Tales of Glass: bottle & glass finds on the Thames foreshore

INTRODUCTION

Bottle & glass waste scattered in the mud at Wapping in 2012

Bottle and glass finds are clues on how Londoners used to live.

Expect to find much broken material, considering glass finds are fragile, deposited on the mud or surface of the Thames foreshore for a hundred years or more.

Some household glass items were already damaged when discarded close-by.

You will find specific areas on the foreshore resembling rubbish dumps, where you can find Victorian pottery and glass bottles in the same spot.

Mostly modern and Victorian materials are scattered on the Thames banks and, in my case, are the most common glass find.

A selection of glass finds

A selection of glass finds from the Thames foreshore, from tiny fragments to whole victorian bottles

Broken items have no value and are not really worth keeping for collectors.

However, glass fragments can be used for learning purposes and are a great starting point to familiarize yourself with the different types, forms and functions.

Beware of sharp edges or possible toxic content when collecting glass finds & bottles, it is advised to wear latex gloves for general health & safety issues.

From the darkly coloured shaft & globe or sealed onion bottles to the square-shaped case gin bottles, and let’s not forget the Consumption and quack cures, poison bottles, fire grenades or mineral waters, drinking vessels or vases, there are many glass finds to be named and identified on the foreshore.

GLASS DRINKING VESSELS

To my knowledge, it is very rare to dig glass drinking vessels on the foreshore. Erosion makes it difficult to identify with time, finds uncovered from a sandy foreshore surface or deposited in the mud are much more well-preserved.

You may find scarce evidence and broken fragments, but you are more likely to dig parts of bottles and, on a lucky day, find treasure with whole Victorian bottles.

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A lovely glass fragment looking suspiciously roman (?)

Old green glass find

This eroded, green glass fragment found near Trig Lane in 2011 is older, as bubbles occur in the cut, and the shape is similar to a drinking or serving vessel for liquids

Inside surface of the green glass fragment from Trig Lane foreshore

A BOOZE EMPORIUM: WINE BOTTLES, CASE GINS, BREWERY ITEMS

Glass bottles such as spirit & wine bottles only became mass-produced with the Industrial Revolution and the Victorian Period.

Early darkly coloured glass (with hints of brown or green) commonly called ‘black glass’ can be a representative sample of the 17th Century and later Victorian glass production.

Darkly coloured glass could have been part of a sealed onion bottle from the 18th Century, wine bottles or the angular, square-shaped Victorian case gin.

I have no significant finds to illustrate the above, but a fragment of dark brown thick glass with a sort of cameo imprint, similar to 17th Century glass finds.

Older glass finds will often show body imperfections in the shape when not mass-manufactured, as in the two bottle neck fragments shown in the below pictures.

Bottle necks found at Wapping in 2013 near the site of the Prospect of Whitby

Glass fragments from brewery items and beers can be found on the foreshore, especially near historical riverside pubs like the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping.

Corks and stoppers used for wine bottles or spirits can also be found, remembering an age that is now gone.

Cork bottle - stopper

Cork bottle - stopper

MILK, JUICE AND SODA BOTTLES

Modern glass milk bottles from different periods and shapes scatter the foreshore and provide bottle collectors with easy finds.

Mass-manufactured glass was also used for soda, thirsty quench cheap drinks or juice bottles.

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I also found the glass version of the ginger beer stoneware bottle, called Idris, as pictured below :

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Idris was another name for the ginger beer popular drink, also found in the form of stoneware bottles

MINERAL WATERS, HAMILTONS & CODD MARBLE-STOPPERED BOTTLES

In the early 1800s, revolutionary methods were used to manufacture artificial mineral water bottles.

At the time, glass bottles were expensive to produce and it was a long-standing problem to keep the fizz of artificial waters and drinks in glass bottles.

HAMILTON BOTTLES

William Hamilton gave his name to the pointed-end glass bottle shape, meant for this purpose of retaining the fizz and freshness.

Hamilton bottles are a star find for bottle collectors and exist in different patents, colours and hybrids.

The bottles are often embossed with the manufacturer label and location, making it easier to identify and date when intact.

