The aristocratic hair mattress has some plebeian rivals of equal wholesomeness: the bed of caff, clean peas straw or of beech leaves. When new, these possess one quality unknown to upholsterers — that of fragrance. Country folks need never buy a mattress or a bed for a baby’s cradle, or a child’s crib, for where can they purchase as good as is to be gathered off their own land.
If you have a beech avenue or a clump of beeches, there will be thick heaps of tough brown leaves in the hollows at their feet. Gather these on a dry day in late October. Leave them loose indoors for a day or two till they are dry beyond all question, then fill your tick and you will have a bed which is light, easily shaken, will not go into lumps and will keep good for years.
As is well known, beech leaves are slow to decay and you cannot crumble them into dust between your fingers. This is how an old writer remembers the beech leaf bed: “beech leaves, being gathered about the fall and somewhat before they are much frost bitten, they afford the best and easiest mattress in the world to lay under your quilts instead of straw. Besides their tenderness and loose lying together, they continue sweet for seven or eight years, long before which time straw becomes musty and hard.”