According to a 14th century law, all silver items over 7.78g must be hallmarked before sale to verify their purity, in those days forgers were hanged.
Originally known as the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit, London’s oldest safety-deposit, a subterranean store-house opened in 1876 comprising a series of rooms dug deep under Chancery Lane for the wealthy to safeguard their valuables.
[B]ut it wasn’t simply a reinforced basement. To defeat the determined Victorian burglar from tunnelling his way in, the armour-plated strong rooms sat on iron columns, isolated from the exterior walls.
This way a private army of gun-toting guards could patrol above, below and all the way round them. Entry was via a three foot thick door which is still in place. Impressed by the tight security, the silver dealers and jewellers of nearby Hatton Garden began using the string rooms to stash their precious goods overnight.
Before long shrewd dealers began selling silver directly from the vaults, which has evolved into a kind of discount outlet. Many a banquet has been served on a silver service purchased from these vaults.
During the Blitz, the reinforced steel protecting the treasure trove was tested when the building above suffered a direct hit. The vaults mostly survived but cracked water pipes meant they began to flood so clients were contacted and told to retrieve their valuables. Some owners couldn’t be traced so to save their boxes’ contents, they were forced open.
A window into a secret world was suddenly laid bare.
One box contained six live bullets with a note on the packet simply saying ‘One for each of the directors’.
Another contained a single pair of Edwardian ladies’ frilly knickers with a luggage label attached bearing the neatly written words ‘My Life’s Undoing’.
In 1953, a new building, adjacent to the original site, was completed with a system of specially designed secure underground shops – The London Silver Vaults. Today the vaults consist of over 40 shops open to the public containing the world’s largest retail collection of antique silver; London’s Silver Vaults are more like a museum than a shopping mall.
It’s still possible to rent a safe deposit box at Chancery Lane and the company boldly brag there’s never been a robbery.