Back in June of 1912, London demolition workers were breaking down the dilapidated Wakefield House in Cheapside when they discovered a decayed wooden box beneath the brick cellar floor. Stacked within the box were trays of jewelry and gemstones, a priceless cache of 500 pieces.
The jewelry, which had been hidden and forgotten for more than 250 years, now represents the world’s largest known discovery of Elizabethan and Jacobean-period jewelry. Dubbed the Cheapside Hoard, the collection will be on display at the Museum of London from October 11 until April 27, 2014. It’s the first time all 500 items have been on exhibit in more than 100 years.
Among the items on display are rings, necklaces, jeweled scent bottles and fan holders, brooches and bracelets. Reflecting how London was a hub of international trade, there are emeralds from Colombia and Brazil; Brazilian amazonite; spinel, iolites and chrysoberyl from Sri Lanka; Indian rubies and diamonds; Persian turquoise; lapis lazuli from Afghanistan; Red Sea peridot, opals, garnets; amethysts from Bohemia and Hungary; and pearls from Bahrain.
One star of the show is a watch set into an enormous carved-out hexagonal Colombian emerald. Another standout is a gold, diamond and emerald hat pin in the shape of a salamander.
Most of the jewelry is representative of 16th and 17th centuries, but some of the items date back 1,300 years to the Byzantium period.
According to thehistoryblog.com, the demolition workers helped themselves to the jewels, wrapped them in handkerchiefs and stuffed them into their pockets, boots and caps. They knew that they could make a quick buck by selling the bounty — no questions asked — to a local man they knew as Stoney Jack.
Jack’s real name was G.F. Lawrence, an antiques dealer who was also the head of acquisitions for the brand new London Museum which, coincidentally, opened the same year the Cheapside Hoard was discovered. Lawrence purchased every Cheapside item that came into his shop, and this is why the huge collection stands intact today.
Exhibition curator Hazel Forsythe believes the Hoard was buried between 1640 and 1666. Scholars assume the huge jewelry collection was probably the stock of a jeweler or a group of jewelers who hid it for later retrieval. In the 17th century, Cheapside was known for its jewelry shops. Why the Hoard remained under the basement floor of the Wakefield House for two and a half centuries is still a mystery.