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Another lovely evening online pub meeting last night. We kicked off with a short presentation by Joanna Moncrieff on Charles William Alcock – The Forgotten Father of English Sport. A wonderful story about a remarkable man whom few have even heard of.  Thanks, Jo!

Following from our last post, the topic for yesterday evening’s lockdown online pub meet-up was favourite London historic images. These could be paintings, illustrations, cartoons and even maps. Here I copy-paste from our Chat panel and today’s emails from participants and my own recollection. Apologies for any errors or omissions.

I’ll kick of with my choice which was William Hogarth’s engraving of the South Sea Bubble, 1720, the 300th anniversary of which is this year. The artist was about 23 at the time of the crash and made this engraving just a year later, a very early example of his satirical work. I’ll be writing a whole post on the bubble later.

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One of our members chose another of my absolute Hogarth favourites. the March of the Guards to Finchley (1750), which lives at the Foundling Museum.

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Other choices:

The Lord Mayor’s Show by Logsdail, in the Guildhall Art Gallery
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Madness – Anybody for Tea, Vicar and Topolski
A street in Bermondsey with cottages
The Gipkyn diptych of Old St Paul’s (Society of Antiquaries), below
The Dust Heap at Kings Cross (Wellcome Institute), below

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(thanks, Margaret!)

Anne Ramon chose Bury St Edmund by Sybil Andrews a linocut 1930s Dulwich Picture Gallery
Paul Blake: Work by Ford Madox Brown
Daniella King: Bus Stop by Doreen Fletcher

Diana Swinfield’s Group: “St Pancras Station (Rob Smith), Pisarro’s Lordship Lane Station (Diana), Demolition of Old London Bridge (Jen P) Blackfriars Bridge (Tina), Merrion’s 1638 Panorama (Doug H).

Stephen Coates chipped in with the only known map/illustration of a temporary bridge at Vauxhall from the very early 20C. It’s from the Museum of London.

aerial view of temporary bridge

Marilyn Green: ‘Constable Branch Hill Pond 1828 in the V&A ( and sketch from 1819).
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Diane Burstein nominated The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London, Viewed from an Interior by Thomas Cantrell Dugdale from the Geffrye Museum which is pointedly political, showing a very well-heeled man and woman observing the unemployed, hungry marchers from the comfort of a town house window.
Dugdale, Thomas Cantrell, 1880-1952; The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London, Viewed from an Interior

Tina Baxter nominated a remarkable painting from the Guildhall Art Gallery: Blackfriars Bridge & St Paul’s London by Anthony Lowe b 1957
blackfriars bridge

Probably my favourite of the evening was nominated by Claire Randall: The Royal George at Deptford Showing the Launch of The Cambridge, (1757), by John Cleverley the Elder from the National Maritime Museum. It’s gorgeous and when everything is open again I shall seek it out.
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Another very lively and fascinating session. My thanks to all who attended, spoke, contributed and sent feedback. Apologies if I forgot stuff.

Special salaams to Dave Brown, our Zoom admin, or in this context, Landlord!


Our next online pub meet-up is Wednesday 3 June at 6.30 pm. The break-out discussion topic will be name three historical Londoners you’d invite to dinner (or dine out with). Our introductory speaker will be LH Member Peter Kennedy on Thames foreshore bomb damage during World War 2.

 

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Very recently this 20 feet wide panorama by the French artist Pierre Prévost (1764 – 1823) has been put on display at the Museum of London. Painted around 1815 just after the Battle of Waterloo, it shows a 360 degree view of London as observed from the tower of St Margaret’s church, Westminster. It was done in watercolour on paper and is glued onto a canvas backing. It was a preparatory piece for a much larger monumental panorama, now lost.

The museum acquired the painting for £200,000 at auction held at Sotheby’s last July.

On Thursday last week I went to see it for the first time. It is lovely. It is not the museum’s fault that the digital versions released since the acquisition cannot possibly do justice to the original version. The colour is far more vibrant for a start. But there is great pleasure to be had zooming in on the detail, which I shall try and demonstrate here. Clearly the artist had a great deal of fun with it.

