A Tester Jester!

In conversation the other day one of the group asked why do we say 'sleep tight' as a form of best wishes at the end of the day. In Elizabethan times and before, beds were made with several layers of mattresses filled with an amazing variety of materials and placed on a rope stretched and interwoven across the open frame rather like a safety net.  In time the rope sagged, and if you required a firmer support you tightened the rope, hence the expression. So it is nothing to do with going to bed after a session in the ale bar. There is a marvellous example of such a bed in The Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In the Elizabethan section of the British Galleries the Great Bed of Ware is shown in full splendour with an explanatory display to one side clearly showing the construction and method of ‘making the bed’.  From Tudor times and earlier a bed was considered the most important piece of furniture in the house; its opulence reflecting for all to see and recognise the social standing of the owner.  The most common term for these status symbols has become ‘four poster’, alluding to the four pillars that support the ceiling or canopy that covered the entire mattress area, but as the proper term for the canopy was ‘tester’ the correct description is a ‘full-tester’ bed.  During the 17th century a modification using a shortened canopy that covered only the head part became fashionable. Instead of the two posts at the foot end, the half canopy was suspended from the roof of the room. This model was known as a ‘half-tester’ and remained a popular option until the end of the Victorian period.  Some years ago I attended a country auction with an antique dealer friend, a real wag of the old school. When the auctioneer announced  “…and now ladies and gentlemen Lot 315…a truly magnificent half-tester bed” there followed one of those total silences. It was broken by my pal who shouted out  “How do you half test a bed Sir?” Always safer to stay with a four poster, like this one.