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 French POWs in Britain 
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Post French POWs in Britain
Yesterday I went to Peterborough which is only 20 miles or so from where I live to the museum there to visit the Norman Cross exhiibition of handicrafts of the prisoners held there during the Napoleonic Wars. I read recently that the POWs were first brought up the River Nene to Wisbech -where I live - from the North Sea, via The Wash, then taken further upstream to Peterborough then onto Norman Cross which is further inland.

There are some beautifully preserved items of straw marquetry; also, and which most took my eye, were the intricately carved exhibits from bone including four ships, complete with tiny brass cannons, and strangely enough, English men-of-war. Alas, I have no pictures to show you of the ships, but you can see something of the intricacy of the carving on display by following the link below.

Alas, I can't seem to make pages appear individually so on this link click on Peterborough Museum, then Georgian, then on the word "link" further down the page.

Also by clicking on "Collections" in the side menu of the home page for the museum will show you further pictures.

If you are passing near Peterborough - its not far off the A1 if you are travelling north by road - or through it on the train - it's on the mainline north from King's Cross to Edinburgh - it's well worth having a look. The museum is close to the rail station, and like most English museums (can't veryify for the rest of the UK), entrance is free.

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Last edited by Mil Goose on Thu Jan 29, 2009 11:31 am, edited 1 time in total.



Fri Mar 18, 2005 11:22 am
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I've seen photos of similar bone carvings done by prisoners. They are quite amazing.

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Sun Mar 20, 2005 6:13 am
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Post Norman Cross
Further to my previous post, while I was at the museum I picked up a flyer on this forthcoming event which I should like to attend.

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Sun Mar 20, 2005 12:22 pm
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Last Saturday I was able to fulfil my wish to attend the event mentioned in my previous posts.

The new monument - the previous erected in 1914 and damaged in 1990 and the bronze eagle stolen - was inaugurated by the present Duke of Wellington, accompanied by Vice Admiral Jean-Pierre Lucas,FN, (rtd) of Le Souvenir France, in the company of several hundred people including the French Consul, an officer of the French Navy, local dignitaries and several groups of re-enactors of the period.

I have been to British war grave sites on the Continent and I thought this event particularly moving in remembrance of those 1770 French prisoners, mainly sailors, who had died while incarcerated in this country as result of the war between their country and mine.

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Tue Apr 05, 2005 2:40 pm
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I was going through Volume 2 of James' Naval History and found this bit under 1798:

"...among the fruits of four years' hard fighting, was the assembling, in France, of 2800 English, and in England of upwards of 30,000 French prisoners. Since the month of January the two nations had agreed that each should maintain their own prisoners; that, for that purpose, an agent should reside in each country, and have the benefit of its market; and that the prisoners, instead of being scattered over the country, should be confined in three or four places of general rendezvous. Agreeably to this arrangement, the French prisoners were to be confined nowhere but at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Norman-Cross, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Chatham, and Stapleton."

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Thu May 19, 2005 9:34 pm
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Interestingly enough there is mention in THE TIMES of October 13,1803 where there is mention of

" ... a detachment from the Brigade of Guards, under the command of Colonel Fuller, marched to Uxbridge, to escort 250 French prisoners to Norman Cross, Lincolnshire......."

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Fri May 27, 2005 1:21 pm
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Here is an example of a ship crafted out of bone by French prisoners. The detail is amazing.

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Tue Nov 08, 2005 6:11 pm
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A little mention of Norman Cross in THE TIMES, November 23, 1805.

" .... Six French officers arrived at Chatham last week, under an escort from Norman Cross, they are to be confined on board the Sandwich prison-ship, for the remainder of the war, for attempting to break out of their place of confinement. ...."

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Mon Nov 14, 2005 10:21 am
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Just finished reading The Pandora Secret by Anthony Forrest. There was a brief mention of Norman Cross. The text implied that there was some sort of plot which involved freeing the prisoners and arming them. Have you heard anything about this?

