In 1912, a stash of 500-odd pieces of jewellery was discovered on the site of Goldsmith’s Row. Manufactured mostly in the 16th and 17th century, they were apparently hidden during the civil wars of the 1640s. Today, they have been made public at an exhibit at the Museum of London, with the blockbuster title The Cheapside Hoard.
The Museum of London is a little unfairly slighted in terms of London’s cultural destinations. It certainly seems to lack the pizzazz and advertising budget of, say, Tate Britain or the National Portrait Gallery. While this may make it less appealing to foreign visitors to the capital, it holds a much more appealing prospect to the Londoner.
The Cheapside Hoard was launched with a stylish mix of Elizabethan chic and the untapped potential of the curiosity of grown-ups. The resident band, the BeauBowBelles, are an eclectic nü-folk outfit, decked out in costume jewellery for the occasion and brandishing violins.
Visitors, tipsy on champagne and the dim lighting, were treated to by a dance performance (prim Tudor choreography evolving into a modern techno-ballet) by a Queen Mary and a Henry VIII type of couple. Upstairs, there was the chance to try on replica headwear from the period (very fetching) and abuse the photo booth (‘Mighty Booth’ – because everything is more fun with puns). In a quiet corner, creative outfit HurdyGurdy set up a sewing workshop, in which about a dozen people were completely engrossed at any time.
The hoard itself is, perhaps, more impressive to the jewellery scholar than it is to the casual visitor. It is heavily guarded, accessible only through a metal turnstile, and bags aren’t allowed (so bring an extra £1 for the lockers). The exhibition carries a wide range of items, from necklaces to buttons, from pendants to chains. The gemstones are large and imposing, but appear inexpertly crafted to the post-industrial observer. However the fine detail on the metal objects, the silver chests and buttons, is more impressive in the intricate craftsmanship.
The modestly-sized exhibition is interspersed with portraits of the era, men and women in stiff collars, adorned with their riches. This is where the magic of a museum after dark really shines through. Although the jewels themselves may be impressive, it is this sense of personal history, endurance through time and persistence through the changing world which makes them truly curious even to the casual observer.
The Museum of London is a rare type of London attraction which has not yet been sullied by the mainstream. Whether The Cheapside Hoard is a worthwhile investment of your time depends on your personal enthusiasm for history and gemstones, but it is definitely worth a visit alongside one of the evening-time events.
The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels takes place until 27 April 2014 at:
Musem of London
150 London Wall
View the full programme of late night events on their website.