The Prison at Norman Cross, near Peterborough, was built to hold French and Dutch prisoners captured during the Napoleonic Wars between 1797 and 1815.
Considered both the largest and finest collection of such items in the world, the museum displays objects of carved bone and ivory, including model ships, guillotines, needlework boxes, playing cards and articles of straw marquetry.
This spectacular object contains both clockwork and water power mechanisms. It is made entirely out of wood and bone, with many moving parts. Two figures left of the clock form an 'in-out' barometer, whilst on the right a man turns a handle, and a women turns another. On the balcony above are a courting couple. Inside the gate stands a guardsman and behind him beneath the arcade are dancers.
This is one of the most elaborate pieces in the collection and is a firm favourite!
Many of the prisoners creations were sold at market held at the prisons gates. Prisoners also took commissions.
If someone was commissioning a piece of work they might also provide materials. An entry in a contemporary diary records reads 'Brought the model of the Block House and provided the Mahogany'.
The work was intricate and took some time to complete, the detail can be seen in the image to the right.
Many of the prisoners at Norman Cross were sailors, so it is not surprising that model ships featured in their craft-work. These ships are primarily decorative. All are intricate and ornate but not always strictly accurate models. Some based on a french design even had an English flag added to the top to make it more saleable!
These are made from bone, arguably taken from the prisoners own rations, and must have taken many many hours to make.