An impressive Elizabeth I oak and inlaid tester bed, circa 1580, bearing the coat of arms of the Ratcliffes of Ordsall Hall, Lancashire, incorporating some associated and some later elements
Lot 197
An impressive Elizabeth I oak and inlaid tester bed, circa 1580, bearing the coat of arms of the Ratcliffes of Ordsall Hall, Lancashire, incorporating some associated and some later elements
Sold for £62,500 (US$ 103,326) inc. premium
Lot Details
An impressive Elizabeth I oak and inlaid tester bed, circa 1580, bearing the coat of arms of the Ratcliffes of Ordsall Hall, Lancashire, incorporating some associated and some later elements
The nine-panelled tester centred by a panel carved with the Royal Arms, with a golden lion supporter, and a red dragon supporter, within a dentil and punch-decorated frame, the remaining panels with highly stylized foliate marquetry inlay and all within chequer-inlaid rails, the side friezes carved with various mythical beasts, the end-frieze with pairs of gorged bulls tethered to a coronet, the headboard having a pair of polychrome-decorated armorial panels, that on the right the quarterly arms of RADCLIFFE, LEGH, ARDERN and SANDBACH, that on the left the quarterly arms of RADCLIFFE and three others, spaced by figural terms and headed by a pair of conforming foliate-inlaid panels, spaced by leaf-carved corbels, with four plain panels below, the footboard with three carved panels, the central panel again carved with the RATCLIFFE arms within a gadroon-carved arch, the outer panels with a geometric motif and a rampant dragon, the footboard cresting carved and pierced with the arms of RATCLIFFE quartering FITZWALTER environed within the Garter, supported by two bulls gorged and ensigned by an earl's coronet, each free-standing end-post of bold cup-and-cover form with gadrooned and foliate carving, headed by an Ionic capital and emanating from a four column arched support enclosing a standing figure at prayer, raised on a floral marquetry inlaid plinth, 180cm wide x 237cm deep x 244cm high, (70 1/2in wide x 93in deep x 96in high), the mattress 4ft 6in x 6ft 6in, standing on an integral custom built modern frame, some restorations, the footboard cresting probably once the cresting for the tester


  • Provenance: Probably made for Sir John Ratcliffe (c. 1536 - 1590) of Ordsall Hall, Ordsall, Salford, Greater Manchester, on his marriage to Anne Ashawe (d. 1630).

    Recent provenance: Purchased from Mrs Robinson, Monyash, Derbyshire, in 1968, who had purchased the bed as part of the house contents of a recluse in Whalley Range, South Manchester, some thirty years previously. Dr Douglas was advised to view the bed on the recommendation of Maurice Goldstone, Bakewell, and they carefully pieced the bed together 'in the gloom of Mrs Robinson's barn' at Monyash. Upon realising the importance and rarity of the bed, at the relatively young age of twenty-six, Dr Douglas was able to purchase it with money recently left to him by his grandfather, a Cumbrian coal miner.

    The confident and controlled marquetry-inlay found on the outer panels of the tester bed and the upper-panels of the headboard are reminiscent of the inlaid decoration which adorns the panelling of the Inlaid Chamber at Sizergh Castle, Cumbria. This forthright, highly decorative scheme, often referred to 'as a jewel of Elizabethan workmanship' was installed at Sizergh Castle between 1573 and 1582, by Sir Thomas Boynton, who married the widow of Sir Walter Strickland, (1516 - 1569). A walnut tester bed, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, (Museum No. 86-1896), is currently displayed in the Inlaid Chamber, and was possibly originally made for this fine second floor principal bedroom. The bed is illustrated Percy Macquoid, A History of English Furniture: The Age of Oak, p. 76, Figure 66. The author rightly refers to 'the reticence of its ornament' and further comparisons regarding the treatment of the bed's pale poplar and dark bog oak-inlaid friezes and the panel inlay design found here can be made. Unlike in the Macquoid illustration the Sizergh bed is now displayed with a shield surmounted by the Strickland crest at the end of the tester. This crest is stylistically similar to the footboard crest found here and it is possible the crest currently positioned on top of the associated footboard was originally intended to be displayed above the tester.

    Although the end-posts of the bed have been altered it is possible that elements may be original. A freestanding box-base supporting a stage of four columns, often enclosing a carved figure and surmounted by a turned post with pronounced bulbous base and slender tapering column terminating in a classical order capital, can be considered stylistically correct for a bed dating from the second-half of the sixteenth century. The best known example of a bed with similar end-posts is The Great Bed of Ware, again in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Originally constructed around 1590, the bed was renowned for its large proportions and is referred to in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (1601) as comfortable enough for four persons. Further examples of late 16th century beds with similar end-posts are illustrated Macquoid, English Furniture, p. 78, Figure 68 and p. 83, Figure 72. A further example, also with inlay, is displayed at Astley Hall, Chorley, Lancashire, and illustrated H. Cescinsky and E. R. Gribble, Early English Furniture & Woodwork, Vol. 1. p. 364, Figure 397.

    Coats of Arms

    The Arms on this bed are as follows:

    Left-hand headboard panel, the quarterings belonging to the family Ratcliffe: 1. Ratcliffe or Ordsall [argent two bends engrailed and in chief a label of three]; 2. Leigh of Boothes [two bars, over all a bend]; 3. Arderne [three cross croslets fitchee, and a chief] and 4. Sandbach [a fesse inter three garbs]

    Right-hand headboard panel: the arms of 1. Ratcliffe [a bend engrailed]; 2. possibly Ashawe [argent, on a chevron between three martlets vert]; 3. English [three lion passant] and 4. Hulton [Or, an eagle displayed]; 4.

