COTS, CRIBS & CRADLES
Over the centuries parents wanting to give their babies the best start in life have cosseted them with luxurious little beds, many
of which can still be used today.
It has long been known that gentle rocking will lull an infant to sleep. In Roman Britain, babies' hammocks were slung between the branches of trees, and even before then simple rocking cradles were made by hollowing out sections of tree trunks. By the Middle Ages, though, cradles had become quite sophisticated and were often decorated with elaborate carving and panelling.
At the end of the 18th century, there were two main types of rocking cradle: those suspended on wooden supports and which swung gently to and fro; and cribs that were
floor standing and which stood on curved rockers.
Floor-standing cradles or cribs were sometimes made entirely of wood with heavy, solid sides and an overhanging rectangular hood, and
decorated in the dark, strongly carved Jacobean style. Others were made up from
lightweight panels of cane work with an arched hood and set between mahogany or walnut supports. Smaller wicker cribs were of a more open
design, with only a suggestion of a hood, and had padded, quilted sides.
TYPES OF COT
Cots were generally larger than cradles and were intended for older infants. Most stood on legs rather than being suspended or having
rockers, and had high, straight sides. Cots could be made of wood with railed sides, have panel; of
cane work, or be of open wicker.
Metal cradles and cots became fashionable at the end of the 19th century. High-sided cots in cast iron often stood on castors. Portable, collapsible cots, called bassinettes, were made with white-painted or japanned frames of iron or brass. These were designed to be trimmed to personal taste and frilled flounces of muslin or lace, with wide satin bows, could be bought to cover the sides. A tall metal hook was fixed to the back of the cot, and 'curtains' of airy
material were draped over this to fall as a delicate frame either side of the head of the cot.
Until roughly 1750, cradles and cots of the swing type seem to have been rare in Britain but quite common on the Continent. Their increase in popularity coincided with the widespread use of mahogany. This hard, dense wood was perfect for fine carving and cabinet work. Most of these swing designs had a rectangular framework containing large panels of woven split cane and an arched hood made in the same way. By 1800, makers had begun to use rows of turned spindles instead of split cane and the hood was often left off.
Through the Regency years (1812 to 1830) designers came up with a lot of new ideas. Most people still wanted simple cradles with cane panels, either in mahogany or rosewood, but open-sided cradles with turned spindles became more popular too. For the rich, some extraordinarily elaborate cots were made, particularly for royal babies. Many were designed in full classical style incorporating Greek and Roman motifs and a great deal of gilding.
Elaborate drapery was also an important feature. Makers' names to look out for include George Smith and Catherine Naish.
Many surviving oak cradles are carved with initials and a date. These sometimes refer to the date of birth and name of the cradle's first occupant, or to the reigning monarch. However, they should not be used for dating a piece as cradles were often passed down through several generations of a family and may well have been inscribed at a later date.
COTS FOR THE NURSERY
In the 19th century, it became more and more common to leave the baby in the nursery at night rather than alongside its mother's bed. As a result, larger, non-portable cots and cradles became very popular. These were made in a rectangular box design of turned uprights mounted on four straight corner legs and are similar to modern designs.
Make sure you check all wooden parts for active woodworm before buying. If missed, this will not only devalue your purchase, but could also infest the rest of your furniture.