In August 1939, as war threatened, London’s great museums and galleries evacuated their collections to safer locations, away from air-raids. Artworks and treasures were moved to country houses, organisations in Wales, quarries, and the London Underground.
The archaeologist Christopher Hawkes, Jacquetta’s first husband, was then an Assistant Keeper at the British Museum. He supervised the huge and difficult process of selecting, packing and transporting as many of the Museum’s treasures as possible for storage at the disused Aldwych tube station. Jacquetta helped with the packing.
Diana Bonakis Webster, in “Hawkeseye”, her 1991 biography of Christopher Hawkes, quotes some telling details: Jacquetta felt “half choked” by fluff from the packing kapok. The objects were placed in “large, green, coffin-sized boxes” and transported inconspicuously by horse-drawn carts covered by tarpaulins. The boxes were sent down a chute on one of the escalators, with their landing cushioned by sacks of sawdust.
I think the most exciting treasures stored at Aldwych were the Sutton Hoo finds. Jacquetta remembered seeing “a large white chalked square on the platform. It was clearly marked FOR SUTTON HOO”. The Sutton Hoo objects had only just been unearthed after 1300 years in the ground. Now these astonishing gold treasures, already compelling a complete re-think of 7th century history, had to return to the secret dark.