September 02, 2013

The Cheapside Hoard of Jewellery in London




by Jack Malvern

THE MYSTERY of how a dazzling hoard of jewels lay abandoned under the floorboards of a house in the City of London for 250 years may have been solved after an investigation into a dodgy jeweller. 
The Cheapside Hoard, (and here,) caused a sensation when it was put on display in 1912, but it has taken more than 100 years to unravel why the cache of almost 500 jewels, including the most important Byzantine gems ever found and the best surviving collection of Elizabethan jewellery, were left behind.

Hazel Forsyth, a curator at the Museum of London, has found evidence that the treasure may have belonged to Thomas Sympson, a superficially respectable jeweller who had a lucrative sideline in counterfeiting.

Not only was Sympson one of many people to have lived in the row of houses in Cheapside in the mid-17th century, but the hoard contains two examples of fakes associated with him.

The sliver of cornelian stone bears a picture of a swan standing on a wreath and topped with a nine-pointed crown. Ms Forsyth deduced that it was the heraldic badge of the Viscount of Stafford, a short-lived peerage created for William Howard in 1640. The title died with Howard when he was executed for treason in 1680.

The latest date that the hoard could have been buried is 1666 - when the Great Fire of London engulfed the houses and laid down a layer of charred rubble on top of the jewels - giving Ms Forsyth a 26-year window to investigate. Ms Forsyth believes that the owner of the jewels met an untimely end, either as a recruit during the English Civil Wars of 1642-51 or while fleeing from the fighting.

The search for the hoard's owner has been frustrated by the shady circumstances in which it arrived at the museum. Builders who discovered the cache in 1912 sold it to a fence known as "Stony Jack". George Fabian Lawrence was a pawnbroker in Wandsworth who bought many of his goods for the price of a half pint from builders he met in pubs.

Lawrence contacted the newly established Museum of London, and offered to sell the lot for an undisclosed price. When the British Museum, Guildhall and Victoria & Albert Museum learnt how the hoard had been acquired they were outraged, and only agreed to let the matter rest when they were offered parts of it.

All the items will be reunited for the first time since 1912 for The Cheapside Hoard: London's Lost Jewels exhibition at the Museum of London, which opens on October 11. The British Museum is lending 25 items and the V&A six.

With many thanks to the Australian