But also, just to note, for the first time I now properly understand the topography of the old Palace of Westminster: how it stood in relation to the river, Westminster Hall, Old and New Palace yard, and so on.

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Old Palace of Westminster, the centrepiece of the painting.

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New Palace Yard and Westminster Bridge.

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New Palace Yard looking further east to the new Strand Bridge, later Waterloo Bridge, and St Paul’s beyond.

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Detail. Carriages in New Palace Yard.

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Detail. New Palace Yard. A small crowd listening to a speaker, perhaps, or street vendor or performing animal.

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Detail. Two men having a punch-up! Onlookers.

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Detail. Charming depiction of a collier and his cart.

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Middlesex Guildhall, now the Supreme Court.

My only quibble with the display is that the three glass covers of the display cabinet are joined by strips of metal which are actually rather intrusive. I hope these can be improved upon somehow.

That aside, the panorama is a wonder, giving a superb depiction – albeit idealised – of London two hundred years ago. Do go and see it!


More about this at the Museum of London. 

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Exhibition at the Museum of London 23 July 2016 – 17 Apr 2017.

DSC04194cIt’s known of course as the Great Fire of London. So great in fact that more generally it is simply called the Great Fire. It raged for four days from 2 to 5 September 1666, destroying most of the Square Mile and a substantial area immediately west of the city wall. This being the disaster’s 350th anniversary, it is being commemorated with sundry events in many ways and places. Nobody is better equipped to deal with this than Museum of London with its vast collection of contemporary objects.

The overall design of the show is immersive and atmospheric, that is to say dark and quite noisy, but not intrusively so. This makes complete sense. The fire started at night and virtually all known paintings of it are nightscapes (at least three of which are on display). The first section is narrow and claustrophobic to give you the feel of the medieval London streedscape: it works.

Thereafter the the spaces open out to accommodate more object displays which take us chronologically through the before, during and after phases of the Fire.

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The technical stuff shows us just how pathetic was 17C fire-fighting equipment. Most risible of all were the squirts, a couple of which are on display. A beautifully-restored fire engine – also hopelessly inefficient – is one of the centrepieces of the exhibition.

The firesquirt. Just a large syringe.

The firesquirt. Just a large syringe.

17C fire engine. For effectiveness, it flatters to deceive!

17C fire engine. For effectiveness, it flatters to deceive!

A very large proportion of the objects feature the everyday – tiles, bricks, household objects. These quite obviously resonate the most and where the museum has a huge supply, not least via years of archaeology through MOLA and its predecessors.

Hoard of 17th-century glass found underneath burnt debris during excavations of a cellar on Gracechurch Street.

Hoard of 17th-century glass found underneath burnt debris during excavations of a cellar on Gracechurch Street.

There’s lots of interactivity that will prove popular with children (of all ages!). Microscopes to view in detail carbonised articles; pushbutton x-ray reveals of encrusted household objects such as locks, keys, knives; interactive computer game of saving buildings with a choice of methods – firehooks, gunpowder etc.

X-Ray of melted iron key found at Boltolph Lane. Museum id BPL95[119] This image may be used free of charge to promote and review the Museum of London Exhibition 'Fire Fire' 2016-17. All other uses must be cleared with the Museum of London picture library

X-Ray of melted iron key found at Boltolph Lane.

In addition, of course, there is no shortage of the paperwork: documents, diagrams, plans, panoramas, books. These could be an exhibition in their own right. And almost especially for me: old pub signs! Five of them!

The Monkey and Apple.

The Monkey and Apple.

The final phase of the exhibition shines a light on the aftermath and ramifications of the tragedy. For me and for many historians I suspect, this is the most absorbing part of the show because it reveals a clear break from many things medieval. It tells us of how Robert Hooke and his team along with voluntary Fire Judges decided who owned what;  how the leading thinkers of the day – Wren, Evelyn and others – came up with new plans for London (none was implemented: London had to get back into business asap); the birth of insurance; modern building regulations.

