The Cheapside Hoard

Today’s post is a guest article about ‘The Cheapside Hoard’ by JoAnn Spears, author of Six of One: A Tudor Riff.

Six of One: A Tudor Riff by JoAnn Spears

Please join me in welcoming JoAnn to On the Tudor Trail and keep an eye out for our interview coming soon!

The Cheapside Hoard

by JoAnn Spears

‘The Cheapside Hoard’ celebrates the 100th anniversary of its discovery in June 2012.  This story of the discovery of this Renaissance-era treasure trove is an anglophile’s delight.

How it happened

A view of Cheapside published in 1837

Early 20th century London had a lot of construction and repurposing of buildings going on.  What it didn’t have was a formal system of laws to protect antiquities and artifacts unearthed during demolition.  It did have a character straight out of Dickens on hand, though.  His name was Stoney Jack.

Stoney Jack, AKA G.F. Gordon, was a wheezy West Hill antique dealer.  Fortunately, he also had a day job.  Jack was the Inspector of Acquisitions at the London Museum, housed at the time in Lancaster House, St. James’s.  Stoney Jack understood networking long before it became a buzzword, and leveraged connections like a latter-day Fagin.

According to H. V. Morton‘s ‘In Search Of London’, Stoney Jack made it his business to meet and greet at every demolition site in London.  By dint of his efforts he eventually became a well-known figure among all of the navvies who toiled at these sites.

Stoney Jack did more than just meet and greet.  He groomed the navvies into amateur archeologists in the tap-rooms of the city pubs, forging relationships that gave him first crack at any objects of interest that these men unearthed from worksite rubble and soil.  Stoney Jack made a killing selling many of these objects to the Museum of London, where they formed the basis of the Museum’s Medieval Collection.  What the Museum didn’t buy, Jack sold in his shop.  His navvy scouts got a cut of the profits, or at the very least a mug of ale.

Coins, mirrors, pottery, jewelry and artifacts of all kinds passed through Stoney Jack’s hands thanks to his navvy network.  Then one day in 1912, two navvies delivered him the mother lode that came to be known as the Cheapside Hoard.

The hoard was a mass of clay, about the size of a football, studded with gold.  As the clay was washed away from the mass, earrings, pendants, jewels and accessories of all kinds emerged.

The collection was and is priceless.  For his part in its discovery, Stoney Jack received a thousand pounds.  His scouts received about one hundred pounds each and reportedly went on quite a bender.


Six ink and wash designs for pendants by Hans Holbein the Younger

During the late Renaissance era, Cheapside was home to goldsmiths and jewelers.  It seems likely that the building the hoard was discovered in had once been a jeweler’s establishment or workshop.

The jewelry fashions and practices of the time explain why the Hoard is so especially valuable.  Bold, complex jewelry and accessories, with multiple large and valuable gems and much precious metal, were stylish.  They were also an investment.  This meant that these assembled pieces were often broken down into their component parts to liquidate the precious metal and gems as assets, or to reuse them in a newer and more fashionable piece.  This typically occurred with the very valuable pieces belonging to royalty or the nobility.  Mary Tudor Brandon’s ‘Mirror of Naples’, a former French crown jewel she spirited into England, was one such example.  It resembled a military decoration and featured a diamond and a pearl said to be the size of fingers.  Last seen on Henry VIII’s hat during the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the Mirror of Naples simply disappeared from history.

The Cheapside Hoard pieces are not the kinds of jewelry or accessories worn by royalty.  They most probably were part of the stock of a jeweler who catered to the increasingly prosperous middle-class.

The pieces of treasure

The Cheapside Hoard turned out to contain about 500 individual items from all over the world: Asia, the Middle East, South America, and other European countries.  Many of them were component items such as loose gemstones, chains, buttons and cameos.  Others were complete jewelry pieces or accessories, including rings, pendants, brooches and fan holders.  A lot of expert and colorful enamelwork, popular in the Stuart era, is contained in the Hoard.

The bulk of the Hoard now resides in the Museum of London , which refers to the treasures as “greatest hoard of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewelry in the world”.  Other pieces are housed in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert.

One of the more exotic items in the Hoard is a gold watch set into a hinged, Columbian-emerald case.   Cameos feature prominently in the Hoard and feature a diverse collection of subjects, including a dog, a bearded man, the goddess Isis, a cherub, the goddess Diana bathing, Venus and Mars, and Queen Elizabeth I herself.  Modern taste would probably be most enamored with the collection’s delicate gold and white-enameled scent bottle, set with rubies and diamonds.  Those who appreciate the whimsical might prefer the collection’s carved squirrel pendant.

Good news

Curious about the Cheapside Hoard?  Stay tuned to the British Museum website.  The Museum is planning an exhibition of the Cheapside Hoard in 2013.

By JoAnn Spears

View the Cheapside Hoard here.

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  1. Dear JoAnn, that was fascinating. I look forward to reading more about this discovery and the 2013 exhibition itself. Thank you for teaching me something new. I wonder how many other treasures are lying undiscovered? Someone I know just recently accidently threw out her jewellery in the rubbish, I guess this will be discovered burried in hundreds of years.

  2. JoAnn Spears says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, Debbie! I have been a Tudors person for years, and only learned of this story recently myself.

  3. Interesting insightful article. However, the exhibition will be at the Museum of London, not the British Museum!

  4. JoAnn Spears says:

    Thanks for reading, and for pointing that out. Looks like parts of the collection can also be found at the Victoria and Albert. Lots to go around!

  5. What an amazing find….thanks for that post Joanne, it was very interesting. I have an Uncle who has worked on building sites in and around London, and he has ‘dug up’ some interesting things, coins, pots, and even human bones…that stopped work for a while, they were found to be very old, so no crime was seen to have been committed, in our time anyway.
    I wonder if I have still got that metal detector in the attic!!! 🙂

  6. Talar Asdourian says:

    Wow. That’s absolutely amazing! My favorite was the scent bottle!

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