Object of the Month – July 2023

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores.

Forgeries in the Museum!

by Joanne Pegrum, Museum Volunteer

On display in Saffron Walden Museum during July, possibly for the first time since the 19th century, are a group of six lead objects known as ‘Billys and Charleys’. The objects appear to be medieval religious objects but they are known to be forgeries with a tale to tell from Victorian London.

Billy (William Smith) and Charley (Charles Eaton), who give their nickname to the objects, were mudlarks. Mudlarks would scour the foreshore of the Thames to find things of value to sell. From the 1840s they were selling the antiquities they had found to antiques dealers, then in the 1850s they turned to profit by deception. Billy and Charley began to fabricate medieval religious objects which they claimed to have found at a development at Shadwell.

The volume of these strange medieval objects appearing on the market began to arouse the suspicion of archaeologists and antiquarians but there were conflicting opinions as to their authenticity. Proof of forgery could not initially be established and so their deception and profiteering continued.

Visit the Museum in July to learn more about this intriguing story and see these charming objects. Can you spot the clues that might reveal these objects as forgeries?

Joanne Pegrum holding the lead figure of a saint.

Lead medallion 8.5 cm wide, showing two figures mounted on a grazing horse.

Lead figure 16.3 cm high of a saint holding a scroll and book, and riding a four-legged animal.

© Saffron Walden Museum


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