Changes in subglacial bed conditions through multiple glaciations and their effect on ice dynamics are addressed through an analysis of glacigenic sequences in the Upper Pleistocene stratigraphy of the southern North Sea basin. During Elsterian (MIS 12) ice growth, till deposition was subdued when ice became stagnant over a permeable substrate of fluvial sediments, and meltwater infiltrated into the bed. Headward erosion during glacial retreat produced a dense network of glacial valleys up to several hundreds of metres deep. A Saalian (MIS 6) glacial advance phase resulted in the deposition of a sheet of stiff sandy tills and terminal moraines. Meltwater was at least partially evacuated through the till layer, resulting in the development of a rigid bed. During the later part of the Saalian glaciation, ice-stream inception can be related to the development of a glacial lake to the north and west of the study area. The presence of meltwater channels incised into the floors of glacial troughs is indicative of high subglacial water pressures, which may have played a role in the onset of ice streaming. We speculate that streaming ice flow in the later part of the Saalian glaciation caused the relatively early deglaciation, as recorded in the Amsterdam Terminal borehole. These results suggest that changing subglacial bed conditions through glacial cycles could have a strong impact on ice dynamics and require consideration in ice-sheet reconstructions.