If you were born in the medieval era and were of reasonable wealth (a farmer for instance) the most expensive piece of furniture you owned would have been your bed.
Beds were usually constructed from wood and had a mattress stuffed with straw, animal hair, or feathers. Curtains would have been hung around the bed to offer privacy and protection from the cold – it was usual for other family members and servants to sleep in the same room. Servants would sleep on a straw mattress (palliasse) that would be stored under the master’s bed during the day. This type of bed is still known as a ‘truckle’.
Until well into the 20th Century, many poor people slept on straw mattresses.
Queen Victoria was reputed to sleep on four mattresses (straw, 2 animal hair, down topping) – perhaps the story of ‘The Princess and the Pea’ is not far from the truth.
The first step towards the modern bed was the development of sprung interiors and bases. Before this, feather or hair mattresses were set on fully sprung box bases or wire mesh bedsteads. Today, with the exception of waterbeds, some high quality latex mattresses and some cheap foam mattresses, it is unusual to find a mattress without interior springing.
The main types of modern spring units are as follows: open coil, knitted and pocket spring.
Open Coil (often called a ‘Bonell’ unit) – individual springs are joined together using wire. There are between 288 and 325 springs in a 5’0 mattress.
Knitted – a spring system created from continuous lengths of interwoven wire.
Pocket springs – these are the finest of spring systems. Each spring is housed within individual fabric pockets. They move independently of each other, eliminating ‘roll-together’ and offering correct spinal support.
Spring counts vary between 800 and 3000 and the best spring units are assembled in two tiers, giving greater support.
Correct spinal support is vital, however, without comfort sleep offers little benefit.
Mattresses are upholstered to offer comfort to the sleeper – soft fillings mould to body shape and allow muscles to relax, helping to prevent restricted blood flow caused by pressure points.
Most high quality mattresses are upholstered with loose fibres (hair, lambswool, cotton, silk, etc). These mattresses have tufts (cords that pass though the mattress) to keep all the fibre in place, preventing migration to the edges. An indication of the quality of the mattress is if it is ‘hand side stitched’. This is where the border is sewn to the internal spring unit by hand, helping to strengthen it. Millbrook hand side stitches in time honoured tradition, but has also developed a method of machine side stitching that is more economical for lower priced mattresses.
Those people who suffer from allergies or asthma should look out for hypo-allergenic or anti-bacterial/microbial fillings, such as latex.
There are several types of bases, all with different benefits and features.
Solid top/storage base has been popular with those who believe that a hard bed is beneficial to support a bad back. This is in fact a myth and so-called ‘orthopaedic’ beds should only be used for short-term complaints, such as a slipped disc.
A bed that supports but also offers soft comfort is essential to well-being and a good sleep.
Sprung bases offer greater levels of comfort and prolong the life of the mattress.
The average life of a bed is 10 years. However it is recommended that consumers change their bed every 8-10 years. Even with the most expensive bed, the interior will start to deteriorate becoming an unhygienic sleeping environment after years of perspiring and moving throughout the night.