The Fire Judges' table.

The Fire Judges’ table.

Fire insurance. If you had cover, you'd attach the badge to the front of your building.

Fire insurance. If you had cover, you’d attach the badge to the front of your building.

One of Wren's drawings for the new St Paul's.

One of Wren’s drawings for the new St Paul’s.

Given the subject matter and the inventory at the museum’s disposal for a show such as this, the task would seem an embarrassment of riches for any curator. But in a way, this actually makes the task more challenging. Meriel Jeater and her team have surpassed that challenge to plan, design, assemble and deliver a wonderfully balanced and evocative exhibition of one of London’s greatest calamities. Do go.


Fire! Fire! runs at the Museum of London from tomorrow until 17 April 2017.
Tickets from £8 adults (when booked online).
More information and booking. 

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Many people know about the Met’s so-called “Black Museum” at New Scotland Yard; it is usually mentioned in whispered tones. The lucky few will preen slightly when they tell you that they have somehow managed to visit. This semi-mythical status has arisen because it is a private museum – the Crime Museum – whose purpose, from 1902, has been a training aid for detectives. But the genesis of the collection dates from the 1860s when it became compulsory for all prisoners’ belongings to be kept in safe storage. Most of these items remained uncollected, not least, of course, from criminals who had been executed. They were subsequently augmented with actual real case objects and other crime-related ephemera.

Early Police Museum illustration ILN 1883

Early Police Museum illustration ILN 1883

Hence the collection comprises thousands of items dating back to before 1829. About a third of them have been selected by curators at the Museum of London to be displayed to the public for the first time in this new exhibition: Crime Museum Uncovered. We have items which range from as far back as folk hero Jack Sheppard to as recently as the Glasgow Airport bomber and his fire-scorched laptop computer. Notorious criminals including Crippen, the Krays, the acid bath murderer and baby-farm murderer Amelia Dyer. Not only the likes of them, but totally obscure criminals whose cases are no less fascinating.

As you enter, the first several rooms set the nineteenth century scene and are deliberately arranged as the early Crime Museum may have been, using period display cabinets. We have about ten death masks of prominent murderers from before photography had become established. We also have court room pen and ink likenesses of people on trial, whether for murder, fraud or other myriad offences. They are sublimely done, by the illustrator William Hartley, for me the hero of this show. The curators clearly agree for they have rightly featured dozens of his illustrations over a number of displays. Apart from the defendents, they include judges, lawyers, courtroom staff, detectives and witnesses. Sitting just this side of caracature, they capture the all too human personalities of those in the witness stand, by turn evil, raffish, noble as the case may be.

Period display case and William Hartley illustrations.

Period display case and William Hartley illustrations.

William Hartley Courtroom illustration of Amelia Sachs and Annie Walters on trial for baby farming, 1903 © Museum of London

William Hartley Courtroom illustration of Amelia Sachs and Annie Walters on trial for baby farming, 1903 © Museum of London

Capital Punishment: Execution ropes, 19th and 20th Century © Museum of London

Capital Punishment: Execution ropes, 19th and 20th Century © Museum of London

The main hall of the exhibition is arranged with murders – infamous or interesting or both – down the right hand side while the left side and main body of the space is devoted thematically to types of crime: burglary, theft, forgery, terrorism, espionage and so on. As crimes and criminals became more sophisticated – more devious one might say – so too has the technology and method of detective work come along leaps and bounds: photography, fingerprint profiling, identikit, intelligence gathering and of course in the 20C – the Internet and CCTV. Ultimately, though, detective work – as they frequently emphasise on TV police shows – comes down to good old fashioned evidence gathering of the most mundane sort, which for me is the most interesting. So there are plenty of seemingly everyday objects – particularly in the murder displays – of cap badges, buttons, cigarette tins, etc.

