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New ARU study will investigate Norman Cross camp

Published: 24 April 2024 at 11:25

Object produced by PoWs at Norman Cross

Partnership with Peterborough Museum is first to focus on items made by prisoners

A new research project aims to shed light on a remarkable, but still relatively unknown period of Peterborough’s history.

The study will be the first to focus on the items produced by prisoners at Norman Cross, which is believed to be the world’s first prisoner of war camp. 

There were over 200,000 prisoners of war held in Britain at various times during the Napoleonic wars and although the Norman Cross camp was the subject of a Time Team investigation in 2009, very little has been written about it.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) via the Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships scheme and beginning later this year, a PhD student is being recruited to work with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery.

The successful candidate will research why prisoners of war at Norman Cross made objects from waste in the camp, including bone, wood and straw, and then sold them locally. Peterborough Museum holds over 800 of these objects, made mainly by French prisoners of war, including domino boxes, watch holders, straw marquetry and woodwork. 

The project also hopes to reveal the identities of some of the previously unknown prisoners of war and better understand their day-to-day lives at Norman Cross, situated between Yaxley and Stilton.

Professor John Gardner of Anglia Ruskin University, who is supervising the project, said:

“Peterborough Museum has a fantastic collection of items that were produced at Norman Cross and this project aims to not only discover more about these objects, but also the prisoners of war who made them, and the people who purchased them at the time.

“We are keen to understand whether mass production of items took place within the camp, and we want to examine the objects’ aesthetic quality, whether they were manufactured to set patterns, and how labour was divided between skilled and unskilled workers. 

“Also, what did the sales of these items mean to the prisoners of war – was the money they received essential to their security and daily life within Norman Cross – and who bought them? We want to know whether the items filled a gap in existing local markets, or whether they competed with goods produced by established manufacturers.”

Sarah Wilson, Heritage Manager at Peterborough Museum, said:

“The hundreds of items made by prisoners of war at Norman Cross now held in Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery’s collection are a legacy of the world’s first prisoner of war camp. Yet despite their significance the collection has not been researched in depth. 

“Now, for the first time ever, the museum is delighted to be working with Anglia Ruskin University on research that focuses solely on these extraordinary objects. Through this exciting new approach will undoubtedly come a better understanding of the lives of the prisoners.”

An event to find out more about the project and the PhD opportunity will take place at ARU Peterborough on Monday, 29 April (11am-12.30pm) and the deadline for applications from prospective PhD candidates is Monday, 13 May. Further details are available at https://www.aru.ac.uk/research/postgraduate-research/ahrc-collaborative-doctoral-partnerships-phd-studentships