Elizabethan Joined Oak Bedstead:
We take a closer look at this remarkable piece of furniture.
Made in Cumbria in 1570, this bedstead is almost certainly made of Baltic-grown oak (Quercus robur), the tight grain of which allows for crisp and finely detailed carving. The headboard is made of three deep inset panels, each framed by dentil and egg-and-dart mouldings. The panels are spaced by fluted Corinthian columns and flanked by scroll and leaf carved ears. The central panel has a triangular pediment and finials and a cartouche carved with the date 1570. This is flanked by putto and scrolling-foliage carved spandrels, and a pair of Corinthian column end-uprights that support the cornice. The bedstock is made of heavy rails which are 1450mm wide. The headboard is 1895mm at its widest point.
The bedstead was probably commissioned by Walter Strickland (1516–69) or his wife Alice (1520–85); Walter died a year before the bed was made, but he may have ordered it before his death. The Stricklands owned Sizergh Castle in Helsington, Cumbria, which was the first location for the bedstead. The Castle was extensively remodelled during the 1560s and 70s and the bed was likely commissioned for one of two new
wings that were added at that time.
The bed was later recorded as being in Underley Hall in Cumbria, which was a Tudor-style mansion built in the 19th century for Alexander Nowell (1761–1842). The bedstead was sold at a Christie’s auction in 1996 and has since been in a private collection.
Most English bedsteads of this period have a fully panelled headboard and panelled tester. However, this example has neither of those. Instead the headboard follows an architectural scheme, with the use of a triangular pediment and partly open back. This design was likely to have been influenced by contemporary European prints, such as Differente Pourtraicts de Menuiserie by Hans Vredeman de Vries. This was published c.1580, so was not likely to be a direct influence but suggests that triangular-shaped headboards were being made in Europe at the time.
Unusually for an English bed design of this period, the bed appears to have been conceived without a timber panelled tester, with the likelihood that a tester-cloth, supported on an iron frame, took its place. It may have been similar to a design by Johann Jakob Ebelmann, in Architectura, published 1598/99. Apart from the basic form of the bed, the finely carved detail was also inspired by European printed designs, for example the work of Jacques Androuet du Cerceau.
Similar works at Sizergh Castle
There are three beds still at Sizergh Castle that have similar design features, including a walnut, ash and elm tester bed made ca. 1560; an inlaid bed made for the Castle’s Inlaid Chamber made ca. 1580; and a third bed with a similar headboard made ca. 1570.
Additional architectural fittings at Sizergh have similar carved elements, such as the screen in the entrance hall, which has similar columns to those on the bed’s headboard. The Castle also has four overmantels that have related designs.
Who made the bedstead?
Tradition has it that the furniture at Sizergh was made by Flemish craftsmen, although there is a possibility that there was in fact a ‘workshop’ on site at the Castle staffed by English craftsmen. Anthony Wells-Cole believes some of the other works at Sizergh were made at a workshop in Newcastle, so that is another potential source.
Sizergh Castle now belongs to the National Trust. For more information about the Castle and for details about visiting, see: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sizergh