Hamilton bottle from Bankside

Hamilton bottle with inscription ‘Artis Capel & Co Camberwell’ and an embossed St George and the Dragon scene. Artis & Capel was recorded as a Surrey Mineral Water Works company, based in Neate Street, in 1883. I guess it is a rather rare find. Recovered at Bankside.

CODD MARBLE-STOPPERED BOTTLES

In the 1870s, Hiram Codd invented the marble stopper closure for glass bottles, marking a change in the glass bottle trade. Many of these glass marble stoppers can still be found on the foreshore.

Codd marble and glass bottle stoppers from the foreshore

Codd bottles also remain to be found on the foreshore in Victorian rubbish dumps, often broken with the neck missing, as kids used to smash Codd bottles to take the marble stopper to play with.

Codd bottles have a distinguishing shape and embossed lettering on the front.

CODD Bottle

CODD Bottle

CODD Bottle

Codd bottle fragment showing the licence number 66, with embossed letterings: ‘Hussy & Henrich, Kings Cross Trade Mark London’ on the front, ‘Bratby & Hinchliffe Manchester’ on the back.

Bratby & Hinchliffe are registered as ‘engineers to the bottling trades’ and were founded in 1864.

REMNANTS OF A DARKER AGE: QUACK CURES & ELIXIRS, PHARMACY & PERFUME BOTTLES, POISON BOTTLES, FIRE GRENADES…

Many glass finds from the Victorian period remind us of a darker age, the insecurity of the 19th Century, the poor living conditions, the ever-present threat of sickness and the sometimes shameful diseases.

Quack cures & elixirs, pharmacy bottles in a wide range of sizes, shapes & colours were promising ready-made medicines manufactured in the 19th Century.

Glass bottle - Bankside

This bottle was found locally at Bankside in a Victorian rubbish dump.

It could be a cure bottle or a perfume bottle, as druggists, chemists and local perfume & soap factories were located near Bankside.

Other glass finds from the 19th Century household were ink bottles, poison bottles or fire grenades.

Glass Bottle

Possible ink bottle ? Found at Bankside  

Poison bottles often had a hexagonal shape, in a light green or dark blue colour, containing toxic and dangerous chemicals. Sadly, I haven’t found any as per yet.

Fire grenades are rare household items; I still hope I can find some fragments one day.

 

 

 

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Pottery on the foreshore part III – Drinking vessels

Drinking vessels, transport and serving vessels for liquids can also be found on the Thames foreshore. 

But evidence is fragmentary.

Based on my own experience, it is rather rare to find early stoneware. You would be extremely lucky to find drinking vessels or serving vessels for liquids that are intact, especially for the Anglo-Norman, roman and medieval periods.

Drinking vessels and serving vessels for liquids came in different shapes like spouted pitchers, flagons, amphorae, jugs, beakers, tygs, mugs …

Broken fragments of drinking vessels can however be identified when displaying some clear characteristics: curved pottery fragments, ring-necked shape, handles, spouts, bottle-shaped…

The type of pottery, surface texture on the interior, decoration can also provide clues for identification.

Rhenish stoneware or Bellarmine bottle fragments with a brown salt glaze are relatively common on the foreshore and rather easy to identify. In a dark brown or patchy colour, it was made in Germany or Flanders from the mid-1500s and later in England (up to the late 1700s).

Intact and stunning Bellarmine wine bottles are displayed in museums, such as the V&A and Museum of London.

BeRhenish stoneware fragment found at Bankside in 2012 - Coat of Arms ?

This lovely glazed rhenish stoneware fragment was found at Bankside in 2012,  and seems to depict a heraldic shield

Stunning heraldic shield bellarmine fragment with a griffin

Bellarmine fragment with an heraldic shield or Coat of Arms depicting a griffin, found on the foreshore in the City in 2012

Rhenish stoneware, Bellarmine and a fragment of blue & creamware medieval mug

To date, I have not found any significant fragments of early serving drinking vessels, jugs or pitchers, but a few handles here and there.

