The archaeology collection consists of more than 5,200 artefacts, the majority of which are on long term loan to the Museum of London. Many items found in the Thames at or near Brentford are displayed in the London before London Gallery.
Though a number of the Layton items in the Museum of London can be found on its web-site, a full publicly accessible catalogue is not yet available. However, the collection is regarded as being of enormous significance and is sought out by researchers in prehistory and London archaeology.
Stone Age: palaeolithic, mesolithic and neolithic
The collection is particularly important for the study of this period, which lasted from about 400,000 to 4,400 years ago. These include over 760 items, more than half of these flint axes or adzes.
Bronze Age and Iron Age
There are 63 axes, 30 knives and daggers, 69 swords and 66 spearheads from this period which ranges from 2,400 BC to 43 AD. Of the 40 known examples of Thames Valley rapiers, made around 1200 BC, 9 are in the Layton collection.
There are a few specimens of Stone and Bronze Age pottery in the collection, some of which were found in Brentford at an area known as ‘Old England’ – they are food vessels and drinking cups. Some of these are plain and others ornamented.
There are two notable Iron Age objects. One is a handled tankard made from oak staves clad in three strips of bronze, which holds about 4 pints.
The other is a decorative ‘horn-cap’ from a chariot wheel. This fitting was cast in two parts which were soldered together; it could be secured through holes in its neck.
A superb Roman short sword, found in the Thames between Putney and Fulham in 1873, and recognised as the best example of its kind in Britain, is one of the few items Layton allowed to leave his own collection. He gave it to the British Museum (it is now on show in room 49) and kept the letter of thanks from the museum amongst his papers.
Also in the collection are Roman brooches, styli and tools, including some votive offerings. Roman and Romano-British pottery features heavily, including the fine red pottery known as Samian ware, as well as Roman lamps, amphorae and tiles.
Saxon, Viking and Medieval periods
From the Saxon period there are swords, shield-bosses, knives and spearheads.There is also pottery from the Saxon, Norman and Medieval periods, including floor tiles.
Other Archaeology and Ethnography
Other items that Layton purchased include antiquities from Ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, Greece, Etruria and Peru, North America and Malaysia – these include Egyptian figurines and Greek, Etruscan, Peruvian and North African pottery. There are also many ethnographic items – shields, spears, clubs and masks from the Pacific, Malaysia, New Zealand and Indonesia. Unlike some Victorian collectors, Layton never travelled to these places, but bought those he fancied from auctions. This included a hundred Neolithic North-American Indian arrowheads.
Within the collection are many oddities which would have been called curios or parlour pieces in Layton’s time, such as shells and fossils and fake weapons (designed to hang on the wall). At one time Layton had animal bones, elephant legs, elephant and rhino ivory and prehistoric animal and human skulls, but most of this was disposed of in the 1914 sale at his home.
Layton was sometimes taken in by fakes. There are a few ‘Bronze Age’ axe-heads which appear to be Victorian forgeries and there are also some Shadwell Shams in the collection. William Smith and Charles Eaton, known as ‘Billy and Charley’, were notorious 19th century forgers who specialised in medieval pilgrim badges, Middle Eastern medallions and small bronze figurines as well as so-called Celtic arrowheads.
They made a lot of money through their workshops in Shadwell, passing off fakes via ‘fences’ and gullible auction houses. Not academically trained, they invented dates and used made-up scripts on their medallions, that looked reminiscent of the genuine articles and fooled many learned scholars. Today ‘Shadwell Shams’ or ‘Billys and Charleys’ are highly sought after and there have been examples of modern fakes copying Victorian forgeries to pass off items as supposedly genuine ‘Shadwell Shams’!