A bed, believed to be the oldest in Britain, dating to the 1570s, and lost for centuries, turned up at auction by Bonhams of London in 2014 following a mysterious journey over 400 years.
Could this be the oldest bed in Britain? Ordsall Hall, Salford. Photo: Nick Harrison
The Elizabeth I oak four-poster belonged to the Radclyffe family of Salford and graced the Star Bed Chamber at Ordsall Hall, Salford in the late 16th century. It is the only surviving piece of furniture from the Hall. Made as the wedding bed for Sir John Radclyffe and Lady Anne Asshawe it has had a colourful past and even more colourful recent history.
Detail of the oak four-poster. Photo: Nick Harrison
John 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 I.
The bed dates to the 1570s. Photo: Nick Harrison
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 17 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.
Daughter of Sir John and Lady Anne, Margaret Radclyffe, was a favourite lady-in-waiting of Elizabeth I and had her epitaph written by the famous writer Ben Johnson. She is now the said to haunt the Hall, and is known as 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.
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, 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.
When the bed went under the hammer, 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 wanted to acquire the bed 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. “When I saw the bed I fell in love with it instantly. It is the most beautiful bed I have ever seen,” said owner Antoun Sehnaoui. “Following the emotional appeal from the curator at Ordsall Hall I have agreed to loan the bed to the Hall for five years so that everyone can see it.” So get in quick and see it while you can.
For more information on Orsdall Hall please visit www.salfordcommunityleisure.co.uk/culture/ordsall-hall