The topic for today's Sunday Scribblings: Bed
I think of feather beds and divan beds, bunk beds and water beds, beds of flowers and a ginger cat asleep in a bed of leaves, in a small patch of winter sun. I think of the bed in which my baby brother was born, and my mother propped up in bed receiving our visits with bunches of irises. But most of all I think of the beds that are mentioned in the wills of my ancestors.
When William Shakespeare died in 1616 he left his wife his "second-best bed". Not quite sixty years later, my eight times great grandmother Elizabeth Robertson died in Scotland, then a much poorer country than Shakespeare's England. She had outlived her husband Maurice Miller and their sons. Her grandsons, who had already inherited their father's property, were barely men. Among Elizabeth's few possessions were "ane oak standing bed". Research revealed this to be a four-poster bed. Possession of even one bed was a sign of relative prosperity in Scotland, where most beds were cupboards built into the walls of the house. The thought of having a "second-best bed" must have been undreamed of wealth for all but a few nobles.
When her greatgreatgreatgrandson, Thomas Miller, died in 1808, the inventory of his goods mentioned three beds: a chaff bed with two pairs of blankets, an old bed cover and two feather pillows: a fixed bed (probably one built into the wall as I have mentioned) and "an old feather bed". Three beds - but he had seven children, and probably farm servants - where did they all sleep? I imagine various possibilites - Thomas and his wife in the chaff bed, the girls in one and the boys in the other of the remaining two beds. Or perhaps some of the children slept in the hay barn with the farm servants. Much later in the century, a huge proportion of the Scottish people still lived in one or two room cottages. Thomas and his wife were well-off in their four roomed house, but by modern standards they were horribly overcrowded. How much lucker we are, or are we? With a bed each, even a bedroom each, would they think us lonely?
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