I finally went to see The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels at the Museum of London. The posters are never far from most underground station walls enticing you to learn more about the hoard’s mystery and I was ready to follow the gemstone trail…
The hoard was uncovered in 1912, after being buried in the depths of an untouched cellar in Cheapside, near St Pauls in London. A workman began to clear an area and stumbled upon a literal treasure chest, disguised as a decaying wooden box bursting with precious gemstones and jewels. This discovery lured the workman to dig deeper into the cellar, bringing light to the gems which had laid untouched for almost 300 years. However the mystery has never been solved as to why the collection was buried and by who. Researchers have been able to determine a time frame that the collection was buried of 1640-1666, due to royal references engraved in some pieces and damage at the site caused by the Great Fire of London.
The collection boasts a spectacular range of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery (late 16th and early 17th century) including rings, necklaces, brooches, bracelets, loose jewels, gemstones and much more. Some pieces have stood the test of time better than others, there was an exquisite ruby and pearl bracelet, but the pearls had withered to almost nothing, leaving only the gold clasps they had once sat proudly in. I even impressed myself (and my friend Jo who accompanied me on my treasure hunt) by managing to identify gems locked away in a cabinet which had yet to be faceted or polished, so are difficult to identify in their rock state. Some of my gemmology course is beginning to sink in!
I found the most breathtaking pieces to be a gold scent bottle encrusted with opals, rubies, pink sapphires and diamonds. It was beautiful to say the least. It’s original use was to hang as a necklace, containing perfume to disguise any unpleasant scents associated with the time era.
The second most breathtaking piece for me was a watch set in a single emerald crystal. Striking and intricate at the same time, it truly is a priceless time piece.
By the end of the exhibition Jo and I were yet to fully understand why the hoard had been buried. Perhaps the owner of the collection was in danger and hid the jewels so they could not be ceased, or perhaps it was an accident and the roof of the property had collapsed, banishing the collection underground. The mystery still continues as reseachers cannot establish the true story behind the hidden hoard. Either way the exhibition is fascinating in the way it highlights how talented craftsmen of the time were, highlighting an era of decadence for the rich amongst society under Queen Elizabeth’s I reign. It certainly makes me want to woman-up and explore the next chilling cellar I encounter.
The exhibition closes at the end of April so get your tickets quickly before the mystery vanishes again and make your own mind up on why this precious hoard was buried.
Unfortunately there was no photography allowed in the exhibition, so some of the photos featured above are sourced from the below, the remaining are my own