Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Cheapside Hoard - London's Lost Jewels Exhibition

By on Sunday, October 20, 2013 7 Comments

The Cheapside Hoard,he greatest Elizabethan and early Stuart era jewelry collection was discovered a century ago. In 1912, workmen demolishing a building in Cheapside, a busy part of the City of London, came across a 17th century jewelr's buried stash when they were digging in the cellar.

Colombian emerald, diamond and enamel salamander brooch

Nearly 500 glittering pieces were unearthed - dainty long necklaces, rings, Byzantine cameos, intaglios (engraved gemstones), bejeweled scent bottles, an enameled lizard made with Colombian emeralds and even a unique Colombian emerald watch shown below.


The find is of incredible importance because so little jewelry from that time period survived. Without the Cheapside Hoard, we would know almost nothing about what early modern jewelry was like. This collection might have been lost forever had it not been for the pawnbroker.  When the laborers took what they found to him, he suspected the pieces might have been more than their face value and was able to sell most of the pieces to the London Museum with a few others going to the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum of Art and Design.

The pieces tell us about what people wore, the craftsmanship and even about international trade back then. The gemstones included not only Colombian emeralds but diamonds from India, natural pearls from Bahrain, other gemstones from Persia and so on. Some of the fine bejeweled and enamel chains were very long - about 6 feet or more.  Multi chain strands were worn as cascading loops.

Small Scent Bottle decorated with diamonds, rubies, opals and sapphires
That and the story behind the jewels have generated a lot of excitement for the Museum of London's newly opened exhibition : The Cheapside Hoard : London's Lost Jewels Exhibition  (October 11, 2013 - April 27, 2014).  It's the first time the collection has been exhibited together.

Garnet pendant hanging in front of portrait of Elizabeth Wriothesley, Countess of Southampton
The cache was buried in what was once known as Goldsmith's Row. No one knows who buried the jewels but he must have done so sometime between 1640 and 1666.  A vital clue comes from an intaglio bearing the heraldic badge of William Howard, the first and only Viscount Stafford who came to his title in 1640.


The burial also had to be before the Great Fire of London in 1666.  The fire took several days to reach Cheapside which would have allowed the owner plenty of time to retrieve his treasure. That it remained in its hiding place and suffered some fire damage suggests the jeweler was no longer alive. It is thought he most likely buried his stash sometime in the 1640's during the English Civil War (1642-1651). It was a terrible time of turmoil, fear and uncertainty.  Like many jewelers and goldsmiths, he probably went off to fight and never came back.

Bejeweled chains and necklaces

Hazel Forsyth, the curator and author of a soon-to-be published book,  London's Lost Jewels: The Cheapside Hoard has spent years studying not just the jewels themselves but also the letters, stock lists, court documents and rent books of that era.

Pearls as in this cage pendant showed signs of damage
She said, "The 16th and 17th century jewelry trade was clandestine by its very nature and skulduggery was rife. Jewelers couldn’t shout about what they were up to or the precious gemstones that they were dealing with. That in itself would make them walking targets for theft, corruption, or worse. Yet thank goodness that some of those jewelers and their underhand dealings were caught out and made to feel the long arm of the law. The level of detail found in contemporary court documents, witness statements and other archive material has proved a veritable treasure trove to delve into. It has brought about many juicy findings that we would not have known about had the trade been transparent and squeaky clean."

Brass gilt watch with a maker's mark

 One juicy and recent finding is the identification of one "Thomas Sympson as the dodgy 17th century jeweler responsible for two counterfeit jewels found in the hoard."  He had cut, polished and dyed rock crystal as balas ruby substitutes. Hazel Forsyth's research has revealed he was one of 18 jewelers who leased the property at 30-32 Cheapside where the hoard was discovered.  Thomas Sympson also had a couple of shady relatives who received stolen goods from an unfortunate jeweler, Gerrard Pullman, who was murdered for his incredible stash of jewelry on board a ship as he was returning to London from Persia.

Diamond and emerald cross

The exhibition is amazing with many extras such as period clothing examples, rarely seen contemporary portraits showing people wearing the fashion and jewelry of their day.  A special perfume using ingredients used during that time was also created for visitors to sniff!

Watch the video where curator Hazel Forsyth introduces the exhibition.  Worth a watch especially if you can't get to the exhibition.



There is a connection between the jewels found nearly 300 years to modern day styles.  Watch the Carol Woolton of Vogue's video as she explains why.



All images are courtesy of the Museum of London.  More from their site.

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7 comments:

  1. How interesting, As a kid I used to believe that I would find a hidden stash of jewelry some day

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  2. A friend sent me a copy of the documentary on the Cheapside Hoard and I found it so exciting...it combined buried treasure, always a thrill, and jewelry! Every normal person's dream! If you Google "Cheapside Hoard" and used Images, there are some wonderful pictures of almost the complete collection. As always, your blog is so interesting.

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  3. Wow this was fascinating to read, it combines my two loves English history and jewelry, I also wished to have found a buried treasure as a kid. It makes you wonder just what the circumstances really were, who was the jeweler, why exactly did he bury this stash and what happened to him that he never went back to get it? Just so interesting....

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  4. It is a remarkable exhibition! I've known about the Cheapside Hoard for years but never had the chance to write about it until now.

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  5. What a treasure to uncover. Thanks so much for sharing

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  6. Very interesting post, Pearl. Whenever there's a discovery of this nature it gives us a glimpse back in time.

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  7. Oh my - that emerald watch. To die for! I would have loved to been able to see this exhibition. Simply stunning and mind-boggling as well. To think of the age of the items and see how they could easily be worn today. Plus the stunning workmanship. Wow.

    Thanks for sharing this Pearl. We are so lucky to have these things from the past and a lot of us would never know about them if it wasn't for you!

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