A valuable piece of silverware, used during Shaftesbury civic occasions for centuries, will be repaired after Town councillors recognised its historic importance.
A specialist jeweller will be commissioned to fix one of the town’s maces which is showing signs of wear and tear. These two, separate, 1½ ft long ceremonial staffs are made from silver, iron and gilt.
Town Clerk Claire Commons said the British Museum was ‘astounded’ that Shaftesbury has retained these decorative cudgels. “Their original purpose was to protect the Mayor, pre- police force. Men would walk either side of the mayor holding the mace. The Mayor had a much higher status several hundred years ago and was more at risk. The mace is solid in the centre and originally it would be used to hit people with,” said Claire.
Each mace is decorated with finials and raised bands on its main body. The mace requiring attention is marked with James I’s shield and dated 1604. The second mace is considered older and is engraved with an image of Shaftesbury Abbey, a lion beside a tree and also a bird. “It is beautifully made, and it is very old. It is one of very few in this country, so it’s something to be proud of,” said Cllr Andy Hollingshead.
Historic records reveal that the mace was once more high profile within the community. In 1851, the Council paid two men £2 6s 6d annually and provided them with a hat and cloak to serve as Sergeants-at-Mace. Some of their duties would be similar to a modern bailiff.
As each mace is unique, they are worth a lot of money. “One is valued at £300,000, the other one is valued at £370,000,” said Andy, who says he wouldn’t wish the Council to boost its bank account by selling the ‘family silver’.
“I don’t know how that would translate to sales, but they belong to Shaftesbury. They are our history and they are our heritage. We don’t need to sell. It wouldn’t benefit the town in any way. It would just be a loss to the town. It’s something that brings the past right up to the present, and we should celebrate it,” said Andy.
Cllr Alex Chase told the meeting that, “There’s no point having them unless you can show them off,” but that’s not so straightforward. Because of the value of the maces, they are rarely seen in public today. “It’s one of the problems of having something so valuable,” said Andy. “They do come out once a year. Maybe it is something that we ought to publicise more, so people have the chance to see it. I think that’s the balance between something as valuable and rare as this, and the right of the people of Shaftesbury to see their heritage,” said Andy.
“I would like to have the opportunity to have it displayed,” added Claire. “With such an insurance value, for this Council to have them on display, the cost would be significant. There are other things that the Council could probably better spend its money on. We can still let people see them. Maybe what we need to do is put pictures up.”
Claire says the premiums would be too steep for our Gold Hill Museum. “I think the museum is not interested because of its value. It might be that the British Museum would be and possibly even Dorchester. I’d have to ask,” said Claire.
Repairing the mace is a specialist job. Cllr Phil Proctor cautioned that the work needs undertaking by a jewellery maker. Cllr Chase suggested that a firm that ‘replaces historical items’ would be best. Phil then advised asking Salisbury Cathedral for guidance.
Councillors wanted to keep the work within our area if possible, and some local experts were suggested in the meeting. Claire was concerned that one local jeweller’s quote was much lower than she had anticipated. She has expected, “another zero on the end of the figure.”
The security arrangements suggested in one proposal reveal the challenges of this task. “They would have to increase their insurance for the time that they’re holding on to the mace. Their two most senior members of staff would drive in tandem with the mace up to the jeweller. They work in an armoured studio that’s very well-alarmed and protected. Then they would bring it back in tandem and hand it back to us, with a big sigh of relief, to put back in the vault,” said Claire.
There was a brief debate over the merits of making a replica mace or maces, but Cllr Proctor argued that it was not appropriate to spend public money on that.
The Council hasn’t yet appointed a firm to repair the damaged mace. When fixed, the staff will still be used for its traditional door-knocking at the Mayor-making ceremony. Claire says that is one of the mace’s functions and it is built to take it. ”It is a substantial piece. It is very heavy,” she added.
You’ll next be able to view the mace in May at the annual Mayor-making event. Until then, both pieces of silverware are in a vault, under lock and key. “It is kept off-premises and secure. That’s probably as far as I want to tell you,” said Claire.