Great Bed of Ware”s 229,200 move from V&A Museum to its original resting place


A king-size move for the Victoria & Albert Museum's Great Bed of Ware

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UPDATED:

13:46 GMT, 12 April 2012

The Great Bed of Ware is arguably the most well-known and well-loved object in London's Victoria & Albert Museum.

However, it has just been moved – all four pillars and posts of it – to a tiny Museum in its former home town of Ware.

But the move was no mean feat and the dismantling process alone took a dedicated V&A team of six almost a week. And then getting it to Ware and into Ware Museum took an additional nine days (see bottom of article for an amazing time lapse video of the endeavour).

Notorious: During the 18th century it was rumoured 26 butchers and their wives slept for an entire night in the bed for a wager

Notorious: During the 18th century it was rumoured 26 butchers and their wives slept for an entire night in the bed for a wager

The team literally had to raise the roof of a specially constructed extension to the little museum and hoist the bed frame inside with a crane.

The move, a considerable time in the planning, certainly didn't come cheap so the Heritage Lottery Fund stepped in and awarded the project some 229,200 to help with associated costs.

The bed dates from around 1590, making
it almost 420 years old, measures over three metres wide by two and a
half high, weighs some 641kg and is made up of 40 components.

The Bed of Ware is dismantled by the V&M team

The Bed of Ware is dismantled by the V&M team

A super kingsize mattress gets rolled up at the V&A

A super kingsize mattress gets rolled up at the V&A

Says V&A director, Martin Roth, 'The Great Bed of Ware is one of the V&A's most loved exhibits and has never before been off display since it was acquired in 1931. To remove the bed from the British Galleries, transport and reinstall it in another location is unprecedented, requiring much skill and dedication.'

Every bed has a story but the Great
Bed of Ware has rather more than most. Originally housed at an inn in
Ware, it is thought to have been created as a tourist attraction for
travellers on the pilgrim route from London to Walsingham or to
Cambridge University. It was publicised as being able to sleep 12
travellers…

There is
also a (possibly apocryphal) tale from a 1765 edition of The London
Chronicle that 26 butchers and their wives slept for an entire night in
the bed for a wager.

The bed is moved through the V&A's Raphel Court

The bed is moved through the V&A's Raphel Court

Manuscript from Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night in which the bed is cited

Manuscript from Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night in which the bed is cited

The bed is hoisted into Ware Museum by crane

The bed is hoisted into Ware Museum by crane

The bed has attracted the attention of
visitors for generations – not to mention over 20 instances of graffiti –
only discovered when the bed was dismantled by the V&A team. They
found that people had carved their initials in the wood such as 'DL' and
'WC' next to a date of 1729. Others even left wax seals by dropping
molten wax onto the wood and imprinting their signet rings into it.

The bed passed through the hands of numerous inns in Ware including The White Hart, The George, The Crown, The Bull and The Saracen's Head. It was on show at Rye House until 1931 when it was purchased by the V&A for 4,000.

However, it also has a rather more literary history and was even referenced by Shakespeare's Toby Belch in Twelfth Night who described a large piece of paper as 'big enough for the Bed of Ware'.

The Great Bed of Ware is one of the most well-known objects in London's Victoria & Albert Museum

The Great Bed of Ware is one of the most well-known objects in London's Victoria & Albert Museum

A wax seal emblazoned on the bed

Graffiti carved into the wood of the bed

A wax seal emblazoned on the bed (left) and graffiti carved into the wooden pillars which dates back to the 18th century (right)

Ben Jonson too referred to it in his
Silent Woman of 1609 and it also made for a cameo reference in Lord
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Medieval drawing of the Great Bed of Ware

The bed is one of the few objects in the V&A's collection to be known by nameIt was acquired by the Museum in 1931
It is around 420 years old and thought to have been created c.1590 by German craftsmenIt was originally conceived as a tourist attraction for pilgrims travelling through Ware and publicised as having the capacity to sleep 12 peopleIt is made up of 40 separate componentsIt measures over three metres wide by two and a half metres high, weighs some 641kg and is made up of 40 componentsThe huge bedposts were made by gluing several pieces of wood together and then turning and carving them
According to an 18th century edition of the London Chronicle 52 people once slept into for a betThe bed even bears ancient graffiti as generations of visitors have carved their initials into the wood
It has been cited by authors and playwrights throughout the ages from Shakespeare in his Twelfth Night play to Ben Jonson in his Silent Woman to Bryon in Don Juan and even former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion who mentioned it in a poem celebrating the opening of the V&A's British Galleries in 2001
It has not been off display at the V&A since its arrival there in 1931It took a team of six just under a week to dismantle it from the V&A Museum and then a further nine days to transport it to Ware and hoist it through the roof of Ware Museum via a craneThis is the first time that the bed has ever been loaned to another institutionThe move has been a considerable time in the planning and the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the project some 229,200 to enable it to go ahead

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