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  • image M1196

A slave's leg shackle


Museum number: M1196

Curatorial note

The provenance of the group of slave shackles (M1185, M1194, M1195 and M1196) in Soane's collection is unknown. 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 exactly what they were because the manuscript inventories drafted before his death and completed shortly afterwards describe this item as 'A Negro leg shackel [sic] Iron'.

John 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, a leader of the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade.

It is possible that the display of the shackles in the basement of Soane's Museum might also have been intended to evoke in the minds of contemporary visitors recollections of the shackles which hung above the main entrance to Newgate gaol, designed by his first architectural teacher, George Dance the younger.


Sir John Soane, Description, 1835, p.32

Associated objects

M1196, another similar
M1195, another similar
M1194, another similar
M1185, another similar
M1184, another similar

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