The story began when the antique restorers and dealers Gilboy’s were asked to restore two pieces of furniture at Shallowford Farm, a Dartmoor estate in a remote part of Devon near Newton Abbot.
Having been commissioned to restore a Georgian oak bureau and an 18th century oak gateleg table, Gilboy’s were then asked to take a look at some old unwanted furniture and household items kept in a rather mouldy-looking caravan.
On entering the caravan, the owner of the restoration firm Simon Gilboy immediately spotted a worn but attractive mahogany bureau. Despite its poor condition being covered in mould and spider webs, he felt it was made by a skilled hand and was very much worth restoring.
The bureau was removed from the caravan and taken back to their workshop in Staverton. The firm’s head restorer William Arscott inspected it and admired it for the quality of the mahogany used, the fine dovetailing to the front as well as the rear of the drawers and the original blue paper lining to the unusual nine drawer layout. It also had the GR cypher to the locks suggesting a Regency date.
When Gilboy’s apprentice Archie Newnham-Dibley, who joined the firm earlier this year, began to remove the main carcass drawers under the guidance of Arscott, he discovered a few old coins were found trapped in the cylinder mechanism which prevented it from closing properly.
Newnham-Dibley then noticed that one of the removed drawers was shorter than the others and, by looking deep into the fitted section, he discovered a hidden drawer with a turned mahogany knob.
The hidden drawer yielded some surprising contents: a silver chain, a handwritten letter and a light blue box with the printed words ‘Garrard & Co Ltd, Crown Jewellers, 112 Regent Street, London – W1’.
The box was inscribed in pen with the words ‘Lady Braund’ and inside was a brooch with no fewer than 75 diamonds and 34 emeralds. The restorers realised they were looking at something potentially valuable and the next day Simon Gilboy took it to Wellington’s jewellers in Totnes and presented the brooch to the jeweller John Doble, who confirmed that the emeralds and diamonds were genuine.
The piece would appear to be a double clip brooch in Art Deco style dating from the 1920s. A genuine Garrard & Co brooch would likely be very valuable, although this apparently unmarked example would likely fetch at least a thousand pounds at auction in its own right.
Either way, a provenance to Lady Braund would not be surprising given the family links to Shallowford Farm.
The farm was purchased in 1976 by the late Elizabeth Margaret Braund, the daughter of Sir Henry and Lady Margaret Braund, who turned it into a rural getaway retreat for deprived children and families from South London. Since her death in 2013, its charitable operations have been run by the Shallowford Trust.
After making the discovery last week, Gilboy’s have now returned the brooch to the trust who ATG understands are now intending to sell it to support their charitable projects.
“It is not unusual for us as restorers to find personal effects that have been trapped in the body of a bureau or chest of drawers,” said the restoration firm, “but this was clearly apparent to all of us that it was potentially a very valuable, special secret that may help to fund the charitable trust that Elizabeth Braund had dedicated so much of her life to.”