Britain’s Oldest Bed Comes Home to Ordsall Hall

This morning, Mason Williams helped Salford’s Ordsall Hall lift the covers off Britain’s Oldest Bed.

The stunning oak four poster, which dates back to the Elizabethan period, is the Hall’s only surviving piece of original furniture. It was made as the wedding bed for Sir John Radclyffe and Lady Anne Asshawe in the 1570’s and has been ‘lost’ for nearly four centuries.

It recently turned up at top London auction house Bonhams and has come home to Ordsall Hall where it will be on display in it’s original setting in the Star Bed Chamber for five years.

About the Radclyffe Family

John Radclyffe was born in Manchester in 1536, the second son of William Radclyffe and Margaret Trafford. He was a Knight of the Shire and famed for the strength of his Catholic faith, even in the Protestant age of Elizabeth 1.

Mistress Anne Asshawe was born near Chorley, in the same year as Edward V1 was crowned (1548). She was a woman of immense wealth as the sole heir to her father Thomas’ fortune. She was a Lady of the Court of Elizabeth 1 and married Sir John aged 25.

They had six children and lived and slept happily together for seventeen years before John’s death in 1590.

The Radclyffes of Ordsall Hall were one of the most influential families in England. They served a number of Plantagenet and Tudor kings and queens in civil and foreign wars. Many were knights and later Justices of the Peace and local MPs.

A direct ancestor of Sir John in the 1300s is credited by some as inviting Flemish weavers over to Salford and thus starting the textile industry, which was to make the North of England wealthy and economically active.

ordsallDaughter of Sir John and Lady Anne, Margaret Radclyffe, was a favourite lady-in-waiting of Elizabeth 1 and had her epitaph written by the famous writer Ben Johnson. She is now the resident ghost at the Hall – the famous White Lady.

Like all noble families at the time, the Radclyffes recognised that they could not exist in isolation and married into other noble dynasties as a way of securing their futures and their fortunes.

These stories of intermarriage and dynastic security are played out in the bold carvings depicted on the bed. Carvings that relate directly to the Radclyffe coat of arms and intriguingly also carry the Royal Arms used by Henry V111, Edward V1 and Mary 1.

Em-‘Bedded’ in Mystery

The bed disappeared somewhere around 1650 when the Hall passed from family ownership. It turned up in the 1930’s at the house of a Whalley Range recluse. All of his possessions, including the bed, were sold off to cover death duties and purchased by a Mrs. Robinson of Monyash, Derbyshire.

The bed lay in pieces in farm outbuildings until it was put back together and bought in 1968 by Dr Chris Douglas who was a collector of medieval and Tudor furniture.

The bed went under the hammer this year.

Ordsall Hall raised funds to bid for the bed and to ‘bring it home’. They managed to raise four times the suggested guide price. However at bid they came up against a wealthy businessman who fell in love with it and wanted to acquire it for his young daughter as the ‘perfect Princess bed’. Bidding against Mr. Sehnaoui, the Hall quickly exhausted their funds. It sold for a near national record paid for an antique bed at £65,000.

Determined to make sure that the bed was not lost again from Salford, Ordsall curator Caroline Storr had one last try and made an emotional plea to the new owners. Relating the history of the bed and the story of the Radclyffe family worked and the new owners agreed to let the bed come back to its original home.

Speaking of the homecoming, Chair of the Friends Don Rainger said: “The rare nature of the bed, coupled with the philanthropic aspect of the return is indeed cause for great civic pride.”

For further information, details of the arms appearing on the bed and interviews please contact:

Christine at Mason Williams Communications on 0845 0941 007

Working at Mason Williams: Join an outstanding team doing outstanding things…

Join Us