Billy and Charleys - History

This large and varied series of pseudo antiquities takes its name from the makers, William Smith and Charles Eaton. From a workshop in Rosemary Lane / Royal Mint Street (exact location now unknown), they produced, between 1857 and 1870, thousands of objects, in lead and brass, intended to dupe a public eager to acquire examples of the sorts of medieval antiquities being discovered in an ever growing London.

The first group were sold to a small time antiques dealer William Edwards who resold then to established dealer Thomas Eastwood (premises in City Road). They came to the notice of antiquarians when Eastwood offered them, as “a remarkably curious and unique collection of leaden signs or badges of the time of Richard II”, to Thomas Bateman, a wealthy Peak District archaeologist and collector. As knowledge of these fabulous items spread, their authenticity was queried and adverse comments made in learned journals. A court case ensued between one of these journals and Thomas Eastwood which did not resolve the matter, so leaving the principals to continue for so long that one contemporary publication later described them as “those notorious scamps”.

They have been the subject of numerous articles over more than a century and we reproduce below the most thoroughly researched, as we do not think it can be improved upon.

What these publication lack, however, are details of the objects themselves and remedying this will be the object of this web site. Initially drawn from our own collection and supplemented by other collections both public and private, we will attempt to show how wide ranging are the manufactures of these illiterate (apparently) but ingenious men. Criminals certainly, dismissed as mud larks or riverside labourers often, they also possessed sufficient skills and imagination to fool many highly educated men, and nowadays their fabrications sometimes fetch more than “the genuine article”.

Click the following button to view a comprehensive article, 'The Billy and Charley forgeries', written by Robert Halliday, published in the Winter 1986 edition of 'the London Archaeologist'. Reproduced here with  the author's consent.