Bedknobs And Broomsticks
Friday, 05 December 2014

Bedknobs are back

Brass beds are irresistible, even if they don’t all fly, says Sam Taylor

Written by Sam Taylor
For anyone who grew up bewitched by the Rawlins children and their unique flying machine, it is impossible not to be seduced by an old brass bed. First patented in the 1840s, these Bedknobs And Broomsticks dream machines were the Industrial Revolution’s gift to a bug-ridden nation. The wooden and straw alternatives were invariably riddled with little creatures.

The new sturdy iron and brass inventions, however, allowed air to circulate through the posts and slats, thereby reducing the hiding places for pests. Bedtime suddenly became a lot more hygienic and by the 1880s nearly every house in the country would have at least one – a result of mass production and low material costs. If you lived in a house that was built between the 1840s and the 1930s (when they were cruelly thrown out in favour of the divan and headboard) it is more than likely that the previous inhabitants would have lived and died in one.

As with most things, they have come full circle and are now at the vanguard of the vintage-decor craze. Where once people would have paid to have them taken away – they featured heavily in Steptoe And Son – they are now highly sought after by collectors and retro romantics alike.

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Specialist companies restore them for those who don’t have the time or inclination, but it’s possible to find your own. For purists, and those who really do want to relive the Disney Dream, a bed that is all brass, or looks all brass, is as must.

The most common versions were made of iron tubing that had been wrapped in heavy brass sheet metal – clues are a seam up the post where the two metals have been crimped together. These designs tend to have cherubs on them and are classified as ‘four posters’ to hang a canopy off. Beds made solely of brass are rare, and expensive – the base metal is worth a fortune at scrap value.

My one – yes, I had to have it – was parked in the basement of the Antiques Warehouse on the High Street, begging to be installed in my bedroom. It is a standard early Victorian affair. The posts are painted black with small decorative flourishes and a brass bed knob which, despite repeatedly tapping three times and turning a quarter to the left, has so far failed to provide lift-off. But I live in hope.

Next week: Hard knocks


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