Family damages 800-year-old coffin in Essex museum by putting child in it for a photo

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An 800-year-old coffin was damaged when a child was lifted over a museum barrier and placed inside it for a photograph.

The family who caused the damage fled the Prittlewell Museum in Southend, Essex, without reporting it.

But CCTV caught the moment the coffin fell off its stand in the incident on 4 August. A chunk came off the artefact, which was already in three pieces. 

Estimated to have been made in the 13th century, the sandstone coffin was found with a skeleton still inside it in the priory grounds in 1921. 

Conservator Claire Reed, who has been tasked with repairing the coffin, said: “The care of our collections is of paramount importance to us and this isolated incident has been upsetting for the museums service, whose staff strive to protect Southend’s heritage for the benefit of our visitors and enrichment of their experience within our historic sites.”

Ann Holland, executive councillor for culture at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, said in a statement that the cost of repairing the coffin would be “negligible”.

She said she felt the coffin needed to be completely enclosed to prevent future damage, and that the affected part of the museum would re-open “as soon as possible”.

“In the meantime we would like to remind all visitors that they should observe and respect any barriers and signs in place that are there to protect our important heritage and history,” she said.


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