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Posts Tagged ‘Thames Discovery Programme’

The River’s Tale: Archaeology on the Thames foreshore in Greater London by Nathalie Cohen and Eliott Wragg.


MoL Docklands One Colour LogoI am somewhat late with this. A year late, to be precise. In mitigation, a year ago I wasn’t a trained FROG (Foreshore Recording and Observation Group) operative, hadn’t been on several related outings, nor joined in the Thames Discovery Programme‘s 10th anniversary celebrations in October.

The Thames Discovery Programme is the organisation primarily responsible for observing, measuring and recording the archaeology of the foreshore of the tidal Thames. Put simply, this runs from Teddington in the west to well into the estuary in the east. Hence it is a massive site, managed by a mere four full-time staff at the most (it has often been just two or three). Through most of TDP’s  short but already illustrious history, two of those have been the authors of this book. The group’s additional responsibility involves – among other things – public outreach and engagement with schools and children’s groups. An impossible task for so few, you may think, except for the aforementioned FROGs – trained volunteers – of whom there are around 500, with about 35 new additions each year.

But interest in exploring the foreshore is not a recent thing. Famously, the Victorian mudlarkers of Henry Mayhew’s acquaintance searched for anything sellable for a living. Their better-off near contemporaries – antiquaries like Sir Montagu Sharp and collectors such as Thomas Layton – paid close attention to the clues which Thames shared with them. But the father and early guiding spirit of modern Thames archaeology has to be Ivor Noel Hume, who from the early 1950s and off his own bat began systematically to observe, survey and map the foreshore, albeit on a short piece of it in the City. ‘Proper’ archaeology of the Thames sites began in the 1990s by the Thames Archaeological Survey (TAS) which ran from 1996 to 1999. After this various organisations, including UCL and the Richmond Archaeological Society, kept the flame alive until the advent of the TDP in 2008.

It’s important to note – as the authors do – that there are other organisations involved in related activity, notably the Thames Explorer Trust ; also a huge and constant presence in the person of Dr Gustav Milne who has been intimately involved in riverside archaeological projects for over three decades, written, broadcast and talked about them and to this day spread the good word with infectious enthusiasm.

Since its genesis a decade ago, TDP has organised hundreds of field trips and guided walks. The discoveries, finds and observations have added immeasurably to our understanding of the historic peoples of London – their buildings, their diet, their lifestyles and habits. Samples and objects include human and animal remains, building materials, clay pipes, domestic objects, tools, nails, wire, crockery, coins etc.

The book continues, chapter by chapter, examining the many different roles of the river. Nathalie Cohen covers fish and fishing; also the Thames as a vast sacred site, both of burial and ritual deposits. Eliot Wragg addresses the river’s industrial role as both a busy port and a centre for shipbuilding, ship repair, chandlery etc. Both writers address the historical topography of the Thames: embankments, bridges, wharves, stairs, jetties and slipways.

The book is richly illustrated with photos of sites, site activities, objects, maps old and new, aerial photos as well as maritime paintings and engravings. There is a good list at the back of Sources and Further Reading.

Thanks to organisations such as MOLA and the TDP, London’s ‘liquid highway’ is giving up some of its secrets. Acquaint yourself with these vitally important programmes through this excellent introduction.


The River’s Tale, (116pp) by Natalie Cohen and Eliott Wragg is published by Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) has a cover price of £15. You can buy it online at MOLA,

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Here are some delightful things we did in the second half of the year.

In August, twelve of us went on an awayday to the Watts Gallery and nearby Memorial Chapel near Guildford, which included a curator-led tour of the fabulous Frank Holl (1845 – 1888) exhibition. And a jolly nice lunch. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos until we got to the chapel bit.

Watts Chapel, interior.

Watts Chapel, interior.

Watts Memorial Chapel

Tina, Peter, Caroline and the lovely well.

Max Gill (1884 – 1947) was the lesser known but no less talented sibling of sculptor and typographer Eric Gill. The biggest retrospective of his work to date was held in Ealing during October. We went for a curator-led tour, followed by a tour of John Soane’s Pitzhanger Manor, led by Georgian historian and author Lucy Inglis (LH Member). It was another delightful afternoon out.

max gill, pitshanger

max gill, pitshanger

max gill, pitshanger

max gill, pitshanger

The staircase at Pitzhanger Manor. Was it supposed to be for the Bank of England?

I bought some wellies and went mudlarking quite a few times this year. Tremendous. But we went out on an official London Historians outing in the late summer on the Thames shoreline in front of the City of London. It was organised with the excellent folks from Thames Discovery Programme.

mudlarking, thames, thames discovery programme

mudlarking, thames, thames discovery programme

mudlarking, thames, thames discovery programme

Finally (possibly!), two things with the National Archives (we work closely with their Friends group). First, a dedicated behind-the-scenes tour. I don’t have photos from this year, but see our report from 2012. Same thing.  Second, we co-hosted with TNA a talk during Know Your Archive week during November. LH Member Simon Fowler gave the presentation.

the national archives, kew

We all had a go on The Wall. Describing diagrammatically how archives are used for research.

mudlarking, thames, thames discovery programme

LH Member Simon Fowler

If you’ve got this far and also read my previous three posts, I thank you. If you are not a Member yet, I hope you now have a fairly decent idea of what London Historians is all about. We’d love to welcome you to the group. You can do this at any time here. Or if you’re reading this before Christmas Eve, we’re doing a special £10 discount via our friends at Londonist, here.

