Sleep Tight: A Quick Look At Mattresses Throughout History | Bedtime Reading | Sleeping Duck UK
£50 off our mattress. Use promo code: DEC50

Sleep Tight: A Quick Look At Mattresses Throughout History

We've put a lot of thought (and a whole heap of research and testing) to design the perfect mattress.

And some of our thinking started out by looking at what mattresses had come before us and why they worked (or didn't work so well).

But we wanted to go further back. Much further back, to discover what people slept on in the past.

For aeons, people have sought out a soft place to rest their body while they slept.

The use of a bed dates back at least from 4,000-10,000 years ago, when our Neolithic ancestors made themselves a primitive style of mattress by filling shallow stone ‘boxes' with grasses and covering them in animal pelt.

In ancient Egypt around 3000BC, furniture wasn't just made to be functional. Among the wealthy, at least, it was also a status symbol – with motifs and carvings featuring on even the most basic of furniture.

Ancient Egyptians slept on a bed that slanted at an incline from head to toe. The bed featured a foot board to stop the sleeper sliding off in the middle of the end (most convenient!). The feet of the beds were often carved to resemble animal legs, from hefty bulls hooves to delicate feline paws. As for the mattress, this was usually made of wooden slats or plaited reed, topped with wool cushions or a soft material, and naturally, Egyptian linen (well where did you think it came from?).

Egyptian bed
The Egyptian bed slanted from head to toe and featured a foot board to stop you slipping out as you slept

Those Romans might have been known for their raucous partying, but that didn't mean they enjoyed a lie in. Most Romans were up at dawn and you were seen as lazy or a drunk if you slept into the morning.

Romans slept on bags of cloth filled with straw or wool, while the wealthy would have slept on feather filled mattresses. These would have lain atop a wood base with woven strings or rope to hold the mattress in place.

 

Ancient Roman Bed - Engraving
The Romans slept on string or fabric woven between wood bases

 

During the 14th and 15th century, the best beds and mattresses became family heirlooms, bequeathed to beneficiaries via a Will (how'd you like that over your Grandma's china?). The mattresses were made of soft fabrics stuffed with feather down, and topped with ornate fabrics and coverings. The best beds would have a canvas mattress or two filled with wool or straw underneath the featherbed (ala the princess and the pea).

By the 16th century, a bed was no longer just a place to lie at night. Huge four poster beds with canopies and curtains became rooms-within-rooms where elegant ladies would receive their friends and visitors. These cosy beds were still made up by a feather filled bed, often atop a straw mattress for comfort.

16th Century Bed - Mattress Through History
16th Century Beds were more like rooms-within-rooms

In 1865 the first bedding using springs was patented and these began to grow in popularity – not least because it helped to cut down on the number of creatures taking up residence in the bed (um, gross).

Cotton mattresses became more popular, but other materials were also used. In Australia, mattresses stuffed with fibre from the South East Asian kapok tree were common. In 1883, a good kapok mattress could be had for 3 pounds (about $375 in today's value).

The technological advances of the early 20th century meant the mattress went through a lot of changes.

Pocket springs were first patented by James Marshall in 1900. He'd designed a concept where individual springs would be encased in fabric and provide a base for a soft top – essentially establishing a mattress standard that still continues.

Meanwhile, memory foam – so common in modern mattresses – was actually a by-product of the space race. NASA developed a cushioning foam that would provide astronauts with comfort while they were seated, but avoid the impact of G-Forces as they rocketed into space.

Mattresses have come a long way from the leave-and-fur-piles of our ancestors. But what hasn't changed is our determination to find the most comfortable and supportive place to rest our body. At Sleeping Duck we're writing a new history in mattress design. Give our mattress a try and come be a part of our future.