One of our most loved objects is this stunning Noah’s Ark.
Ark’s were one of the most popular toys for children in ages past. It is hard for us, in these days of 24-hour entertainment to recall that it is only in relatively recent years that Sunday began to lose its special character as the day of rest. In past generations, for many Sunday meant going to church three times a day; if you were a child this included Sunday School. At home, activities were curtailed for the day, and that included play, unless the toy had a Biblical or moral connection – hence the popularity of these Noah’s Ark toys.
The museum’s example was given by a local shipping and business family, in 1966, one of a number of objects given by the family during their many years association with the museum.
The Arks were not made in England; for a long time, it was thought that the Whitby Museum example was prisoner of war work, made by French Napoleonic soldiers in the early 19th century, but it was not. Although we cannot be certain it is now thought it was made either in the Baltic, around the area of modern Gdansk, or, more likely, in the Erzebirge mountain area of Germany on the border of Poland and the Czech Republic. This area is renowned for its wood turning – the figures of Noah and his family are clearly turned – and have been toy-making since the 14th century.
Most of the animals are in pairs, as you would expect, but some are singles such as the fox and rabbit.