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London’s top 10 treasures

Posted at 4:30 pm, January 1, 2013 in Secret London
A gold, diamond and emerald hat ornament in in the form of a salamander

If ‘X’ marks the spot, you may as well draw a giant ‘X’ across London, so rich is its collection of treasures. Here are Time Out’s top ten: 1. The Crown Jewels
Are they worth £3.5 billion or more than £20bn? We don’t know, because no one who does know is allowed to talk about the value of the royal riches held in the Tower of London, essentially a massive, unusually picturesque deposit box for Her Maj. The Great Star of Africa diamond alone is believed to be worth more than £250 million. When the original stone was sent from South Africa, a decoy travelled under secure guard by ship, while the real gem was sent in a plain box by registered post.

2. Buried gold
There’s a stash of gold at the Bank of England worth £156bn. Surely the Bank’s new Canadian whizzkid could kickstart the economy with that little lot? Tucked away in an underground vault that used to be a canteen is row upon row of 24-carat ingots, stacked like loaves of bread on surprisingly unsexy storage shelves. Before you get any ideas, the vault was used as an air-raid shelter for bank staff during World War II, so those concrete-lined walls are bombproof.

3. The £2.8 million dress
Well, didn’t you think Marilyn Monroe looked at least a million dollars when she stood over that air vent in ‘Seven Year Itch’? Currently on display at the V&A’s Hollywood Costume exhibition, this genuinely iconic white halterneck was bought by actress Debbie Reynolds in 1971 for £123, when she dreamed of starting a Hollywood memorabilia museum. When it sold at auction in 2011, the dress became the most expensive in history. Apparently Reynolds cried as the gavel fell.

4. The Cheapside Hoard
Discovered in a cellar in the City in 1912, the Cheapside Hoard is an incredible cache of late sixteenth-and early seventeenth-century jewels and gemstones. This mysterious trove of valuable pieces offers a glimpse into the world of Elizabethan and Jacobean London and reveals great craftsmanship. It will be displayed in its entirety for the first time in over a century in a Museum of London exhibition opening in 2013. Who owned the hoard, when was it hidden, and why was it never reclaimed? That’d be one hell of a story on ‘Flog It!’.

5. The London Bridge repairs fund
In the 1200s, London Bridge was doing so well with tolls, fines and rents that its maintenance fund began to grow. Since then, this well-managed pot has paid for Blackfriars Bridge to be built, and seen the trustees (the City of London Corporation) take on Southwark Bridge and the Millennium Bridge. If London Bridge really did fall down, as the nursery rhyme goes, the trustees would have to pay for it without government help, but given all that stashed cash, they’re sitting pretty. For centuries the savings could only be spent for bridge purposes, but now the multimillion-pound fund also benefits London charities including the Terrence Higgins Trust and local independent film companies.

6. Iguanodon teeth
On display at the Natural History Museum, these priceless fossils discovered in 1822 triggered the study of dinosaurs. Before this, large bones found throughout the centuries had been dismissed as the remains of nothing more than very big beasts, but after Mary Mantell found these prehistoric gnashers on a Sussex roadside, she and her husband Gideon’s work founded a bold new school of thought.

7. The Magna Carta
Stating the limitations of the monarch’s powers and declaring all free men as being punishable only by the law of the land, this agreement signed by King John in 1215 was an inspiration for everything from the first Bill of Rights to Habeas Corpus. Only a few copies of the Magna Carta remain, but London has TWO of them! There’s a relatively modern 1225 re-issue at the British Library and a 1297 document at Guildhall which includes Edward I’s seal.

8. The Keats letter
Forget texting ‘c===3’ to your lover – visit Keats’s House in Hampstead and get a lesson in proper love-letter writing from the nineteenth-century poet John Keats. His love affair with Fanny Brawne was never consummated because the poet suffered from infectious tuberculosis. The last of his 30 letters to Brawne was bought in auction in 2011, for £96,000. On the outside he had scrawled, ‘You had better not come today.’ He died a few months later, aged 25.

9. The Shakespeare Deed
Facts about William Shakespeare’s life remain largely obscure. The Stratford-upon-Avon boy spent much of his working life in London and his signature on the title deed for a property in Blackfriars is one of only six known authentic examples of his signature still in existence. There is a facsimile on display in the Guildhall Library, and the original is available by application or displayed on rare, special occasions.

10. The $106,482,500 nude
Pablo Picasso’s ‘Nude, Green Leaves and Bust’ sold at auction in New York in 2010 and is the second most expensive artwork in the world. Only Munch’s ‘The Scream’ topped it. This 1932 painting of Picasso’s clandestine lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, was bought by a private collector, but is on long-term loan and can be enjoyed by you for nowt at Tate Modern. Now that’s why we love London’s finest treasures.

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