The Cheapside Hoard at the Museum of London:
Writing has brought with it some unexpectedly wonderful experiences. As someone born in London who still lives in the Capital, there’s a particular excitement when there might be something special on my doorstep. A preview event of Cheapside Hoard, London’s Lost Jewels at the Museum of London perhaps? Arrriving at the museum we were ushered downstairs. Everything – handbags, cameras and coats – was stored away in lockers. Airport style plastic bags were provided so that we could carry a few necessities around with us. We waited, trying and failing to peer through into the exhibition rooms.
Then, in through steel doors to the exhibition.
The small group invited to this preview were mesmerised from the start by the visible passion and enthusiasm of curator Hazel Forsyth. And, as she spoke, explaining how the collection had been found in 1912, buried in a cellar on Cheapside, by workmen demolishing the property, we learnt that in Elizabethan London Cheapside was, as its name suggest, the Bond Street of the City, with Jewellers and Merchants lining the streets. Built originally in 1667 to replace those lost in the Great Fire, by 1910, the buildings were beyond repair. And, as the workmen started to excavate the cellars they found a tangled heap of jewellery.
We’ve struck a toy shop, I thinks guvnor
One of the workmen is reported to have said, as they handed the hoard over to George Fabian Lawrence, known as ‘Stony Jack’, the local pawnbroker who routinely paid workmen for their finds in the area with a pint of beer.
It does sound like a fairy story. Now, the Museum of London has the collection on show in its entireity for the first time ever. Nearly 500 late 16th Century and early 17th century jewels and gemstones. The Cheapside Hoard is remarkable, a time-capsule of finery from Elizabethan England. Sombre walls are lined with Elizabethan portraits borrowed to set the exhibition in time and place, while the jewels are displayed hanging from threads and carefully lit to highlight the quality of the workmanship. If you peer through the cases, you can almost ‘dress’ the paintings.
Yet more virtual reality comes from a tiny door in the wall. Open it and breathe in the scent of Elizabethan and Early Stuart England. Well, at least the scent of the Court and Church, a perfume specially created for the museum by master perfumer Rojo Dove. It’s a rich, heady fragrance strong enough to mask the unpleasant smells of the time.
While the contemporary Elizabethan and early Stuart jewels are distinguished by their ‘frozen in time’ state, the collection has many older jewels that reflect London’s importance as an centre for international trade in an age of global exploration. There is a piece depicting Cleopatra from the second or first century BC and two wonderful Byzantine cameos, together with Roman gems from the around the first century BC.
Perhaps my personal favourite is a watch, set into a single hexagonal emerald. A fine emerald hexagon covers the watch face, cut so carefully that the time is still visible even when the lid is closed. And this rather pretty Colombian Emerald, diamond and enamel Salamander brooch.
The exhibition runs from 11th October 2013 through to 27th April 2014. Entry to the Museum of London is free, tickets for the Exhibition are £10 for adults and £8 for children and concessions. There are also a number of special talks which relate to the exhibition, including one by Hazel Forsyth from 7 -8.30pm on the 23rd October where you can learn more about the making of the exhibition and why the Hoard provides a special insight into life in London during the mid-17th century.
The Cheapside Hoard
London’s Lost Jewels
150 London Wall
London EC2Y 5HN