New Ball and Chain Display at Museum of London Docklands

One of the most unusual discoveries from the Thames in recent years, a ball and chain dating from the 17th – 18th century, goes on display at Museum of London Docklands today.

Iron Ball and ChainMuseum experts believe it would have been used to shackle prisoners during transport, but it was uncovered with the lock fastened and no key. This raises the possibility that a prisoner may have slipped out of custody, although a less happy outcome would probably have awaited the unfortunate person who found themselves fettered in the river.

The find was uncovered by Steve Brooker and Rick Jones, mudlarks who thought they were looking at a cannon ball until the attached chain slithered out of the Thameside mud. The foreshore has large areas of thick black mud which preserves objects that would in other conditions corrode or rot away. The ball and chain is made from iron and weighs 8kg. The padlock has a brass plate around the key hole, and is skilfully crafted in a continental fashion.

Kate Sumnall, Finds Liaison Officer at Museum of London Docklands said: “The river is the repository for so many of London’s stories. This extraordinary find gives us a tantalising glimpse of the human trials and tribulations of past Londoners. Whether a real-life Magwitch freed himself from the ‘great iron on his leg’, or perished in shackles, or whether this ball and chain was simply discarded, we can never know. Visitors to Museum of London Docklands will have to decide for themselves.”

www.museumoflondon.org.uk

Image: Iron Ball and Chain 17th-18th C © Museum of London Docklands

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