Are you a ‘Sheddie’?

Now that we no longer have a private closet to which we can decamp to find peace and seclusion from other family members, it seems like the humble shed has jumped in to fit the bill. Worth more than £5 billion to the British economy, over 20 million ‘sheddies’ admit to spending half a year of their lives in their garden haven. Obviously, they’re not put off by the Slavic superstition that sheds are to be feared because an evil witch called Baba Yaga lives inside, and gets her kicks flying around kidnapping children.

To begin with, sheds were clearly gendered – and, according to shedsdirect.net, they still are to a certain extent a dad-den. Around 77% of men claim access to a man-cave; put another way, that’s three-quarters of the British male population. When surveying a prospective home, as many as 62% of male buyers are put off if there’s no shed in the garden.

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Vicars and Tarts

If William Chiffinch – Keeper of His Majesty’s Backstairs – was alive today, he’d have probably sold his story for a king’s ransom. As Charles II’s spymaster and general goafer, Will was privy to a host of salacious secrets which, if they’d been leaked, could have destroyed the monarchy.

In 1660, Charles returned from European exile. His father Charles I had been executed and replaced with Oliver Cromwell’s Puritanical regime. The people were immensely relieved to find the Merrie Monarch on the throne in place of the dour Lord Protectorate, who hated parties and anything closely resembling fun. Everyone sought access to the ebullient Charles who found it difficult to get a moment’s peace. The royal bedchamber was a crowded venue, forcing Charles to decamp to his private closet, guarded and protected by his faithful factotum Will Chiffinch.

Nobody could gain private access to Charles (or his closet) without Chiffinch’s consent.

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Girl Power (Eighteenth-century-style): Strong Tea, Scandal…and Your Own Private Space

Millie’s no milksop. Her wedding’s just round the corner and she’s drawn up a pre-nup with the following demand: Mike – her husband-to-be – can’t enter her study unless he knocks first, and if she wants to, she can shut him out. Not that unreasonable, you might think, in this day and age. After all, if Mike wants to spend time alone in his man-cave (AKA his shed), no one would bat an eyelid. Except that Millie (her real name’s Millimant) is not alive in 2019; she’s a character in a play written in 1700 when women were still their husband’s property, and demanding your own closet, in some men’s eyes, was tantamount to treason.*

But things were beginning to change for middle-class women entering the 1700s. Not only did they feel entitled to their own ‘snugitude’, they could become quite indignant if it was not forthcoming upon marriage.

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Bundling – Love in a Cold Climate

Modern-day dating is fraught with angst for the average teenager, but none of it compares with the traumas of being a loved-up youngster in seventeenth-century Scotland. You’ve found the guy you want to marry but to prove to your parents he’s the one, you and your mate have to submit to a humiliating ordeal known as ‘bundling’.

This is roughy how it went. You invite your boyfriend home to meet your parents. Next thing you know, your mother’s tying you up from feet to waist (and even to the neck) and placing you in a sack. Just to be on the safe side, she gets you to put your legs inside a large stocking tied securely above the knees. You and your bewildered boyfriend get into your family’s best bed – always in the main reception room – where you spend the night under your parents’ watchful eyes.

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Sleeping with Technology

The marriage between technology and beds has a long pedigree. Necessity is said to be the mother of invention and the necessity to make beds help us sleep better, protect our backs and save space have incentivised scientists and engineers to push the boundaries. So has the need to come up with beds to improve our sex lives. In the 1780s, Scottish quack James Graham, the world’s first sex therapist, lured London’s glitterati to his fancy clinic in Pall Mall. Here, he assured the likes of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Devonshire that sleeping in his electrically-charged Celestial Bed – at the modest fee of £50 (about £3,000 in today’s money) – would cure impotency and infertility. 12-feet long, 9-feet wide and fitted with 15 cwt of magnets, when a couple were about to climax, the bed tilted on its axis, allegedly helping the woman to conceive.

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Bedding The Bride

Whatever you think about getting spliced – and April’s a popular month for it – thank your lucky stars you’re not living in the past with the prospect of a ’bedding-the-bride’ party on the horizon. Originating in the Middle Ages, and providing an opportunity for guests to behave like peeping-Toms, nobody then would have regarded these events as voyeuristic: little was considered private and out of bounds.

Imagine you’re the helpless bride. After the marriage service, the priest leads you and the groom, your families and friends, to the bridal suite. While you get undressed by your female friends and led to the marital bed, your husband’s attendants disrobe him, then take him to join you. A priest stands by, swinging a censor and sprinkling holy water over the bed. While he blesses you both and wishes you many healthy children, the guests look on, impatient to get the party started.

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