Counterfeiting and Forgery: Implements used for counterfeiting seized by Metropolitan Police © Museum of London

Counterfeiting and Forgery: Implements used for counterfeiting seized by Metropolitan Police © Museum of London

Personal possessions of Ronnie Biggs and other members of the Great Train Robbery gang recovered from their hideout at Leatherslade Farm, 1963 © Museum of London / object courtesy the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum

Personal possessions of Ronnie Biggs and other members of the Great Train Robbery gang recovered from their hideout at Leatherslade Farm, 1963 © Museum of London / object courtesy the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum

The badge of the Leicestershire Regiment that helped to convict David Greenwood of murder, 1918. Greenwood was convicted of raping and murdering 16 year old girl, Nellie Trew in February 1918. This badge was found at the crime scene. He denied having met Nellie but was found guilty and sentenced to death, commuted to life imprisonment. He was released in 1933 aged 36. But was he guilty of the crime? © Museum of London / object courtesy the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum

The badge of the Leicestershire Regiment that helped to convict David Greenwood of murder, 1918.  © Museum of London / object courtesy the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum

Murder bag: a forensics kit used by detectives attending crime scenes © Museum of London

Murder bag: a forensics kit used by detectives attending crime scenes © Museum of London

Terrorism: Shrapnel from an unexploded Fenian bomb found at Paddington Station 1884 © Museum of London

Terrorism: Shrapnel from an unexploded Fenian bomb found at Paddington Station 1884 © Museum of London

This exhibition has been very thoughtfully curated, giving a fascinating insight into detective work in London over nearly two hundred years. It features, inevitably, extreme violence of both the criminal and the state without glorifying either, and being extra-careful to avoid sensationalism (there is some Ripper stuff, apparently: if so, I never saw it). It successfully exposes the all-too-human and tragic elements of crime without excusing it. This was their stated aim and they have achieved it with honour, I feel.

The Crime Museum Uncovered is as good if not better than the Cheapside Hoard show of a few years back, the Museum of London at its very best. I congratulate the curators and urge you to go and see it for yourself.

The Crime Museum Uncovered runs from today, 9 Oct, until 10 April 2016. Adult tickets from £10 and there are many associated events through the run. We understand this weekend is already fully-booked.

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Today we honour the memory of a most courageous and remarkable academic – the archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad – who was murdered in cold blood at the cowardly hands of ISIS in his homeland of Syria. His crime? Refusing to give up the secret locations of Palmyra’s antiquities which he had hidden from their vandalistic intent. One can only wonder at such bravery and dedication. Dedication to his craft. Dedication to the honour of his home town, Palmyra, and to Syria. Dedication to History.

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Khaled al-Asaad, the Director of Antiquities and Museum in Palmyra, in 2002.

As London Historians we have little in common with him in the narrowest sense but everything in common as historians. It’s a je suis Khaled thing. We would urge those in a better position than us to condemn and reject the agenda of ISIS by honouring this man in a meaningful and concrete way. The most appropriate institutions in England to do this should be led, of course, by the British Museum. Other guardians of antiquities such as the Ashmolian and Fitzwilliam museums should join in. They could each name a room after him or at least mount a plaque in his memory. How about the Khaled al-Asaad Annual Lecture? Please add your ideas in Comments, below, and use #HonourKhaled on Twitter.

I’d go further and suggest that this crime of ISIS, which contrasts so starkly al-Asaad’s sacrifice, deserves an even wider and bolder response. Every museum and gallery, every history, classics, antiquities and archaeological faculty and institution – here and elsewhere – should make a gesture in defiance of the ISIS agenda.

From us at London Historians: Khaled al-Asaad, we salute you.

The Murder of Khaled al Asaad.
The Guardian
The Telegraph
The Spectator
BBC News

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There is no question in my unbiased mind that our bridges on the Thames are the most interesting from an engineering point of view as well as being the most photogenic, and with magnificent variety. If you agree with me, you’ll love this new free exhibition at Museum of London, Docklands.

