Treasure Is a Cut above at Museum; Make No Bones about This Intriguing Exhibition

The Journal (Newcastle, England), January 31, 2013 | Go to article overview

Treasure Is a Cut above at Museum; Make No Bones about This Intriguing Exhibition


Byline: Tony Henderson Environment Editor? 0191 201 6224 ? tony.henderson@ncjmedia.co.uk

AMONG scores of historical treasures and oddities in an upcoming Tyneside exhibition is one item which is a cut above the rest.

A working model of a guillotine made from meat bones by an 18th Century Napoleonic French prisoner will be part of an event to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

The exhibition, backed by a PS30,000 award by the Heritage Lottery Fund, opens at the Great North Museum in Newcastle on February 16 and runs until April 30.

It will draw on the society's extensive and often bizarre collections built up over two centuries.

The guillotine, complete with headless prisoner and a patrolling guard, is made from sheep and pigeon bones.

Lindsay Allason-Jones, society president, said: "The model guillotine comes from the Napoleonic wars period when many French soldiers, captured by the British, ended up in British jails due to the decree by the French Revolutionary Government in 1793-4 that they would no longer pay ransom to retrieve prisoners.

"British jails soon filled up with these prisoners. They had a miserable time and many started to make toys and models out of scrap animal bones, most likely food waste such as mutton bones, both to alleviate their boredom and make money to buy themselves a few comforts.

"Most of the larger models were of ships but working guillotines were also popular, although much rarer. We have no idea how and when the society acquired this one."

The exhibition will feature a late 8th or early 9th Century stone from Falstone in Northumberland carved with the same inscription in Latin and Old English.

It was meant as a memorial to a man called Robert by his nephew and was donated to the society in 1814 by the Rev James Wood, Presbyterian minister of Falstone.

A 16th Century helmet of the type probably worn at the Battle of Flodden will be on show along with a bank note from the Surtees, Burdon and Brandling bank which had branches in Berwick, Alnwick and Newcastle but collapsed in 1803.

Also featuring is a North East poll book from the late 18th Century showing who voted for various Parliamentary candidates, and a book of compensation claims for damage suffered in a flood of 1771 in Northumberland in which local vicars verified submissions.

Treasures on display include the gold Aemilia finger ring found at Corbridge which is possibly the oldest Christian object from Roman Britain, and the Aesica brooch from Great Chesters in Northumberland from the late 1st - early 2nd Century, described in the 19th Century as "the most fantastically beautiful creation that has come to us from antiquity". …

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