29 October 2013

The Cheapside Hoard

Last week I went to see the Cheapside Hoard at the Museum of London and was totally amazed by the craftsmanship of these wonderful pieces that had been hidden under ground for centuries.
I don't need to write much more about the Hoard's history etc here because you can find an excellent in-depth review on the London Historian's blog.
My theory is that, seeing as his stock was so large and valuable, the owner of the jewellery shop that was originally located at the site, kept kept everything of value in an underground space on a regular basis. But, how come the gold didn't melt in the Great Fire of London? Was the collection boxed and locked or just wrapped up? If boxed, where is the box? Perhaps the jeweller intended to return after the fire but he, and possibly his family too, died, and having told no one about his hiding place the jewels stayed buried.
The Cheapside Hoard is amazingly good so it's disappointing to report that the layout of the exhibition does not back it up.
On entering through vault-style turnstile gates, the initial information board talks about when the Hoard was discovered, so you move into the first main room but find it is full of things from the Elizabethan period with scant explanation to why there are there. It took me ages to realise that these items were not from the hoard but were museum pieces included to help place the Hoard in context with what was happening in that period. A big heading somewhere reading "Jewels and jewellery-making in the Elizabethan period" would have been helpful. I was not the only person there who was confused like this. I heard lots of "what's this?/Who is he/she?/Where?/Why?". There was lots of milling back and forth re-reading things.
Many of the information cards are nowhere near the artefacts they refer to; one lady and I effectively made up a new dance step as we kept moving circling each other trying to find things. Items are mentioned in the text yet not visible in the cabinets. And conversely, there are artefacts with no explanation at all. It's all very confusing. In one cabinet there are street names referred to. I had no idea where these streets were and how they related to Cheapside, and I am a Londoner... so how's a man from Sweden going to know where they are? The inclusion of a map showing the location of the shop would have been extremely useful.
So it was such a palpable relief to enter the next room and be confronted with a cabinet full of beautiful long chain necklaces that WERE from the Hoard. Phew!
At the end of the exhibition, just before a really dodgy 5-min film about why the Hoard might have buried, are two information boards that, to my mind, would have been better placed near the entrance, because I said "A-ha!" out loud.
It's always wise to get someone who hasn't worked on a job to check it before it goes live, whether it's a book, a presentation or an exhibition. It's often hard to notice the mistakes when you are in the thick of it. So, if anyone out there would like any help with their next event then please do contact me because I have a keen eye for detail and a questioning mind so I make a good test dummy.
But hey.... go go go.... it's on until 27th April 2014.
Jewellers etc in London. 
At least three of the shops featured here have since closed for good. 
I wonder if there's anything sparkly buried underneath them?

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