Treasure and tragedy

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The 2,000-yr-old Fenwick Treasure.

Tucked down the side of Bond Street station, Fenwick’s department store is a bit of a hidden gem – and for the next week we mean that literally! Whether you’re interested in archaeology or just like to look at beautiful things, listen up; we’ve got a great free display that you’ll love.

Go into the store from its New Bond Street entrance and walk through the jewellery department. Here there are lots of stunning shinies to catch your eye, but towards the end of the section is a big glass case holding some particularly special treasures: 2,000-year-old Roman rings, bracelets, and earrings.

Follow the signs from the New Bond Street entrance!

Follow the signs from the New Bond Street entrance!

The jewellery is stunning to see – while the silver pieces have tarnished with time, the gold is still as bright and yellow as the day it was made – while some of the pieces look strikingly modern and wearable, from a pair of earrings shaped like apples, to a set of geometric arm bands.

But their beauty belies a sad history: the jewellery (found in Colchester and excavated by Colchester Archaeological Trust last year) dates from the time of Boudicca’s rebellion against Rome in AD 61, during which the Iceni sacked three Roman towns – Londinium (London), Verulamium (St Albans), and Camulodunum (Colchester).

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Roman bracelets, rings, and earrings, found in Colchester.

The latter was razed to the ground and its inhabitants – mostly retired soldiers and their families – massacred. To this day, signs of this destruction can still be seen every time construction projects open the ground, as a thick band of fire-reddened earth, thick with the ruined remains of 1st century houses, lies under the modern town.

It was within the remains of one such house that the jewellery was found, tucked into a box and buried in a hastily scratched scoop beneath the floor. Had the building’s occupants – probably a man and a woman, given that while the gold items are unmistakeably feminine, silver jewellery (which here includes a large armlet decorated with hunting imagery and a depiction of a panther) is often associated with men in the Roman period) – hidden their most prized possessions as the Iceni army approached, hoping to flee and return for
them later?

The fear that they must have felt, especially after learning that the legion marching to the town’s rescue, Legio IX, had been ambushed and slaughtered by Boudicca’s warriors, is hard to imagine. We don’t know what happened to the hoard’s owners, but their treasures stand as a poignant reminder of a brutal episode in Britain’s past, even as we marvel at the ingenuity of their makers.

More information:

The hoard will be on display at the Bond Street Fenwick store until 8 November, and is free to see. Next year the jewellery will be on permanent display at Colchester Castle Museum.


Address: 63 New Bond St, London, W1A 1RQ

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