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.
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.
When the acrimonious divorce of super-celebrities Sandra Bullock and Jesse James hit the news in June 2010, interiors expert Ken Lauher put it down to the exposed beam directly above the marital bed at their luxury home in Sunset Beach *. The beam, Lauher argued, effectively divided the bed in two, foreshadowing the couple’s split. Whether you regard Feng Shui as law, myth or just whacky, there is no doubt that superstitions and folklore have played a major role in where we position our beds, what we keep in, on and around them, and how we sleep.
Many of these superstitions and old wives’ tales go back to our earliest ancestors. Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese belief system whose non-negotiables include siting a mirror opposite a bed – to avoid your spirit leaving your body – and making sure your feet don’t face the door when asleep.
Politics doesn’t make strange bedfellows, matrimony does,’ Groucho Marx.
Though – even ‘with kids screaming’ or on the eve of a grand slam final – Roger Federer makes it a rule to sleep in the marital bed*, in 2018 a YouGov poll found that as many as 15 per cent of Britons would – if they had the choice – opt to sleep in a different bed to their spouse.
The reasons for this included snoring, restlessness and a partner’s insistence on having a threesome with their phone or tablet. Sleep disturbance from your nearest (and not so dearest) has even been cited in divorce proceedings as a cause of one party’s ‘unreasonable behaviour.’ Though not halitosis, a divorce ground recognised by the Vikings.
Those who have opted for separate beds from their partners – such as Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray** – are probably blissfully unaware they’re emulating the ancient custom of kings and toffs who considered it uncivilised to share a bed.
Though it may only be a two-up, two-down semi, mortgaged to the hilt, you probably like to think of your home as your castle. Armed with a battery of locks, keys and alarms, you’re determined to defend your fortress from external attack and safeguard your family’s seclusion and secrecy.
Now considered a basic human right and a ubiquitous part of our lives, you and I take our personal privacy for granted, oblivious to the fact that for much of history it did not exist. Even the concept of personal privacy – as we understand it today – was virtually unknown.
It is this fascinating sphere which I’ll be unlocking within the confines of this blog. The edgy, covert, sometimes unsavoury, world that exists behind closed doors. Join me in probing this peephole into personal privacy through the ages. You will be shocked by the startling contrast between the freedoms most of us now enjoy inside our homes and their blatant absence in the past.