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V&A snaps up brooch found by hobby detectorist in former royal hunting ground

A late medieval cluster brooch dug up by a metal detectorist and snapped up by the V&A (V&A/PA)
A late medieval cluster brooch dug up by a metal detectorist and snapped up by the V&A (V&A/PA)

A rare, medieval diamond and gold brooch discovered by a metal detectorist has been snapped up by the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Justin Owens discovered the flower-shaped brooch, one of only seven known in the world, at a former royal and aristocratic hunting ground which is now a farm.

The V&A has acquired it, to sit alongside Queen Victoria’s coronet and Beyonce’s Papillon ring.

The brooch is only the second acquisition the V&A has ever made through the National Treasure Act, with the museum saying it “fills a significant gap” in its collection.

A similar brooch worn by Bianca Maria Visconti, Duchess of Milan and wife of Francesco Sforza (DeAgostini/Getty Images/PA)

The jewelled cluster brooch was cleaned with pheasant and ostrich feathers to limit damage as layers of dirt were removed from the “priceless” object.

Thought to be around 600 years old, it was found near Brigstock in Northamptonshire in 2017 but its discovery, during an organised dig, has remained under wraps until now.

Mr Owens, who was on the dig with his wife Helen, said he only had to search four inches (10cm) into the ground to uncover the treasure.

“Finding the brooch was a complete surprise – I couldn’t believe it,” said Mr Owens, who has been a hobby detectorist for around four years.

The late medieval cluster brooch (V&A/PA)

“At best I’d hope to come across a Roman or medieval hammered coin on a dig, but to find something so rare and valuable as this was a total shock.

“When I first found it, it was absolutely caked in mud. I didn’t have high hopes, thinking it might be an old bottle top or something.

“But what a discovery! Now I’ve seen it cleaned up by the V&A’s conservators, I can’t believe how exquisite it really is.

“The gold work is incredible and the jewels are stunning. It’s amazing to think who might have worn this and how it ended up buried underground, undisturbed for so many years.

“I’m excited it’s now in the V&A’s collection and on display in its jewellery gallery for everyone to enjoy. I’m looking forward to visiting myself very soon.”

The brooch goes on display in the V&A’s William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery alongside Queen Victoria’s diamond and sapphire coronet and Beyonce’s Papillon ring, from Thursday and will feature in the final episode of BBC Two’s Secrets Of The Museum documentary series.

Curators said it would have been worn with sumptuous textiles and other pieces of jewellery and played an important part in the display of status and wealth at the royal court.

It is believed the brooch was torn off at great force and lost during the chase as part of a hunt, when some of the diamonds would have fallen off.

Made up of layers of complex construction, it contains gold with white enamel and a central red spinel and would once have been decorated with pearls, which have biodegraded.

The V&A said it was not able to reveal the monetary value of the brooch, the only one of its kind to be found in the UK, but it has been described as “priceless”.

A brooch on display at the Museum of London (Fawcett Society/PA)

Meanwhile, the Museum of London announced that a brooch which belonged to women’s suffrage campaigner Millicent Fawcett is going on permanent display for the first time.

The gold and enamel piece was a gift from the suffragists to their president.

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