Billy & Charley’s Curious Leaden Figures
“Curious leaden figures discovered at Shadwell” read the shameless announcement published in the ‘Illustrated Times’ of February 26th 1859, placed there by George Eastwood, eager dealer in the works of Billy & Charley, two East End mudlarks turned forgers who succeeded in conning the London archaeological establishment for decades with their outlandish and witty creations.
These fine examples of Shadwell shams from the collection of Philip Mernick fascinate and delight me with their characterful demeanours, sometimes fearsome and occasionally daft – inspiring my speculative captions which you see below.
CURIOUS LEADEN FIGURES DISCOVERED AT SHADWELL
Announcement by George Eastwood, Billy & Charley’s dealer, published in the Illustrated Times, February 26th, 1859
A very considerable addition has been made during the winter to the singular leaden signacula found at Shadwell, which were the subject of a trial at Guildford. They are now on view at Mr. George Eastwood’s, Haymarket, where they have been inspected by some of the most experienced antiquaries, who, while they one and all concur in asserting the perfect genuineness of these remarkable objects, do not fully agree in explaining the purpose for which they were made. Upon one point there is no dispute, and that is, that the figures date from Queen Mary’s time, and were probably used in religious processions. Some of the badges resemble the earlier pilgrims’ signs.
The centre figure shown in the illustration we give of these additions to archaeological science, is that of a king holding a sword in his left hand and with the other pointing downward. The head is surmounted by a crown, the hair is long and flowing, the beard square in form and the face altogether bears great resemblance to the effigies seen on some of our early Saxon coins. To the right of this figure is another, evidently a bishop, judging from the mitre which he wears – the dress is apparently extremely rich in ornamentation. Immediately in front of thisfigure stands a smaller one, also of an ecclesiastic, but having no inscription on its base like the others. Again, in front of this another mitred statue holding a scepter of globular form at the top and dressed in robes of costly material. To the left are two well-formed bottles with handles, the lesser one having winged figures around the body. The larger one has also figures upon it and a foliated pattern. To the left of the king, who forms the centre of our group, stands a female figure, in not very graceful attitude, bearing a scepter in one hand and having the other resting on her hip. The remainder are but repetitions, to a great extent, of those already described and require no further explanation.
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