Examples of French Prisoner-of-War Work, late 18th and early 19th Century.

Great Britain was at war with France continuously from 1793 to 1802. Hostilities ceased briefly in 1802, but conflict soon recommenced. The Napoleonic Wars continued until 1815, when Napoleon’s forces were finally defeated at Waterloo.

In 1796 the first prison to house French prisoners was built at Norman Cross, some 5 miles north of Peterborough. Conditions must have been both harsh and crowded; disease killed more that 1,700 inmates between 1797 and 1814.

To supplement their rations and to provide small income, some prisoners made ornaments, models and toys, which they were allowed to sell. The materials used included straw, wood, bone and even human hair. Many of the items made were extraordinary in their complexity and design and were always very desirable to collectors. The proximity of Burghley to the camp meant that members of the Cecil family acquired many fine examples.

Those displayed include a number of containers made of wood with applied decoration of coloured straw, a stationery box, a set of bone spillikins in a pocket case, a framed straw-work picture of the house built for Napoleon Bonaparte on St Helena, to where he was exiled, a bone set of dominoes and playing cards and a detailed model of an 80-gun ship-of-the-line with hair rigging.

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