Prisoners of War particularly the French but other nationalities as well used their time whilst in captivity in the British prisons to make exquisite items from bone, straw and wood. They used whatever material was readily available to them, hence the use of bone from the meat that they ate.
The prisoners worked in teams as there was several stages to achieving the end product, for example for bone to be used all the meat was stripped from the bone, boiled to remove the grease, scraped, cleaned and dried before bleaching to improve colour. The bone would then have been cut, sliced and pared into different widths, lengths etc ready for games boxes, ships and toys.
Carpenters and cabinet makers would have also made up the teams, producing wooden boxes on to which the thin bone or straw would have been stuck. Artists painting and decorating the final product.
The prisoners were allowed to sell these items in markets outside the prison walls. This in turn gave them a small amount of money to spend, Inner markets within the prison were opened for prisoners to spend their money usually on food, drink and gambling.
The Prisoner of War Industry not only helped pass the days in captivity but also prevented many prisoners from getting unruly. These markets surrounding the prisons were a thriving business and worked both ways as country folk bought their goods to be sold to the prisoners, having a captive market, as well as people flocking to these prison markets to buy the beautiful goods produced by the prisoners.
Prisoners of War also undertook commissions and restoration work.
Today many of these fascinating items have survived beautifully covered boxes with split straw decorations to finely carved ships from bone and wooden snuff shoes or games boxes often inlaid with bone hearts.
Illustrated here are some examples of the lovely bone game boxes that were made. The links below are current Prisoner of War items that are in stock.