London Bridge-1789-Joseph Farrington-drawing; ink; wash-View of London Bridge from the South West. Museum of London ref 54.134/2

Joseph Farrington, drawing; ink; wash-View of London Bridge from the South West, 1789. Museum of London.

For centuries, central London had but one bridge which joined Southwark to the City. Our next crossing point upriver was miles upstream in Surrey at Kingston. Then Westminster Bridge came into being in 1750 and the City – not to be outdone – threw up Blackfriars Bridge in 1766. From then on, there has been no stopping us. Not only do we add extra crossing points frequently to this day (with the Garden Bridge in the immediate pipeline), we seem to like bashing down, extending, widening and rebuilding existing ones. Hence our oldest surviving bridge is the exquisite stone crossing at Richmond from 1780. All the others are relatively much newer.

Apart from a large oil of Waterloo Bridge and a few panoramic items, most pieces in this exhibition are quite small, and some very small indeed. There are photographs, oils, etchings, watercolours, pen n ink, engravings. Highlights include a depiction of Blackfriars Bridge under construction by Piranesi, who never actually visited London, but had met the bridge’s designer, Robert Mylne; an ancient 1840s photograph – the oldest in the museum’s collection – of Old Hungerford Bridge, by William Henry Fox Talbot. There is a gorgeous canvas of Waterloo Bridge (1821) by Charles Deane – the viewpoint is from Lambeth and it features watermen, Thames barges and lighters in the foreground. Old Waterloo Bridge features a lot in this show; I was quite taken by the 1930s demolition photographs by Albert Linney, cited by some as vandalism by Herbert Morrison and leading to the dull but worthy bridge we know today, largely constructed by women during World War Two.

My favourites, though are featured in this post, two series of images: four river views in pen and watercolour by Joseph Farringdon from 1789/90; and three etchings by James McNiell Whistler from around 1860.

The Museum’s Estuary show last year featured at least three or four fascinating film installations. Bridge has just the one – by an artist who featured in Estuary: William Raban. This film, Beating the Bridges from 1998, takes us on a boat journey downstream through Westminster, the City and down the estuary. His filmaker’s eye shows us detail most of us miss; much of the trip’s soundtrack is provided by an in-shot jazz drummer on the boat. So it’s a work with a twinkle in its eye.

64.6/7 -Billingsgate-Whistler, James Abbott McNeill -1859-print /etching published 1871

Billingsgate. Whistler, James Abbott McNeill -1859-print /etching published 1871. Museum of London.

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Old Hungerford Bridge. Whistler, James Abbott McNeill-1861. Museum of London.

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 Old Westminster Bridge. James Abbott McNeill Whistler,1859. print; etching and dry point. Museum of London.

This is a wonderful show which you must see. I bet most of you reading this have not been to Museum of London Docklands yet. Until early last year, I was in the same shameful position. Regardless of this lovely exhibition, everyone should visit the superb institution on its own merits. A short walk from Canary Wharf or West India Quay on the DLR, it’s really easy to get to. And free.

Bridge at Museum of London, Docklands runs until 2 November 2014.

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London Historians’ Thames bridges album on Flickr.

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Review: The Cheapside Hoard, London’s Lost Jewels

The Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

In June 1912, workmen digging under the former premises of a goldsmith in the City’s once-fashionable shopping thoroughfare of  Cheapside discovered a sensational stash of treasure. It comprised over 500 pieces of precious jewels and stones, mainly from the late 16th to early 17th centuries, but some very much older pieces too. The objects were encrusted in the raw mud and clay. The excited diggers took their haul directly to the antiques dealer GF “Stoney Jack” Lawrence at his shop in Wandsworth. Stoney Jack was known to every navvy, builder and mudlark in London as the man who would know what to do with your find and give you a good deal.

The Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

Stoney Jack

From there the collection found itself split between the Guildhall Museum (1826) and the London Museum (1912), but reunited when those institutions joined together as Museum of London (1976). Amazingly, the Cheapside Hoard as it became known, has never been exhibited in its entirety. Until now.