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Just downriver of Tower Bridge you have Wapping on the North bank (Middlesex, as was) and Bermondsey to the South (Surrey). To generalise a bit, the Wapping side has traditionally been about docks and wharfs – logically goods needed to load and offload near the consumers and manufacturers – that’s to say the City of London and what we know as the East End. The Bermondsey side tended to be where ships were manufactured, fitted out and repaired. Here were the homes and neighbourhoods of shipwrights and associated trades craftsmen.

bermondsey

Before the modern docks were built from the beginning of the 19th Century, this section of the Thames was choked solid with thousands of vessels – an unbroken forest of masts and rigging of merchantmen with service vessels, river taxis, lighters and the like weaving between them as best they could.

Today at low tide, archaeologists go down to the river’s beaches and try to make sense of past from the valuable but shifting clues left behind. Last Thursday professional archaeologists and volunteers from Thames Discovery Programme (TDP) hit the mud on the Bermondsey side to study a section. All tape measures, clipboards and wellies. One of their number, Eliott Wragg, gave a public tour of the area and the operation to about 20 of us “civvies”. We kicked off with a nice surprise: some ruins of an ancient manor house or possibly a hunting lodge dating from around 1350 . I knew of this building but not exactly where it was. Now I do.

bermondsey

King Edward III’s manor house. Possibly.

Bermondsey.

Archaeologists at work.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey.

Eliott explains.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey.

Rudder of an 18C frigate, re-purposed as part of wharf or dock structure.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey.

Heading upriver.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey.

“A Fine Summer’s Day in London”

Fellow LH Member Hannah Renier and I really enjoyed our outing with the TDP as we did at Vauxhall a few months ago.  We managed to squeeze in some mudlarking while we were at it. I was very excited to find my first clay pipe stem; an hour later we’d amassed dozens. Obvious, really, that “finds” should be more plentiful just down from the City.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey

Eliott, Hannah, Eddie the dog.

http://www.thamesdiscovery.org/

Some of the stuff we found. Crockery bits, rusty nails, clay pipe stems.

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The Thames Discovery Programme is an archaeological group comprising around 300 volunteers and a tiny complement of full-time staff (2.5 members, to be precise). Its mission is to record, measure, monitor the largest archaeological site in Britain: the Thames foreshore. A major part of its remit is public engagement: walks, talks, site visits. With a little training, you can join them as a FROG (Foreshore Recording and Observation Group), i.e. volunteer. Or just tag along for an outing as we did. It’s all on their web site.

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Yesterday I had the great pleasure of joining two fellow Members, Victor Keegan and Hannah Renier, on a mooch around the Thames foreshore with the good people from the Thames Discovery Programme (Sunny, Eliott, John, Roger). They are a volunteer archaeology group whose mission is to discover and record as much as possible of the river’s shoreline: it is in constant flux and requires essential and frequent monitoring.

Afterwards we stopped at the local caff for much needed hot coffee and I was introduced to David Coke, co-author of the award-winning book Vauxhall Gardens: A History. I remember seeing this magnificent tome at the Vauxhall Gardens exhibition at the Foundling Museum last year, so it was nice to make the connection. My eyes popped out on cartoony stalks as David produced over a dozen historical maps of the tightly focused stretch of the river we had just explored going back many centuries and then right up until quite recent Ordnance Survey. Fascinating stuff.  David’s web site on Vauxhall Gardens is here.

On our beach stroll itself, Vic Keegan has beaten me to it (of course he has: he’s a Journalist with a capital J) and written this up on his fine blog, London My London. So I’ll simply share some captioned pictures.

If you’re a London Historians Member, we’ll be organising an outing with the Thames Discovery Programme later this year, look out for it on the web site and in your monthly newsletter.

Vauxhall

Mooching about the foreshore with the Thames Discovery Programme.

Vauxhall

Hardy LH Members, Vic and Hannah, with Ed the Dog.

Vauxhall

Wooden moldings for a concrete structure, not yet identified or dated.

Vauxhall

One of several bronze age piles thought to have supported a jetty or possibly even a bridge. As featured in the unlamented (by me) Time Team.

DSC08458b

Upriver or down, it’s impossible to take a photo of lovely Vauxhall Bridge without an ugly tower stinking up the joint.

Vauxhall

Vauxhall Bridge, very pretty. Opened in 1906, it replaced the original bridge of 1816.

Vauxhall

One of eight statues representing arts, sciences and manufacturing which decorate the bridge. This one is Pottery. Sculptors Drury and Pomeroy also made Justice on the Old Bailey.

Vauxhall

Vauxhall Bridge showing structure from the old paddle steamer jetty from before any bridge existed.

Vauxhall

Where lesser know tributary the Effra meets the Thames. Prior to embankement it was a tad upstream from here.

Vauxhall

Downstream of the bridge, the Albert Embankment, by the mighty Bazalgette. Serpentine lamposts reflect those on the Middlesex bank opposite.

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