Victorian bridesmaid's brooch by leading Gothic Revival designer William Burges re-appears after 160 years


A long-lost Victorian brooch revealed on an episode of the BBC's Antiques Roadshow having been acquired in 1988 for less than £20 has gone on to sell for in excess of £11,500. 

Before appearing on the Antiques Roadshow’s 2023 Christmas special, the item’s true value was discovered following a chance viewing of a 2011 ‘Most Wanted Finds’ video from the show. Since the episode was broadcast, it has come to light it was made as a bridesmaids’ gift for the wedding of a great-niece of Admiral Lord Nelson.

The silver brooch, with coral, lapis lazuli and malachite stones was designed by the great Gothic Revival designer William Burges and combines a Celtic influence with its Gothic Revival aesthetic. 

Rome-based art historian Flora Steel, who has collected silver jewellery since she was thirteen, bought the brooch when its striking colours and strong design caught her eye. Although Ms Steel has a professional eye for design, she only became aware of her find’s significance when she clicked on the video showing Antiques Roadshow’s jewellery expert Geoffrey Munn revealing his quest to find any of three brooch designs by William Burges. The designs feature on a sheet of sketches held in the archives of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.




The 'Gibson' bridesmaid brooch, designed by William Burges, 1853

 The 'Gibson' bridesmaid brooch, designed by William Burges, 1863

History repeats

By incredible coincidence, while watching this episode when it was first broadcast in 2011, a Market Harborough woman named Jill Cousins recognised one of the designs as a brooch she owned and had intended to take to sell at the local market just two days earlier. Instead, she showed it to Gildings, who were able to tell her it was one of the Burges designs. This was confirmed later that year by a thrilled Geoffrey Munn on Antiques Roadshow. Given an estimate of up to £10,000 by Munn, the first brooch to appear went on to sell for £31,000 at Gildings later that year.

In December 2011, another Antiques Roadshow viewer realised they had an identical brooch as Jill's while watching the Christmas special. This owner again contacted Gildings who sold this second discovery to the V&A, where it is displayed in the Jewellery Galleries.

On making her own discovery in 2023, Ms Steel also approached us and again we were able to confirm her brooch as another of the three previously unseen Burges designs. Fast-forward to an Antiques Roadshow event in Cardiff last summer, in the shadow of Burges' most renowned architectural masterpiece, Cardiff Castle, and another date with Geoffrey Munn. He was every bit as delighted as he had been in 2011, valuing it at £8,000 - £10,000 as a “starting point” and adding that its monetary value was ‘not the tiniest scintilla of the excitement it has generated for me.’

 “I originally wore the brooch for about five years on the green velvet lapel of a favorite coat,” recalls Flora. “When both the coat and the wearing of brooches went out of fashion, it remained in my London wardrobe for another 20 years until my daughter-in-law found it and started wearing it. So, when the clip popped up out of the blue last March, I was so shocked!”

The 'Seddon' bridesmaid brooch, designed by William Burges, sold in 2011

The 'Seddon' bridesmaid brooch, designed by William Burges, sold at Gildings in 2011

Who was 'Gibson'?

At the end of 2023, all that was known about the brooch was that it was made for the wedding of an individual named 'Gibson'. Since its reappearance, research has identified him as a friend of Burges’, the Reverend John Gibson. Born in 1815, he became Dean of Jesus College, Cambridge and as an instrumental figure in the Gothic Revival movement, he played a key role in the restoration of the Choir and Tower of Jesus College Chapel. In 1857 he was instituted to the Rectory of King’s Stanley, Gloucestershire.

Annotations on the V& A sketches show six silver and three gold brooches were made as bridesmaids’ gifts for Gibson’s 1864 wedding to Caroline Bendyshe, a great-niece of Admiral Lord Nelson. The brooch is inscribed JCG, for John and Caroline Gibson.

“We were thrilled and astonished that for an almost unbelievable third time, a chance viewing of Antiques Roadshow had led to a lost Burges brooch finding its way to our saleroom,” comments Gildings director Will Gilding. “The intrinsic value of this item of jewellery is completely irrelevant. The modest choice of materials, rather than precious gemstones, set in silver, probably would equate to little more than £30. The hidden value here purely lies in the designer and history behind it. Without the page of sketches in the V&A clearly identifying this as a Burges design, that all-important attribution would be completely lost to the annals of history".

Flora Steel adds: “My speciality lies elsewhere in 18th century and early 19th century art, but as an art historian this was such an exciting thing to discover out of the blue and after so many years. So, of course I’m very much looking forward to seeing what happens at the auction!”

Hammer Time

After an amazing interest from around the globe in this remarkable story, the tension built prior to the specialist Jewellery & Watch auction. Bidding opened at £6,000 and steadily climbed to a hammer price of £9,500 where the gavel fell, selling to a private UK collector and admirer of Burges and the Gothic Revival and Aesthetic movements. 

Feeling too nervous to attend the auction in person, Will called Flora immediately after the sale to inform her of the result.

“As a lifelong jewellery lover I thought, ‘what better place to be to find out the result, then in the Jewellery Galleries of the V&A?’ The whole process of making the discovery, appearing on one of my favourite TV programmes and now seeing the brooch sell has been such an unexpected and joyful experience!” reflects Flora.

And so begins another chapter in this brooch's amazing history, having taken centre stage on a world-renowned television programme, captured the intrigue of the international press, and finally presented and sold on the rostrum at Gildings. 

Gibson brooch with Gibson biography

The Gibson brooch with a portrait of the man himself on the biography written by Philip J Wells