Hidden jewels found in antique bureau

A Treasured Secret – Lady Braund’s Hidden Jewels

It began with a delivery of a restored Georgian oak bureau and an 18th century oak gateleg table to the idyllically located and very remote Shallowford Farm. Mr Sandels, the appointed manager of the farm, commissioned us to restore the two items of family furniture. Very much pleased with our restoration work, he invited us to look at a number of other items of furniture but this time belonging to the trust. One of the antiques he requested me to view rested in a 30 year old caravan being used to store unwanted furniture, boxes and general broken household bits and pieces. The cylinder bureau was in a poor condition, covered in mould and spider webs but it was very much worth restoring.

Antique bureau from the caravan

There were many signs of a skilled hand having made the bureau. 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 very unusual nine drawer layout. My thoughts were that it dated to the early 19th Century, very much French in style but the veneers and polished finish looked British. There were many signs of good craftsmanship and I did offer to buy it straight away as I knew how it would look finished in our showroom but Mr Sandels also saw the value in it.

The decision was made to have the piece recovered immediately and I returned to the van to rejoin my Mother who accompanied me for journey on to the moors. She had by now started to wonder if we were staying the night! The bureau was returned to our workshop in Staverton where it was immediately admired by Will who was genuinely disappointed to hear it wasn’t ours to restore and sell on. The bureau then sat untouched in our workshop for many weeks whilst booked-in furniture was restored and polished ahead of it.

I returned to the workshop from a delivery on Monday afternoon, as usual to walk through the showroom and into the workshop where I found Will who has been with the company almost from when it was established in 1994. He was wearing on his Gilboy’s top what at first appeared to be a large piece of costume jewellery and telling me in true Del Boy Trotter style, “This year Rodney we’ll be millionaires!”. I was then told how Archie, our apprentice in his first year had began assessing the bureau for restoration under the guidance of our head restorer Will. All the main carcass drawers were removed and then the fitted interior drawers were taken out. A few old coins were found trapped in the cylinder mechanism which was not closing properly.

It was at this point Archie noticed one of the removed drawers was shorter than all the others and by looking deep into the fitted section, a turned mahogany knob could be seen.

An antique bureau with a secret compartment
Apprentice Archie found a secret drawer in the antique bureau

The unpolished drawer was brought forward to reveal its contents: a silver chain, a very neatly written letter from a very young Elizabeth Braund to her Mother Lady Braund and a light blue box with the printed words ‘Garrard & Co Ltd’ – ‘Crown Jewellers’ – 112 Regent Street – London – W.1. Written onto the box in pen were the words ‘Lady Braund.’

Secret drawer found in antique bureau
The secret drawer contained a small box from Garrad & Co - Crown Jewellers

We soon began to realise the brooch contained in this box was more than likely to be of some considerable value. I counted 75 diamonds and 34 emeralds. The very next day I visited Wellington’s Jewellers in Totnes and presented the brooch to the jeweller John Doble who confirmed they were genuine emeralds and diamonds which he thought to be set in silver with a later 9ct gold fastener.

I then knew we had to contact the Trust as I was sure this discovery which had been hidden for many years would be of great value to the Shallowford Farm Foundation.

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 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.

The brooch found in a hidden drawer in the antique Bureau that once belonged to Elizabeth Braund
The caravan where the antique bureau was left


Did you know we make our own premium Beeswax Polish?

Made with beeswax supplied by the bee-keeper monks at Buckfast Abbey

Our beeswax furniture polish comes with a complimentary box of sweetpea seeds so you can say a thank you to the bees!

And we give away a free box of giant sweet pea seeds with every jar sold so you can say “Thank You” to the bees.

*The Sweet-pea is one of the top 10 plant species for nectar production per flower per day.