London's mysterious Cheapside treasure to go on show

Thu Jun 6, 2013 12:53pm EDT
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By Li-mei Hoang

LONDON (Reuters) - Experts may be one tiny step closer to unraveling the mystery of who buried hundreds of dazzling jewels under a London neighborhood during a turbulent period in English history covering the Civil War, Restoration and Great Fire.

The Cheapside Hoard on show at the Museum of London from October 11 features priceless gems from as far away as India, Latin America and the Middle East that were buried in the 17th century and discovered in 1912 under an old building in central London.

Since its discovery, the intrigue surrounding the hoard over who buried it, when and why has been one of London's greatest historical mysteries.

But recent examination of a previously overlooked gem bearing the engraved badge of the first and only Viscount Stafford has helped reveal that the treasure is likely to have been buried around 1640, when he acquired his title but before the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The tiny red stone has helped experts to place a date of burial for the hoard found in Cheapside, a district of London famed for its gold and jeweler trade in the 17th century which was razed to the ground during the Great Fire.

"Because that gem is there (in the collection), that gives us that nice cut off date that the hoard must have been buried after 1640," Museum of London curator Jackie Keily told Reuters.

It is also possible that other pieces in the hoard may have once belonged to the viscount, who was an avid collector of gems and antiquities, but then sold during the Civil War to a goldsmith or jeweler.

"During that period of the Civil War, you had a lot of people who had to move quickly and liquidate their assets in a hurry so it may be that people were selling things at that time and therefore gems could have come from a whole series of sources," said Keily.   Continued...