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Mon Dec 26, 2005 1:19 am
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susan wrote:
Just finished reading The Pandora Secret by Anthony Forrest. There was a brief mention of Norman Cross. The text implied that there was some sort of plot which involved freeing the prisoners and arming them. Have you heard anything about this?




I had a search in THE TIMES and found some references which may be useful. I don't know to which year exactly you refer, but I came across one where the prisoners apparently were getting help from outside.



November 18 1808

" .... some discoveries have been made at Norman Cross which justify an opinion that the prisoners there (nearly 7,000 in number) were preparing for some desperate attempt to effect their escape. Two or three diggers having been accidentally seen by the sentries, gave rise to some suspicions, the consequence of which was a general search, when about 7000 of the were found on the persons of the prisoners; they were of various forms and workmanship, but could not have been manufactured in the prison, consequently, must have been introduced at different times, by some evil-disposed persons. Had not the design of the prisoners been thus timely discovered, the consequences must have been dreadful. Strict enquiry is making to ascertain, if possible the person who supplied them with these weapons ...."


While on the subject of Norman Cross, this one made me smile from the issue of November 18, 1804:

"Sixteen French prisoners effected their escape, a few nights ago, from Norman Cross, of whom six only have been retaken. Some prints have affected to make a great wonder of all this, as if it were not quite natural, and from all experience to be expected, that Frenchmen should do what they have been so many years accustomed to, viz. to run away from Englishmen ....."


How is the second book in the series, btw? I have the first one and thoroughly enjoyed that.

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Mon Dec 26, 2005 1:02 pm
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Whilst looking for something else in The Times, in the issue of April 25 1797, I came across the following entry.

" ....DEAL., April 23.

Yesterday, off Beachy Head, the French prisoners on board the Marquis of Camarthen transport, rose, and killed one, and wounded two of the crew and got possession of the ship for about a quarter of an hour. The Master and crew took to close quarters, and by a well-directed fire, killed and wounded many of the French, and took possession of their ship again...."

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Fri Jun 09, 2006 1:26 pm
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From The Times, January 22, 1799, reference Plymouth.

".....a great number of French prisoners broke from their confinement at the Mill Prison, by means of a hole which they dug under the wall at the west end of the building, and effected their escape; very few of them are yet taken, but as the wind is unfavourable for their getting away in shipping or boats, the greater part, if not the whole, will no doubt find their way back to the Prison again...."

Has anyone come across any information as to how many did actually find their way back across the Channel?

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Wed Jun 14, 2006 10:40 am
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From The Times of October 3, 1793 from Falmouth:

"..... the French prisoners who were confined in Tregillick became very outrageous and were contending with each other about politics, when it arose to that height, that one of them declared he was happy to hear that Toulon had surrendered to Louis XVII, when two of the, took him up by the heels, tied his hands and feet, took their knives out, and swore they would guillotine him. The guard hearing murder cried several times, acquainted his officer, and he was ordered to fire through the door whence the noise proceeded, which killed one of the Frenchmen, and wounded another. The one that was killed was the man who had the knife in his hand and had not the soldier fired he would certainly have murdered his companion ....."


Does the prison, like Dartmoor, still exist, does anyone know? I've tried seaching, without success.

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Mon Sep 17, 2007 11:50 am
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Post French POW Bone Ships
For another museum, check the Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland. We have about half a dozen of the bone ships built by the French POWs including a phenomenal model of HMS Victory.


Tue Sep 18, 2007 2:21 am
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From The Times, August 10th, 1793:

"..... last night, about twelve o'clock, forty-seven French prisoners broke out of the Mill prison ....they effected their escape by digging a large hole under the wall that encloses the court, and not a great distance from the place where on of the centinels stood ....only five of them are yet taken; they were found concealed in a wood about three miles from Plymouth, by the sea side; they went there in a boat belonging to a poor waterman, which they stole from the Barbuar...other forty...somewhere in this neighbourhood, waiting to take advantage of the first opportunity of getting off......"

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Fri Sep 21, 2007 10:01 am
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