The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall has accumulated many treasures over the centuries: art, artefacts, architecture and the stories of those who have passed through its walls. This series seeks to shine a spotlight on the Hall’s incredible collections.
Carved out of a single piece of oak, the Hall’s statue of Napoleon Bonaparte is one of three imported from France in 1822 and is believed to be the only one still in existence. The statue’s original purpose was to advertise snuff, a product of which Napoleon Bonaparte was a great taker, even feeding it to deer at his chateau!
Owing to this use, the Napoleon statue has some local fame, having spent a total of 177 years outside Mrs Clarke’s tobacconists in Bridge Street (153 years), and Mrs Judith Thorpe’s tobacconists in Lendal (24 years).
Like his historic counterpart, the statue has certainly had an eventful life. Having faced all manner of weathers and the attentions of hordes of affectionate tourists over the years, he was “captured” before being flung into the River Ouse by a group of celebrating soldiers during the Second World War. Luckily he was saved and fished out of the river at Naburn Lock down stream from York. Also like the real-life Napoleon, the statue has spent some time in custody, staying a night with the Police in a cell after mistakenly being left outside Mrs Thorpe’s shop one evening!
Napoleon joined the Company’s collections in 1997 thanks to the kind loan of Mrs Thorpe and now after a busy two centuries has a much quieter life residing in one of the Hall’s ante rooms.