Cheapside Hoard : London’s Lost Jewels

Private Talk by the curator and Visit, approx. 400 pieces of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery (Friday 28 March at 11am, optional lunch),

From the Announcement in the Winter 2013 – 2014 Newsletter :

“The Cheapside Hoard is a hoard of jewellery from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, discovered in 1912 by workmen using a pickaxe to excavate in a cellar near Cheapside in London. They found a buried wooden box containing more than 400 pieces of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery, including rings, brooches and chains, with bright coloured gemstones and enamelled settings, together with toad-stones, cameos, scent bottles, fan holders, crystal tankards and a salt cellar.

The location where the hoard was found is thought to have been the premises of a Jacobean goldsmith, and the hoard is generally considered to have been a jeweller’s working stock buried during the English Civil War. Cheapside was at the commercial heart of the City of London in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, with shops for the sale of luxury goods, including many goldsmiths. However, Kris Lane has speculated that the hoard may have been brought back to England from the East Indies in 1631, having been assembled by a Dutch jeweller named Gerald Polman. He died on the journey, and his chest of jewels was taken by the carpenter’s mate on the ship, Christopher Adams. Adams was eventually forced to surrender the box and its contents to Robert Bertie, 1st Earl of Lindsey, Treasurer of the East India Company. Lindsey was involved in litigation with Polman’s Dutch heirs, but he in turn died at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642.

The workmen who discovered the hoard sold items to a man they knew as “Stoney Jack”, the antiques dealer and pawnshop owner George Fabian Lawrence, who frequently paid labourers cash for interesting finds from London building sites. He was appointed by Guildhall Museum to seek out new items for its collection and became Inspector of Excavations for the nascent London Museum in 1911. Lewis Vernon Harcourt, 1st Viscount Harcourt, provided the funds for the London Museum to purchase most of the Cheapside Hoard, though a few pieces went to the British Museum, and one gold and enamel chain was purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The entire hoard was displayed together, for the first time in more than 100 years, at the Museum of London until 27 April.

www.museumoflondon.org.uk

From the Report in the S @@ 2014 Newsletter :

“On Friday 28th of March a small hoard, 18 of us, showed up at the Museum of London to see the Cheapside Hoard.

The Cheapside Hoard is a hoard of jewellery from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, discovered in 1912 by workmen excavating in a cellar at 30-32 Cheapside. They found a buried wooden box containing more than 400 pieces of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery, including rings, brooches and chains, with bright coloured gemstones, pearls and enamelled gold settings, together with toadstones, cameos, scent bottles, fan holders, crystal tankards and a salt cellar. Most of the hoard is now in the Museum of London, with some items held by the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The site of the house is thought to have been the premises of a Jacobean goldsmith, and the hoard is generally considered to have been a jeweller’s working stock buried in the cellar during the English Civil War. Cheapside was at the commercial heart of the City of London in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, with shops for the sale of luxury goods, including many goldsmiths.

The original house was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and one Artefact, a small red intaglio stone seal bears the arms of William Howard, 1st Viscount Stafford, dating the burial of the hoard between his ennoblement in November 1640 and the Great Fire of London in September 1666.

But who buried it and why the owner never recovered it remains a matter of speculation.  The mid 17th century was time of climate change, plagues, wars and general instability in Europe.  London and England fitted that mould with the Civil War, execution of the King and religious persecution. So probably the owner was dead and the secret died with him.
Before seeing the Hoard we were given an introductory talk by Catherine Nightingale, the Conservator at the Museum of London on the restoration, preservation and display of the Hoard.

Restoration is the art of preserving it as it is and not trying to show what articles looked when they were new but preservation must not lead to later damage as restoratives decay and change.  Be they exquisite jewels in the Hoard, old advertisements for marmalade or a coster’s barrow. Catherine has a degree in Material Science which has allowed her to understand why past restorations failed and how to avoid that in the future.

Gold, silver and gem stones are minerals and today are the same when formed millions of years ago in the rocks as the Earth was formed. However, Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellers made extensive use of enamel, powdered glass pasted to gold filigree or foil and then fired. 300 years of burial was not kind to the enamel and much of it returned to original glassy state. To stabilise it they use the natural capillary forces that allows a solution to be “sucked” into the narrow space between the gold and the enamel.
Accumulated “dirt” has to be cleaned with a barely damp cotton bud and all of this under a microscope on objects that are on a millimetre scale. I guess that rock steady hands also help!

Displaying them is a combination of art, visual skills and high technology.  Long chains of gold, enamel, gem stones and pearls are difficult to handle because they were never worn but stitched to wearer’s clothes.  So tiny brass thread was used to stitch them onto the display material: not a popular task!  Nylon wire to hang pendants but no knots!  They will make the pendant rotate. And be careful of what else is in the display! As the Museum has an obligation to show the social history and relevance of exhibits they once included an old leather saddle in a display of silver which swiftly went black!  The saddle had been recovered from the mud in the Thames and so was swarming with Sulphate Reducing Bacteria which feasted on the oxygen in sulphates and the resultant Hydrogen Sulphide feasted on the Silver.

Even the materials used to make the display cabinets be they fabrics, plastics, wood or metal all have to be tested that they do not harm silver, copper and lead.
They would like to tour the exhibition around the world but how? Just changes in temperature and pressure can damage these priceless jewels of the 17th Century : they are irreplaceable.

Then back upstairs to view the Hoard.  Impossible to describe except with a cliché: mind blowing in terms of their quality, design and craftsmanship.  Go again?  Must do to try and absorb it all but go very early.  The exhibition was very busy which made it  difficult to see and admire everything.

Especial thanks to Connie Sangster for organising this tour and keeping us all together. ”

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