An iron bound, painted pine trunk by J. T. Thompson that opens to form a 6ft. brass and iron bed with canopy.
This form of campaign bed was extremely practical in that it could be assembled very quickly. The maker described it as composed of metallic drawn tubes, one tube over the other; but the simplicity of its construction is its chief merit. The whole bedstead is in one piece, with the legs attached, and merely the act of opening fixes those legs without any fastenings whatever; with a very heavy weight upon it, it may bend but it can never break or get out of repair; in one minute it is ready for use … The hessian, that would support a mattress, is sewn to the frame but can be tightened by both the central rope and the 6 leather belts to the foot of the bed. The bed can be used with or without its canopy frame which is assembled by screwing on to the bed frame. The trunk has good iron straps and the handles to the sides are not iron but made of 4 strips of leather hide for both strength and to reduce the weight. Under the bed frame in the trunk, there are webbing belts which were presumably to hold the bed linen etc.
This ingenious form of camp bed probably has its design origins in the very late 18th century and the Henry Ford Museum believe they have one which may have been used by Washington. William Chapple also advertised a similar bed on his trade labels and The National Army Museum have an unnamed version which was used by Lieutenant J. Malcom of the 42nd Regiment during the Peninsular War and Waterloo. This bed has an embossed brass label noting J. T. Thompson & Co. London, Patent Tube Bedstead Plated With Brass, fixed to the trunk lid of this bed.
This bed is from Raynham Hall but is unmarked with an owner's name. A possible candidate might be Rear Admiral John Townshend, the 4th Marquess. He was born in 1798 and so would be the right age but this is not the type of bed that you would associate with naval use. This type of bed, folding out of a trunk, is rare and the maker is perhaps the most celebrated of portable bed makers in the 19th century. Circa 1830.
Size as a Trunk is given.
J. T. Thompson was perhaps the most recommended of portable bed makers in the first half of the 19th century although he also described himself as a Camp Equipage manufacturer rather than a bed maker.
Like many early makers of campaign furniture he had his origins in the trunk making business. He took the trouble of following the army during the Peninsular War to improve his bed, learning first-hand the rigours it had to endure and the practicality needed by the army. He offered variants on the bed suited to the destination of the officer and also sold a similar model that was independent of its packing case. A number of other makers were also selling brass camp beds but Thompson noted in his adverts that he was the sole patentee of the brass plated iron tubing and its qualities which made it both stronger yet a third of the weight of standard brass or iron beds. Its virtues also extended to a resilience to vermin.
By 1817 he looked to capitalize on Waterloo and the Duke's fondness for sleeping in his campaign bed by naming those he manufactured The Wellington. The origins of J.T. Thompson lay with Robert Baker who was in business at 117 Long Acre in 1805 as a Coach Blind and Trunk Maker. By 1808 he had moved to 116 Long Acre and been joined in business by John Strachan and John Thompson. It is possible they were Baker's former employees who had bought into the business when Baker was due to retire because in 1809 the company was mutually dissolved becoming Strachan and Thompson. By 1811 they were advertising camp equipage especially suited to the Army in Portugal and also had Hunter & Co. of Edinburgh acting as their agents. A year later William Thompson's name was on the company's Sun Life Insurance with John and Strachan was gone. The company listed themselves as either Thompson and Co., J.T. Thompson or J.J. Thompson but always at their 116 Long Acre address.
In 1821 J.T. Thompson was bankrupt and his premises and the patent for his bed were offered at auction. It is unclear who, if anyone, bought 116 Long Acre and the bed patent as the initials T, J, JJ or J.T. Thompson were the names used in the subsequent years on similar adverts to those issued by the company before and noted both the same address and patent. The firm survived the bankruptcy and continued in business for the next 20 years before they seemed to run into trouble again with an advert posted in 1840 for a partner to join with a competent capital to invest. During the next year the name Thompson is not used in their adverts and by 1842 it seems H.E. Thompson has taken over. Henry Thompson continued the business, designing a folding rocking chair that is illustrated in Brawer as well as several other items suitable for army officers and kept the premises at 116 Long Acre.
An auction was advertised in 1850 with the purpose of reducing stock levels before a move to Piccadilly but, from their future adverts listing the Long Acre address, it seems it never transpired. By 1852 the company was bankrupt again and they are no longer listed in the trade directories from this point on. However, as Brawer notes Henry Edward Thompson was granted a patent in 1858 with his trading address listed as 302 Strand, London. Although there were many camp bed manufacturers in the 19th century, all claiming theirs were far superior to others on the market, Thompson can rightly be seen as one of the leading companies in this field. So much so that even though he sold a range of other camp equipage, few if any examples are known and although Thompson's beds are also rare, his are the most desired.