    Footboard cresting: the arms of Ratcliffe quartering Fitzwalter and ensigned by an earl's coronet.

    Central panel of footboard: the same arms as those to the left-hand panel of footboard.

    Tester panel: with their current colour scheme, these arms present as the Royal Arms used between 1509 and 1558 by Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I, whose supporters were a gold lion and a red dragon. Elizabeth I's supporters were both gold. It is possible, therefore, either that these arms are slightly earlier than the rest of the bed, or that they have been re-painted - as is so often the case - with incorrect colours.

    If the arms showing a chevron with three martlets to the right-hand headboard panel are those of Ashawe of Hill-on-the-Hall, it is highly likely that this bed was made to celebrate the marriage of Sir John Ratcliffe of Ordsall (c. 1536 - 1590) to Anne Ashawe, circa 1572. However, their coat of arms is usually described as including three 'crosses pattee fitchee' on the chevron. However, the Ashawe arms appears elsewhere quartered with those of English and Hulton, and it is therefore probable that Ashawe is represented here, albeit with less detail than was strictly accurate. These arms are said to appear on a monument to the Ratcliffe family in the cathedral at Manchester, where several generations of the family were buried. See History of the foundations in Manchester of Christ's College, Volume II, pp. 289 - 291 for a description of the arms.

    The Ratcliffes of Ordsall

    The Ratcliffes are recorded at Ordsall since about 1330, and by the 16th century had prospered, with a patronage network including the Earls of Sussex and Derby, and with extensive landholdings in Lancashire and neighbouring counties.

    Sir John Ratcliffe's father, William, inherited the Fitzwalter estates from his relation Henry Radcliffe, the second earl of Sussex. This association would perhaps explain the crest to the footboard of this bed, which quarters Ratcliffe with Fitzwalter beneath an earl's coronet.

    Sir John succeeded to the inheritance of Ordsall in 1568 on the death of his elder brother Alexander, two weeks before that of his father. Sir John was MP for Wigan, and was appointed Knight of the Shire for Lancashire in 1571. He was a follower of the 3rd Earl of Derby, and one of eight assistants to the chief mourners at the Earl's funeral in 1572.

    The exact date of his marriage to Anne Ashawe [Asshawe] daughter of Thomas Ashawe of Hall-on-the-Hill, Chorley, is unknown. Their first child seems to have been born in 1573, but the 1567 Visitation of Lancashire describes Anne as John's wife. It was perhaps to celebrate their marriage that the panels bearing the quarterly arms of Ratcliffe and Ashawe, which feature in the headboard of this bed, were commissioned.

    The Ratcliffes were staunch Catholics, but appear to have remained loyal to Elizabeth I, and provided men and arms for musters in the 1560s and 1570s. Sir John was, however, termed 'a dangerous temporiser' in the 1570s, and paid fines for recusancy.

    Sir John died in February 1590 and expressed the wish in his will that 'my bodie to bee buried in the chauncell in the church of Manchester beetwixte the quire doore and the stepps amongst myne auncestors' ['Lancashire and Cheshire Wills', Volume 51, p. 69] and wished that one of his sons might travel abroad. Ann, his wife, survived him by some forty years.

    The history of his eldest three children was tragic, and they were of some renown in Elizabethan England. Two of his sons - including the eldest - were killed abroad whilst serving the Queen, and Margaret, said to the twin of Alexander, is said to have died of grief. A famous beauty, she was one of Elizabeth I's favourite maid of honour. As such, she was influential, is said to have intervened on the Earl of Essex' behalf in a dispute he was having with Sir Walter Ralegh, and counted Anne Russell, the granddaughter of the Earl of Bedford, amongst her closest companion. When her brother died, a contemporary commentator reported that,

    '...there is newes besides of the tragycall death of Mistree Ratcliffe the Mayde of honor, who ever synce the death of Sir Alexander...hath pined in such strange manner, as volunterily she later hathe gone to starve herself, and by the two days together hathe receivved no sustinence, which meeting with extreame griefe hathe made an end of her Mayden modest days at Richmond uppon Saterday last, her Majestie being present, who commanded her body to be opened and found it all well and sound, saving certyne strings striped all over her harte...'

    By the Queen's command Margaret was buried in the Church of St. Margaret, Westminster, and the inscription on her monument was written by Ben Jonson.

    Ordsall Hall

    Ordsall Hall is said to be one of the finest examples of the distinctive timber-framed style which is such a feature of architecture in Cheshire and Lancashire. Leland, on his passage through Lancashire in 1516, remarked upon its beauty. The last Ratcliffe left Ordsall in the 17th century - it passed into the hands of the Egertons of Tatton Park - and it has only recently been restored. One room features the quarterly shield of Ratcliffe - the same that appears on this bed - in plaster above a fireplace. The coat of arms to the cresting to the footboard also appears at Ordsall Hall; the coat of Radcliffe quartered with Fitzwalter in a garter is said to have decorated a stained glass panel in one of the windows of the Hall [see A History of the County of Lancaster, Volume IV (1911), pp. 204 - 217.]
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  1. David Houlston
    Specialist - Oak Furniture
    Banbury Road
    Oxford, United Kingdom OX5 1JH
    Work 01865 853667
    FaxFax: +44 1865 372 722
  2. Megan Wheeler
    Specialist - Oak Furniture
    Banbury Road
    Oxford, United Kingdom OX5 1JH
    Work 01865 853668
    FaxFax: +44 1865 372 722