examples of such beds from almost every country, from China to England.
Having talked about Shakespeare before, this time we are visiting a famous bed he mentioned in his works.
Ware is a small, picturesque town in England a short distance from London and the subject of many a schoolchild joke. “You come from Ware? Where is Ware?” In 1325, it was mentioned that there was a coaching inn in Ware called the Saracen’s Head. Ware was at that time an important staging post on the route north from London. At some point the inn acquired what is now known as the Great Bed of Ware, although it had been in other inns previously. Guests at the inn would rent their space for the night and sleep in this 11 square feet (3.30 m2) bed with up to eleven other people. Whether the sexes were mixed is not recorded, but it was the subject of many ribald jokes. So, the Great Bed became famous.
The Great Bed of Ware in Saracen's Head
Anonymous, Great Bed of Ware 1877, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons.
We don’t know if Shakespeare visited the inn, but could have stopped there on a trip from London to his hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. However, he certainly knew of the bed. In Twelfth Night (1601), while talking about a sheet of paper, he wrote, “although the sheet were big enough for the bed of Ware in England”.
The inn was demolished in 1957, but fortunately, the bed had been sold to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 1931 and can be seen to this day. For free!
A new inn with the same name was opened in Ware in the 1960s, but you are no longer expected to share your bed with a crowd of strangers.