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These two pitcher or jug handles were found near Canon Street during  fieldwork in 2013

This lovely slip-coated handle (from a medieval jug?) was found at the Tower of London foreshore during a TDP fieldwork in 2012

You are more likely to find modern material at surface level, sometimes unbroken.

Drink-related containers and stoneware bottles are popular in the world of bottle digging and bottle collectors.

Ginger beer bottles and cool stoneware bottles are a familiar sight on the Thames foreshore.  They were in use from early Victorian times to the 1950s, and ginger beer was a popular and common drink in the household.

Broken bits of victorian bottles and stoneware from the foreshore

Bottle neck & base fragments

Bottle neck & bottle base fragments, the trademark or company label and their location is often impressed on victorian bottles, making it easier to identify

Ginger beer bottles exist in various shapes and colours.

It can be two-tone with a white-cream base and brown colour top, as seen in the picture below, found locally at Putney in 2012.

Two-tone ginger beer bottle found at Putney foreshore

Look up for pottery marks impressed near the bottle base, trademarks and company labels are often printed in ink or impressed on the bottle front.

Some more unusual stoneware bottles in size or shape can also be found.

The stoneware bottle below is in a white-cream colour, and was found intact in a dried mud context near the Thames. Note that the size of this bottle is smaller than average. A discreet pottery mark or company trademark is visible near the bottle base.

White-cream stoneware bottle found in Oxfordshire near the Thames

Pottery Mark visible on the front near the base of the bottle

Pottery on the foreshore Part II – Miscellaneous functions

Hygiene, pharmacy, garden pottery & ink bottles/ containers

HYGIENE AND PHARMACY PRODUCTS

I briefly mentioned the kitchenalia-related finds earlier.

Sadly, I have not yet found pottery dairy items from the 19th Century and early 20th Century, could it be butter crocks with pottery lids, cream pots, pie funnels, water filters …

Hygiene products and bathroom products for daily use were often distributed in stoneware containers and pot lids: toothpaste, cold cream, shaving cream, toilet powder …

A large range of ceramic pots found on the foreshore once contained salves and ointment, first used in the mid & late 17th Century.

This is a fine example of a tin-glazed ointment pot, nearly intact, found at Putney in 2013.

18th Century tin-glazed ointment pot found at Putney in 2013,  cleaned

Pharmacy products in the 19th Century were common; if lucky you could find eye cups, lotions or inhalers made of white ceramic.

Let’s not forget centuries of chamber pots and bedpans.

 GARDEN POTTERY

Fragments of garden pottery, including watering pots, flower pots, decorative figures or vases can also be found on the foreshore.

Decorative pottery with leaves/ flower

Half a Frog pottery find – garden or pond votive figure ?

Victorian flower bed clay fragments

INK BOTTLES & POTTERY INKS

A wide range of pottery or glass containers were used to store ink.

Bulk ink bottles can sometimes be mistaken with the ginger bottles used for drinks, as in the early 19th Century the ink bottles were salt glazed brown English stoneware.

The picture below shows a typical ink bottle in use in London, it was found during tdp fieldwork at the Tower of London in 2012.

The stamp reads ‘Vitreous Stone bottle Warranted not to absorb’, J.Bourne & Son PATENTEE, DENBY & CODNOR PARK Potteries near Derby.

Of course, my list of miscellaneous pottery functions is non-exhaustive. I made this basic guide based on my own finds and observations.

Pottery on the foreshore Part I – Serving vessels, cooking vessels & storage jars for food

I – SERVING VESSELS FOR FOOD

So past Londoners chucked their broken or unwanted bowls, dishes and plates just like us. Amusingly I found quite a few on the foreshore, sometimes on the same spot.

Serving vessels for food are quite easy to identify. Mainly because of the shape, height and form, presence of a rim, and can be dated (based on my own experience) from late medieval to modern times.

BOWLS

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Lovely bowl found in the mud at Putney foreshore in 2013.

It is one of my favourite pottery finds.

Incomplete, it is made of brick red pottery fabric with a clear glossy glaze of brown colour, it also looks like some shell inclusions are visible in the firing, and it is rather light in weight.

I guess it’s a London-area post-medieval bowl. I wouldn’t qualify it as a posh find, just an object of the daily life & household of our local ancestors, and what makes it so special to my eyes.

