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

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


Metamorphic library steps, chairs and tables

convertible steps table
Sheraton first published this design for Library Steps & Table in 1793.

In the 18th century wealthy men with private libraries in their grand houses wanted elegant furniture around them. The upmarket cabinet-makers of the period created fine desks and chairs, but how could they design new, improved versions of the step-ladders needed for reaching books from the highest shelves?

One idea was to conceal steps under the seat of a long stool. Turned upright, its upholstered seat to the wall, it made a short ladder with three treads, each smaller than than the last: perhaps not a very stable arrangement. It is rare to find any of these on the antiques market, and it is unlikely that many were made, as better furniture soon followed.

Chippendale designed the kind described above in the 1750s, but in the next decade he created hinged steps that could be folded into a stool. This type can be seen at Harewood House and Nostell Priory in England. One was described at the time as a “large mahogany library stool with the seat to rise as a step ladder the seat stuff’d and cover’d with black leather”. (Nostell Priory accounts 1767) The other was given a neo-classical look with rosewood veneer and marquetry.

Benjamin Franklin had something better than a stool: a leather-upholstered chair with steps beneath. There are claims that his seat was the first ever chair and steps combination. Whether or not this is true, it is comfortable enough to be a real reader’s chair: ideal for someone who loves books as well as good furniture.

Tables were part of this new wave of convertible library furniture, and a British patent for a dual-function table with steps was registered in 1774. Sheraton published a design for one of these library tables before the end of the century. (Picture above)

This design was taken from steps that have been made by Mr. Campbell, Upholsterer to the Prince of Wales. They were first made for the King, and highly approved of by him, as every way answering the intended purpose. There are other kinds of library steps which I have seen, made by other persons, but, in my opinion, these must have the decided preference, both as to simplicity and firmness when they are set up. The steps may be put up in half a minute, and the whole may be taken down and enclosed within the table frame in about the same time.
Thomas Sheraton, The cabinet-maker and upholsterer’s drawing-book, London, 1802 edition

metamorphic library chair steps
Steps folded under the seat of this Morgan & Sanders chair, designed c1811

The name metamorphic (shape-changing) was not used for the earliest pieces of library furniture, but appeared in a London patent of 1811. The first ever “patent metamorphic library chair” with curving arms spawned many varied chair designs, some quite plain, others very elaborate. Georgian or Regency pieces of dual-purpose library furniture can fetch thousands of dollars at antiques auctions, and even later Victorian metamorphic chairs may be quite valuable.

One 19th century curiosity is based on a library staircase design that was boxed in at the sides. One stair-tread was a hinged lid giving access to storage beneath. This was adopted as bedroom furniture and used in some homes as a commode to conceal the chamber pot for night-time use.


Since I first wrote this short piece for another website, Clive Taylor has published a fascinating, detailed, and original dissertation on The Regency Period Metamorphic Library Chair.