A night of heartfelt pleas from members of the public could not stop Northampton Borough Council voting in favour of selling an ancient Egyptian statue to help pay for a £14m new museum and art gallery.
The Sekhemka was given to the people of Northampton by the 4th Marquess of Northampton in 1880 and had been on display at the town’s museum until 2010.
But plans to sell the 4,500-year-old artefact at Christie’s Auction House in London on July 10 have caused outrage among town historians and Egyptologists who think it should be put back ion display.
At last night’s (Monday) full Northampton Borough Council meeting a last ditch motion to prevent the sale by Councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Castle) fell through the weight of a Conservative backed recorded vote.
Before the vote leader of the authority Councillor David Mackintosh told the chamber: “We have long debated this issue, it has gone through the scrutiny process, there’s been a public consultation.
“Most people are very excited about the proposals for the new museum.”
And he concluded: “We are looking forward to selling the statue and looking at how best to invest the money in the cultural future of this town.”
Earlier in the evening members of the public raised a number of issues about the ‘ethical’ and ‘legal’ questions arising from the sale of the statue - of which it has been agreed a large amount of the proceeds would be given to the current Marquis of Northampton - the item’s historical owner.
The Arts Council said the move by risked compromising Northampton Museum and Art Gallery’s current accreditation, meaning it could lose funding in the future.
A total of £10,000 has already been spent in legal negotiations with the Marquis of Northampton.
Chairman of the Ancient Egyptian Society Ruth Thomas, said: “The sale of Sekhemka will yield only a portion of the cost of the proposed museum.
“The Arts Council has made it clear that Northampton could lose its accreditation.
“The sale is a bad move for Northampton, it makes the museum a pariah.”
Speaking to the tabled motion, Councillor Stone said losing the artefact would have an impact on young children’s education in the town.
She said: “There are 264 primary schools across Northampton, they would have all benefited from seeing Sekhemka.
“How great it would have been for the children to have access to a masterpiece of ancient culture without the need for a coach trip.”
Councillor Mackintosh responded that the council has taken legal advice on the sale and is ‘satisfied of the legal case going forward’.
Sekhemka, a 30 inch limestone figure of a court official clutching beer, bread and cake - items for the afterlife - was gifted to the town by the fourth Marquis of Northampton in 1880.