Curator's Choice: Powys Land Museum

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The Independent Culture
My favourite item is a model of a guillotine, carved out of mutton bones, made by French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars. It is about 40 cm high and is a very detailed, two-storey guillotine dating from between 1812 and 1815. There are a number of soldiers standing around on guard with little swords in their hands and there's even a figure lying down waiting to have his head chopped off. You can actually move one of the soldiers forward and in so doing the knife of the guillotine comes down and cuts off the man's head. We don't know if this works because I have never had the guts to try it.

Contrary to what you might believe the prisoners were very popular, especially with the local girls. There weren't particularly strict rules, they were not put in prisons but in local houses, pubs and hotels. They had to be in by 9pm and they were only allowed to walk one mile out of their town. But here in Welshpool there is a story that the milestone towards the neighbouring town is more than a mile out because the French prisoners simply took up the stone and rolled it in front of them until they got to where they wanted to go. They seem to have been treated very well and quite a number of them fell in love and married over here or took their brides back to France with them. There was a doctor who was sent back to France, only to return to Welshpool after the Battle of Waterloo. He married a local girl and was buried in the cemetery.

It is not something you expect to find in a local museum in mid-Wales and I like the whole idea of the French officers charming all the local girls. It powerfully represents the humane treatment of prisoners-of-war.

Eva Bredsdorff is curator of the Powys Land Museum, Welshpool (0938 554656)

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