This Giant Bed is a Tourist Attraction From Shakespeare's Day

Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0
Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

From a 9032-pound rubber band ball to a 42-foot-tall rocking chair, we seem to have a special affinity for tourist attractions that are just really large versions of everyday things—and we've been fascinated by them for hundreds of years.

In 1590 or so, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, an inn in Ware, Hertfordshire, England, had a giant bed constructed to distinguish themselves from other inns in the area. Designed to attract travelers on their way from London to Cambridge or Walsingham, this behemoth bed features nearly 118 square feet of sleeping space. It was once claimed that 26 butchers and their wives slept in the bed overnight on a dare.

The bed wasn’t just big, it was also fairly grand, featuring intricate carvings of human figures, animals, leaves, and patterns. And as with any tourist attraction, visitors have felt compelled to leave their marks over the years. Initials and dates are carved all over the wooden posts and headboard, while others have left blobs of wax imprinted with the seals from their signet rings. "The Great Bed of Ware," as it became known, even had famous fans: Shakespeare referenced it in Twelfth Night (Sir Toby Belch mentions a sheet of paper "big enough for the Bed of Ware") and fellow Renaissance playwright Ben Jonson gave it a nod in Epicœne.

The bed remained in Ware for hundreds of years, bouncing around to five inns—the White Hart, the George, the Crown, the Bull, and the Saracen’s Head. But by 1931, it had gained enough clout to become an exhibit in the Victoria & Albert Museum; curators ponied up £4000 to purchase the piece when it looked like it was going to be sold at auction to an American collector. The Great Bed of Ware has been one of the most popular exhibits at the museum ever since, and has only been off display once, during a brief exhibition in its hometown in 2012-2013.

To this day, it seems tourists are unable to resist the allure of the 16th century attraction: In 2015, Elizabeth Hurley perched on the edge of the bed for a photo op. Alarms sounded, security guards came running, and Hurley was escorted out of the building.