This new show at the Museum of London displays the hoard in all its glory. All bags to be left in the lockers downstairs, you have to pass security guards and specially-installed thick barred high specification floor-to-ceiling turnstiles before entering the dimly lit exhibition space. Once inside, you encounter dozens of glass cabinets in which curator Hazel Forsyth and her team have lovingly arranged the long-lost treasure. Rings, necklaces, brooches, earrings, bracelets, costume jewellery, perfume bottles, scientific instruments, watches, hairpieces, combs, lockets, cameos and on and on. I used to drool over this sort of thing as a boy reading pirate comics.

What immediately strikes one is the design and the craftsmanship that went into these items. On display are some contemporary design books, works of art in their own right. But it is the skill that went into the build of this jewellery that is breathtaking (there are large magnifying glasses on hand, for the use of) – these Tudor and Jacobean jewellers must’ve ruined their eyesight over the years.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

Museum of London staff had painstakingly to thread fine wire through each link of these necklaces to make this stunning display.

The oldest piece. Ptolomaic cameo, possibly of Cleopatra.

The oldest piece. Ptolomaic cameo, possibly of Cleopatra.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

Gold and enamel scent bottle. Use of perfumes made a comeback during the Tudor period.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

An assortment of gorgeous pendants.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

Elizabeth Wrothesley, Countess of Southampton, 1620. National Portrait Gallery.

The fascinating thing about the hoard is that it tells us a lot, and yet it holds deep secrets too. Jewellery tends to be messed about over time. Fashions change, tastes change and so a lot of pieces get broken up, adjusted, reset, made into something else and so on. The jewels represent therefore a massive survival for jewellery and fashion historians to learn from. Second, a huge proportion of the precious stones are from the New World, particularly striking are emeralds from South America, reminding us how the maritime powers of Europe were dicing for global supremacy across the high seas, Elizabethan England not least of them, taking early steps on the road to becoming in time the number one player.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

Watch set in South American emerald. Amazingly, the translucent lid is actually closed!

Having recovered from the sensory assault dished out by the jewels themselves, one has time to take in the support displays which put the whole thing in historical context and the curators have done a fantastic job. Contemporary portraits of England’s elite hanging on the outer exhibition wall, showing of their bling. Puritanism still being in its infancy, this was a period was of ostentatious display among England’s ruling elite. Status symbols. We have a section showing what contemporary Cheapside looked like through maps and illustrations. It was London’s leading thoroughfare of posh retail, dominated by goldsmiths, silversmiths, jewellers. Another cabinet (my favourite after the jewels themselves) tells us about security, showing containers ranging from fancy jewellery cases through to ponderous iron-clad chests, secured by the most unimaginably complex locking mechanisms.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

Braun and Hogenberg map of London, 1574. Pic: author.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

Reconstruction of contemporary jeweller’s workshop using actual tools from Museum of London collections. Pic: author.

Treasure containers. The fancy and the cautious. Pic: author.

Treasure containers. The fancy and the cautious. Pic: author.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

Ephemera. One of several typical shop signs from the era. Delightful. Pic: author.

So the hoard has told us much. But not its biggest secrets. Who owned it and why did they bury it? When did they bury it? And why didn’t they come back for it? The when has kind of been established. No earlier than 1640, because the newest piece has been successfully dated to that year. No later than 1666, the Great Fire, because the building under which the hoard was buried was destroyed in the Fire. As for the who and the why, there’s a short film clip at the end which throws up some possibilities. The English Civil war kicked off in 1642 and even after the Restoration in 1660, England was beset by religious and political uncertainty and strife. So they were dangerous times. In all likelihood the person who did the burying died and his secret died with him. But why did he do it, whose “side” he was on – religiously or politically? Who was he? We’ll almost certainly never know.

This is a landmark exhibition, wonderfully conceived and executed. highly recommended.
The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels runs until 27 April 2014.

All images Museum of London unless otherwise stated.

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