Chiswick Council House With Priceless Objets d'art

V&A museam curator John Nevin liked to take his work home with him

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The Police in Chiswick

He was a trusted curator at the V&A, a man who helped restore the museum's glory after the Second World War. But John Nevin also took some of that glory to his own home writes Cahal Milmo in The Independent on Sunday.

He goes onto to tell the story how for more than 20 years, John Nevin was a dutiful custodian of the nation's artistic treasures contained in the storerooms of the Victoria & Albert Museum. The only problem was that Nevin also liked to take his work home with him using the priceless objets d'art to decorate and furnish his three-bedroom council house in Chiswick he shared with his wife.

The full story of Nevin’s expensive tastes in furnishings has only just come to light after confidential police files were released to The Independent under the Freedom of Information Act. The case remains the largest-ever theft in quantity from a British museum and dozens of items are still missing.

According to newspaper article, Nevin was able to slowly remove his haul from the storage areas of the museum – smuggling out items such as a small table, which he dismantled and secreted bit-by-bit in his trouser leg. By the time police caught up with him, Nevin had amassed a vast array of precious objects, including 20 Japanese silver sword guards, 229 illustrations torn from books, 18 pieces of Albanian embroidery, 132 original drawings and watercolours and a 300-year-old Flemish tapestry.

The disappearances were finally spotted during a stocktake in 1953. Police were called to 9 Nightingale Close, the house Nevin shared with his wife, in March 1954 discovered the treasure trove inside.

The extent to which the house had been almost entirely furnished with the contents of the V&A storerooms is revealed by a statement summing up the case following Mr Nevin's conviction on 24 charges of theft: "Practically everything in Nevin's small three-bedroomed council house, with the exception of the bed linen and items of clothing, was found to be property stolen from the museum, so that at the end of the search the rooms were practically bare."

By way of explanation, Nevin is reported to have said, "I couldn't help myself. I was attracted by the beauty."

The full story, which appears in this Sunday's Independent can be read here

January 4, 2009