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Brass in pocket

Possibly John Rivet was a 17th century example of nominative determinism, that is when your surname influences you to gravitate towards a chosen profession. It’s unclear if the young master Rivet ever wanted to be a Lumberjack, but he eventually became a metal worker. One thing is certain about him, he was a bit of a wide boy.

In 1630 the then Lord High Treasurer Robert Weston commissioned a bronze statue of King Charles I for his garden in Roehampton. The sculptor he chose was Frenchman Hubert Du Sueur who crafted the monarch on horseback. The statue took several years to construct and was probably not erected until 1635.

Charles I 1600-1649

And there it sat for 16 years, until 1651 following the Parliamentarian victory in the English Civil War. The Weston family had been staunch monarchists and probably considered it a smart political move to remove any visual links with the by now executed Charles I, so they decided to sell it.

Step forward John Rivet of Holborn, who as a metalsmith was well placed to take the bronze. Its unclear how much he paid the Weston’s for the statue, but it is known that there was a caveat to the sale, that Rivet should destroy the statue.

What he actually did was to bury the statue near to his workshop. It is possible that Rivet had Royalist sympathies and decided to keep his monarch from destruction. However business is business and he had probably shelled out a fair amount of money on its purchase. So for the next nine years Rivet set up a clandestine, but very lucrative sideline selling brass handled cutlery supposedly made from the melted down statue. His customer base were both Parliamentarians and Royalists alike, but I expect their purchases were fuelled by different sentiments.

Following the Restoration in 1660 when Charles II regained the crown, the Weston family found themselves back in favour. By this time Robert Weston had died, succeeded by his second son Jerome. Possibly the secret of the buried statue had by that time become common knowledge, but it is said that Jerome Weston “Found” the statue. Its unclear why he did what he did, which was to complain to the House of Lords. Perhaps he was too tight to pay for the statue or perhaps the price levied by Rivet was too extortionate. Whatever the reason the Lords ruled “That the said John Rivet shall permit and suffer the Sheriff of London to serve a replevin upon the said Statue and Horse of Brass, that are now in his Custody.” A replevin is a legal means which enables a person to recover personal property taken wrongfully or unlawfully. So it looks as if Rivet had the statue that he had legally purchased taken from him on a technicality.

The statue now in the hands of the Crown needed a home. During the interregnum the Parliamentarians had pulled down the Eleanor Cross, erected by Edward I in memory of his dead wife which had stood for almost 350 years on a spot at what was then the end of Whitehall, and it was here that Charles I was placed. 345 years later he’s still in place overlooked by Nelsons Column in Trafalgar Square.

Every time I see it I always wonder if John Rivet sold enough cutlery to cover his costs.

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