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image M1184

Mask or ‘Scold’s bridle’, iron

Museum number: M1184

Curatorial note

This curious bridle was variously described in historic inventories of Soane's collection as 'An Iron Instrument of Torture or Imprisonment' or 'a scold's mask'. In fact, it is probably a head frame, a fearful device worn by slaves in the fields to stop them eating - a pierced metal grille covers the lower part of the face.

It is possible that this item was acquired with the group of slave shackles (M1185, M1194, M1195 and M1196) in Soane's collection. Their provenance is unknown but they must have been in the Museum by c .1834-35 because they are described in Soane's Description published in 1835 as 'implements of iron, to the honour of humanity no longer in use'. Soane certainly knew what they were because the early inventories drafted before his death describe one as 'An Iron Negro shackel'.

We know that Soane supported the emancipation of slaves - his Library contains pro-Emancipation pamphlets and his reference to the shackles in his guidebook makes it clear that he disapproved of slavery. The Thornton family, for whom he worked at Moggerhanger and other houses, were cousins of William Wilberforce, leader of campaign for the abolition of the slave trade.


If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk