Challenge to ownership of Northampton's collections - Museums Association

Challenge to ownership of Northampton’s collections

Marquis of Northampton wants geological and Egyptian collections back under deed of gift terms
Patrick Steel
Northampton Borough Council is facing a legal challenge from Spencer Compton, the 7th Marquis of Northampton, over ownership of its Egyptian and geological collections, including a statue of Sekhemka dating from 2400 BC.

Compton has requested that the council return the collections, including the statue, under the terms of a deed of gift, signed by Northampton’s town clerk and the 4th marquis in 1880.

The deed, which Museums Journal has seen, covers the geological collections and Egyptian antiquities.

It states: “The corporation covenant with the marquis… assigns at all times for ever hereafter to exhibit the same collection freely to the public… and at no time to dispose of any part of the collections.

“In default whereof at any time the said collection shall revert and be restored to the marquis [or] his heirs… in as good condition as it was received.”

Ruth Thomas, a former registrar at Northampton Museum, who has seen the document, said: “You don’t need to be a lawyer to understand it. The deed of gift is a way of ensuring the collections were for the people of Northampton in perpetuity.”

Museums Journal understands that the council is disputing whether the statue of Sekhemka, which it wants to sell, is included in the deed, as it is not mentioned specifically. 

A council spokesman said: “We still wish to sell the statue of Sekhemka and are working with Arts Council England to achieve an ethical disposal.”

Meanwhile, cuts to Northampton Museum’s budget will lead to the post of collections officer merging with that of museum development officer.

The roles of museum manager, senior education officer, education officer and development officer will be based at offices in the guildhall, rather than at the museum.

The council spokesman declined to confirm or deny the staffing changes.

“We are committed to the future development of our museums and their staffing is a matter for us,” he added.

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