A Brief History of the Rope Bed – or – “Sleep Tight”
In the Medieval Period (476-1453), bedding beyond a pile of hay on the floor and being wrapped in a cloak or blanket, was experienced among the nobility/wealthy. During that period, richly embroidered hangings made from velvets and taffetas hung from the ceilings and the beds were raised up upon platforms or legs. Four poster beds were developed during the Tudor Period (1485-1603). In America, records exist that indicate that both tall and short four-post beds were in use with very plain bedding. Mattresses were stuffed with what was either affordable or available, depending on the financial situation of the household. Typical mattress stuffing included feathers, wool, down, rags, straw and even moss. The mattress would be stuffed and fluffed and laid over a framework of tightly knotted ropes, hence the term rope bed.
It would take more than one person to put the bed together as various parts had to be held in place while someone strung and tightened the rope with a wooden straining wrench. The rope bed required tightening periodically as it was prone to loosening and sagging. This stretching and loosening caused the entire frame to become wobbly until the rope was retightened. Thus the phrase “Sleep tight.”
The rope bed in the photograph was made by Mr. Tim Burnett from the wood of a 100+ year old barn. Originally exhibited in the upper level of Ellwood Manor and then donated by the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield to the museum.