Spalding Gentlemen’s Society reveals item from collection

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A regular column from Spalding Gentlemen’s Society Museum in Broad Street, Spalding.

We are often asked what our favourite item is in the Gentlemen’s Society collection.

I don’t think any two of us would agree on a single answer.

I do know that this month’s item is a particular favourite of our curator’s.

It is a wooden storage box delicately inlaid with wood and straw marquetry. It measures 12 x 26.5 x 18cm closed. It has a hinged lid and was supplied with a lock and key. There are four storage compartments each with a decorated lid.

It is an example of the work done by French prisoners of war in the Napoleonic period. It was made at the infamous Prisoner of War camp at Norman Cross.

The box is in remarkably good condition despite being made from scraps of wood and straw and stuck with homemade glue. If the materials are poor the craftsmanship is superb.

This sort of item was made in the most unpleasant conditions. It would have been sold to augment the meagre rations and clothing supplied by the camp. Such skills might have been the difference between life and death.

Invoices from the ‘Adventurers’ who provisioned the camp list ale and beef among the supplies. The quality of both these items would be unlikely to appeal to the modern palate or environmental health officer.

We have two more similar decorative pieces in the museum and a few documents relating to the Norman Cross site.

There is an excellent display of this sort of craftsmanship nearby at Peterborough Museum.