This model box bed looks as if it was made to be a toy, but that was never the intention. It was especially commissioned in the 1890s for the University Museum in Bangor by Lady Reade of Carreglwyd, from the north west of Ynys Mon. Bangor University was founded in 1884 and was known then as University College of North Wales (U.C.N.W.). A university museum was started soon after and part of its ambitious collecting plan was to preserve rural domestic items that were perceived to be fast disappearing. The curator Dr Dobbie compiled a list of ‘wants’ and had an active group of collectors looking for these items, such as traditional clothes, tinder boxes, candle moulds, wooden bowls and furniture. The model box bed was one of Lady Reade’s successes, showing a style of enclosed bed that had been very common, but was being replaced in many houses and cottages with metal bedsteads. Not many old box beds survived as they were too big to be kept and although had been cosy and warm they also could be identified with very infectious pulmonary diseases like tuberculosis and flea and lice infestations.
A letter from Lady Reade in about 1890 to Dr Dobbie describes the model bed:
Dear Sir, I have pleasure to forward you the model of a ‘Gwely Wainscot’ I have had made for presentation to the U.C.College Museum at Bangor. The sheets, blankets, & counterpane I have had woven expressly by Mr Evan Jones in his hand, or cottage loom at Llywenan Factory, near Bodedern, Anglesey – as these looms are now very rare, and probably in twenty years time will be no more, I thought it would be additionally interesting. The ‘Gwely’ is papered inside as that is the correct thing. The curtains are made from remnants of some old bed furniture, and quite genuine. I enclose a list of things belonging to the model, which I hope will reach you safely…….. Gwely Wainscot – 1 Palisade, 1 Feather bed, 1 Bolster, 2 Pillows, 2 Sheets, 2 Pillow cases or slips, 2 Blankets, 1 Counterpane, 2 Curtains, 3 Vallances, 1 Iron and rings.’
The bed is currently on display in the exhibition ‘Sleep’ in Gallery 3 at Storiel until March 2024.