Trundle bed or truckle bed?

trundle bed 18th century

Trundle bed from Massachussetts, late 1700s.

What do trundle beds mean to you? The last one I saw was in a hotel where a small child’s rollaway lived under the main bed in daytime. This is exactly how they were used in thousands of American homes in the 19th century and before. And their history goes back much further too. For some people, trundle beds say “pioneers” or “log cabin” . You come across them in stories evoking that way of life.

By the time the dishes were all wiped and set away, the trundle bed was aired. Then, standing one on each side, Laura and Mary straightened the covers, tucked them in well at the foot and the sides, plumped up the pillows and put them in place. Then Ma pushed the trundle bed into its place under the big bed.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods

They were certainly used in more prosperous homes too, like the 18th century Lexington MA house in the first picture. Their origins are actually in the grandest homes of all.  Royalty and noblemen used to have a servant sleeping at the foot of the bed. Their high bed draped in fine fabrics easily hid a small, simple rollaway during the day. These rolling or trundling beds probably first came into use in late medieval times.

trundle rope bed

19th century cabin in Georgia with trundle. Both beds strung with rope. Photo by Beneteau Sailor.

Truckle beds are just the same thing by another name. Both truckle and trundle originally meant rollers or castors or little wheely things. There are a few other names around: trumble beds in some parts of the US, hurly beds in Scotland, and sometimes simply rolling beds, or the modern rollaway.

American trundle beds

In the log cabin pictured right, both the big and small bed have cords to form a base for the mattress. Mattress covers were filled with corn husks, straw or any suitable plant material that was available, and spread over the rope “netting”. Surprisingly often, songs in the USA of the later 1800s and early 1900s mentioned trundle beds. They evoked a sentimental image of life back home, a cosy childhood with Ma and Pa. (See sheet music below.) But as life got more prosperous for many, with bigger houses, space-saving trundle beds had other meanings too, and some American children from small homes got called “trundle bed trash”.

European trundle beds

trundle bed 1930s

Oklahoma c1939 - trundle bed in a one room cabin occupied by tenant farmers.

In Europe, truckle beds or trundle beds were less likely to summon up visions of a warm, cosy family life. They were rooted in a master or mistress and servant tradition, where it was not at all unusual to have a valet or maid sleeping in a small bed near the big one, ready to be of service when required.

The medieval picture below comes from a French romance where the wife is in the servant’s truckle bed, unbeknownst to her husband, to find out about his goings-on in a story which is more risqué than The Little House on The Prairie. In 17th century London Samuel Pepys’ maidservant slept in the room with both him and his wife, on occasion.

So all to bed. My wife and I in the high bed in our chamber, and Willet in the trundle bed, which she desired to lie in, by us.
Pepys’ Diary, 1667

trundle bed 15th century

Trundle bed for a nobleman's valet. Black and white sketch of illustration in 15th century French manuscript: Roman du Comte d'Artois.

victorian trundle bed

"Nestled in the trundle bed" sheet music with sentimental 19th century picture. USA, 1880s

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here: Rope bed, or see more picture info here


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Trundle Beds - Bambino Home July 12, 2016 at 7:01 am

Trundle beds are a great space-saving idea and allow for an extra separate bed to be available when required. If not in use, the second bed can be used as a storage capacity by removing the mattress. Given kid’s rooms are smaller in size, adjusting a cupboard in the room might be difficult. Trundle beds come in handy in such cases.

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Browers January 24, 2017 at 12:12 am

I am pretty sure the British royal family still have trundle beds in use, Charles and Diana has 2 servants sleeping in their bedroom incase emergency assistance was needed during the night, such as fetching a glass of water or plumping up pillows

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