VocalEyes - Shakespeare's Birthplace
Also referred to as a bed key, this simple wooden tool is carved from wood, which is now a dark brown colour. The surface has a sheen to it, and in places the shade has worn to a pale golden brown.
It's about 30 centimetres long, and three centimetres square. About 3 centimetres from one end, a length of dowel passes through the shaft to create a double handle. Beneath this, the corners are smoothed off along its length, and the wood tapers towards the end where a 3 centimetre slot has been cut. Although this particular key is of unknown date, it has obviously been well used, as the handles shine with wear. The underside of the key, at the slot end, has been attacked by woodworm.
Beds of the period consisted of a simple rectangular wooden frame, the sides pierced at regular intervals by holes. A length of cord was then threaded through the holes in a grid pattern. The mattress would have lain on top of this grid. As the cord loosened, the bed would sag, so this tool would have been used - the slot fitting over the cord, and then twisted using the handle - to tighten it. This practice probably gave rise to the phrase "sleep tight".
As a child Shakespeare may have slept in a ‘truckle bed’ which pulled out from underneath his parents’ bed. There's an example of such a truckle bed at Shakespeare's birthplace.