A FAMILY accidentally damaged an 800-year-old coffin at Prittlewell Priory Museum when they were taking pictures.

The historic artefact, possibly the last resting place of one of the monks who once lived at the priory, now exhibits a large crack through its centre after a child was placed over the barrier to take a photograph.

The coffin was knocked off of its stand and in turn it shattered.

Staff members expressed their disappointment to visitors to the priory, in Priory Park, Victoria Avenue, Southend, the following day, saying, due to its age the materials for repairs would be “very expensive”.

Ann Holland, executive councillor for culture, said: “Unfortunately there was an incident at Prittlewell Priory last week.

“The museums conservator is currently assessing the damage to the coffin and will carry out the repair using materials and techniques suited to the object.

“To prevent future damage we now feel that the coffin needs to be completely enclosed and the curatorial team are assessing how this can best be done.

“The area will reopen as soon possible. In the meantime we would like to remind all visitors that they should observe and respect any barriers and signs in place that are there to protect our important heritage and history.”

One visitor to the museum, who did not want to be named, said: “People should take great care with these historic buildings. It’s important for future generations that these remains intact.

“I know accidents happen but people should be more careful, it’s such a catastrophe.”

Claire Reed, conservator for the council’s museums and galleries service, said: “The care of our collections is of paramount importance to us and this isolated incident has been upsetting for the museums service, whose staff strive to protect Southend’s heritage for the benefit of our visitors and enrichment of their experience within our historic sites.

Ann Holland confirmed that the artefact would in fact be restored due to its importance at the museum. She said that she would consider the treatment needed to conserve the artefact.

The damage happened at some point during the day last Sunday.