Interior Design

British Style: The Cornish Bed Company

Victorian beds are a design classic whose popularity never wanes – here we look at possibly the best makers of them in the world – The Cornish Bed Company

Cast iron bed in smoke blue by The Cornish Bed Company
(Image credit: Cornish Bed Co)

Based in a historic fishing town on the south coast of Cornwall, The Cornish Bed Company is one of the last foundries in the UK to hand-cast iron beds using traditional methods. They are widely regarded as the finest example of traditional Victorian beds made in the UK today.

Here, we look at the history of this interior design classic.

The beginning

The Cornish Bed Company team

Some of the team at The Cornish Bed Company have been working at the foundry since the early 1990s

(Image credit: Cornish Bed Co)

As exact records don't exist, no one is quite sure which year The Cornish Bed Company began making traditional cast-iron beds in the small town of Par, near St Austell on the south coast of Cornwall. The best estimates are around the early 1990s, which is when two of the longest-serving team members joined the firm.

What is known is that the company started small. The aim of the family-run business was to make beautiful hand-cast bedsteads in the traditional way using Victorian casting techniques featuring details such as cast knuckle fixings in solid iron – that means no nuts and bolts – promising a lifetime guarantee.

 Metal beds first appeared in Britain at the beginning of the 19th century and by the 1850s had become very popular. The Victorians were particularly concerned about hygiene and cast iron bed frames provided a sterile and durable base which was soon considered to be superior to the old wooden frames.

Until World War One, all cast iron beds were handmade using the same hand-pouring and intricate polishing methods that The Cornish Bed Company use today. Decorative flourishes were added including floral designs, curves and scrolls. The Victorians favored white and ivory beds and added brass details for opulence.

It’s a labour-intensive and highly skilled process that involves, among other aspects, hand-pouring zinc at temperatures exceeding 500ºC. Each bed takes approximately 20 hours to assemble. In the early days, The Cornish Bed Company made a handful of beds each week that were sold through a select group of shops and retailers all over the UK.

Iron cast bed with detailed bed head railings

In 2021, the company expanded their color ranges to include Racing Green, shown here

(Image credit: Cornish Bed Co)

What happened next?

Beds being crafted

Each bed takes on average 20 hours to assemble using highly skilled craftsmen

(Image credit: Cornish Bed Co)

By the early 2000s, the Cornish Bed Company was supplying leading British high street retailers including Laura Ashley and Marks & Spencer. However, like many companies, they faced competition in the shape of cheaper imports from abroad. In 2006, the company was bought out from its then parent company, Relyon, and went back into private ownership.

 In 2015, the Cornish Bed Company was bought by Naturalmat. Based in the neighbouring county of Devon, and the makers of luxury organic mattresses and bedlinen, it was a perfect match. Since that time, it’s gone from strength to strength. Turning their backs on selling through retailers, they began to focus on direct sales only, through the website and their showrooms based in Cornwall, Devon and London.

 How are the beds made?

Brass bed head

Demonstrating the simplicity of the Billy Cast Iron Bed which has fewer brass details

(Image credit: Cornish Bed Co)

Steel bars and tubes (which can be powder coated in any color imaginable) are the foundation of the beds. These are held together with a casting made of zinc, which is chosen for its weight and quality. One measure of quality when it comes to cast iron beds is to look at the casts (sometimes known as finials): cheaper products are more often than not hollow. The Cornish Bed Company will always have solid ones.

Using their own furnace which melts the zinc, the team ladle the liquid metal into every casting by hand and then they are fettled (filed) into shape. Each knuckle is stamped with a unique number and the beds are delivered with a certificate of authentication featuring the number, the date of purchase and the owner’s name.

Pink four poster bed with curved top brass rail

One of the most popular designs, the Somerset Four Poster features sturdy side posts and a curved top brass rail

(Image credit: Cornish Bed Co)

Iconic designs

Cast iron bed in smoke blue

The Hampton Cast Iron Bed is a timeless classic shown here in Smoke Blue

(Image credit: Cornish Bed Co)

The Florence bed is inspired by a classic Art Nouveau design involving three hoops while the Maud is a traditional Victorian dormitory bed which would have been widely used in the 19th century. It works well both in country house and mid-century settings.

The Stratford is inspired by the angular Art Deco style which would have been popular during the Edwardian era. Bolder colors were used then, making a chrome and black bed a popular choice. Meanwhile the Abingdon features a pretty porcelain spacer in the center of the bed and brass that is spun in Stoke-on-Trent.

Alongside the collection of cast iron beds, the company makes brass beds, as well as headboards, divan surrounds, four posters and half testers, using real rolled, hand-cast and hand-spun brass (never plated brass). Five of their most popular designs can also come in polished nickel.

Each bed frame is manufactured individually meaning they can be made in a bespoke size, height or color. They are shipped from Cornwall all over the world.

Arabella Youens
Contributing Editor

Arabella is a freelance journalist writing for national newspapers, magazines and websites including Homes & Gardens, Country Life, The Telegraph and The Times. For many years she has specialized in writing about property and interiors, but she began her career in the early 2000s working on the newly launched Country Life website, covering anything from competitions to find the nation’s prettiest vicarage to the plight of rural post offices.