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Tester bed

Tester bed

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1650-1700 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved and turned oak

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    On display at National Trust, Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire []

This type of simple bed was produced in large numbers in the 17th century. There are holes in the bed rails through which ropes could be threaded to support a rush bed mat and mattress. Curtains would have been hung at the sides and foot for privacy and warmth. The tester (ceiling) has been raised at a later date by the insertion of extra panelling in the bed-head. The bed rails are attached to the bed-head and foot using loose unglued mortise and tenon joints locked with removable pegs so that the bed can be taken apart.

On loan to Woolsthorpe Manor (National Trust)

Physical description

Oak tester bed with panelled headboard and tester, and with foot posts that are turned above square sections. The bed rails with holes for roping to support the mattress. The headboard and tester were originally each divided into nine panels by moulded stiles, though the headboard has been raised by an additional tier of three apparent panels (approximately 30 cm) and the footposts have also been heightened. The footposts are turned with multiple baluster turnings, above square, channelled plinths and now with an additional plinth section to each, of approximately 30 cm. The bed rails are pierced for bed ropes.

Place of Origin

England (made)


1650-1700 (made)


Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Carved and turned oak


Height: 217 cm Overall, at right (PL) footpost, Width: 144 cm Over cornice at foot of bed, Length: 193 cm Lebgth over cornice at left (PR) side

Object history note

Purchased from Mr ChristopherGarbett, Byeways, Harting, Nr Petersfield, Hampshire in 1928 (Registered File: MA/1/G145, Nominal File Garbett). At the time of sale it was said to have been in his family 'for some time' and to have come oiriginally from Derbyshire. The purchase papers indicate that it was bought primarily to display a set of bed hangings in crewel work that were given to the Museum in the following year by Mr and Mrs Whittall (inv.no. T.13-1929). Correspondence about the bed with Mr and Mrs Whittall is in the acquisition file and Mr Whittal viewed the bed before purchase.

The overall height of the bed before purchase was stated to be six feet but it was suggested that, if necessary, the height could be added to 'by means of blocks placed under each leg' in order to achieve the correct length for the hangings. An image of the bed, totally enclosed by the hangings and set within a case probably dates from soon after acquisition.

The bedhead has been raised by the insertion of an extra layer of panelling, 30 cm high. The bed posts also have an extra piece inserted. Iron angle backets have been fitted to hold the bed rails in place, date unkown. Under the tester, wooden fillet have been inserted to hold the bed posts inplace, date unknown.

The bed has been on loan to the National Trust at Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire since 2003. Woolsthorpe is the family home of Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727).

The closest parallels to this bed are two illustrated in Victor Chinnery, Oak Furniture, the British Tradition, Woodbridge: The Antique Collectors' Club, 1979, p. 390, figs. 3:461 and 3:462, which are dated to the period 1650-70, but neither of them is identified to a particular region of England. Both show lower posts that are square in section, with turned sections above and both show similar recessed grooves on the show faces of the square sections. Both have panelled testers, the first with a shallow, arcaded frieze below a narrow, moulded cornice, the second without a frieze or cornice. However, both also show square sections at the top of the posts, rather than the cylindrical tops on these posts. The two beds illustrated both show simple carving in the upper part of the headboard. The first shows lozenges on the panels of the headboard and the footboard, with guilloche ornament (of interlaced circles) on the top panels of the headboard. The second shows a simpler ornament of arches on the central tier of panels only.

Historical context note

In the period after 1650 such comfortable beds began to be seen in the houses of well-to-do farmers or local merchants as well as in those of the gentry or grander people. This bed is relatively simple, with no carved decoration, but some beds were elaborately carved on the headboard, though the lower part was usually plain because it would have been covered by the bedding.

The wooden frame, which might be more or less decorated with carving and painting, would have been strung with a web of hemp or linen cord, which supported a woven rush mat, on which sat the mattresses, varying in number according to the wealth of the household. They might be stuffed with flocks (unspun wool) or feathers. A bolster and several pillows would have been placed at the head end to keep the sleepers in a semi-sitting position, as was customary at the time. Such beds were always enclosed with curtains, often of woven wool, to provide warmth and privacy. Bedding included linen sheets and pillow cases ('pillow beres'), woollen blankets, and additional layers of quilts and 'bed rugs' (shaggy-piled woollen covers), plus a counterpane, which served as a show cover during the day.

Descriptive line

Oak tester bed with panelled headboard and tester and foot posts that are turned above square sections. The bed rails with holes for roping to support the mattress.


Oak; Softwood


Carving; Turning; Joinery




Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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