SERVING/ BAKING DISHES

Broken pottery find found locally near Bankside in 2012.

It has a rim, it is round-shaped and flat, and looks like the serving vessel used for food.

You can see the find before cleaning and after.

The fabric is white, with a clear glaze of white and cobalt blue flower decorations.

Due to the cracks,  it is difficult to tell if it is hand-painted or transfer-printed.

My guess is that it is a fragment from typical dining ware, probably what is called “pearlware” and can be dated anytime between the end 18th Century and end 19th Century.

Broken bits of what once were rectangular dish shapes can also be found on the foreshore.

A common pottery find is the distinctive Staffordshire combed slipware, as pictured below, with its yellow and brown glaze.

It reminds me of the French Millefeuille cake icing.

Intact baking dishes or serving dishes made of Staffordshire slipware can be seen in the earthenware section of local museums, like Museum of London galleries or at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

PLATES

Fragments of broken plates are a common find on the foreshore.

The picture above shows two fragments of plates.

The fragment on the left was found near Trig Lane/ Canon Street in 2011. It is roughly made with greyware and some black coating, the circular lines probably indicate it was wheel turned pottery, cheaply made.

The fragment on the right of the picture was found locally in the mud at Wapping foreshore in 2012. It is wheel thrown with green glaze, now badly eroded.

Fragments of modern plates made of English or Chinese porcelain dating from after 1700 are everywhere on the foreshore, there to remind us of the Georgian, Regency, Empire & Victorian Times.

Sometimes it can also be modern littering of the foreshore, as in the picture below, found on the foreshore next to the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping in 2013.

I remember asking the staff if they had any idea of when the pub manufactured and stopped their own dinnerware, but without success.

Prospect of Whitby- pubs used to have their own dinnerware

It is plain porcelain with some hand-painted logo. However, very modern, since the pub was renamed The Prospect of Whitby in the 19th Century, so my guess is : even a 20th Century recent find.

II- COOKING VESSELS FOR FOOD

Forget about the ease and sustainability of your modern pans, it all started long time ago with cooking pots made of pottery and clay.

The basic form of cooking vessels was more like a jar with a rim, and then evolve with the addition of spouts, handles or feets during the medieval period.

 

Fragments of early romano-british pottery sherds found at Bankside in 2011.

Could it be remnants of cooking pots used by locals?

Fragment of possible cooking pot with handle found at Putney foreshore in 2012.

It is made of red earthenware, unglazed.

As it is incomplete and eroded, it is rather difficult to date this fragment.

III – STORAGE VESSELS FOR FOOD

Fragments of jars in various forms and sizes can still be found on the Thames foreshore.

Storage jars from the Victorian era can even be found almost intact, and it will make a nice collection for display in your home. Jars were used for storage of various foods, such as mustard & sauce pots, marmalade pots … Enamel and tin-glazed pottery jars & containers were handy to keep the contents cool and fresh.

2 fragments of French mustard pots ‘Maille’ found locally at Millbank.

The prints on the front of the pot are written in French,with black ink and say “MOUTARDE DE MAILLE, Vinaigrier Distillateur FOURNISSEUR des premières Cours de l’ Europe Paris”.

( Maille mustard, vinegar maker, distiller and supplier of the first European courts – Paris )

This is a lovely fragment of a DUNDEE Marmalade jar found at Bankside.

You can read : ‘only prize medal for marmalade, London 1862’

This is a jar fragment with the stamp of Rowton House King’s Cross.

I found it locally at Bankside in 2012.

Rowton house was a chain of Victorian hostels for working men.

How did storage jar from a King’s Cross hostel ended up at Bankside on the foreshore?

Was it carried away by a local working man and chucked on the banks of the foreshore?

Or simply from dump materials brought to Bankside at a later date?

Hard to tell.

Victorian jar fragments can lie next to modern glass waste or random objects.

Other jars look just like the ones used as containers for display in the old days of grocery shops.

To conclude, let’s not forget that bottle lids and pot lids can also be made of pottery or porcelain, just like seals.

It is, however, from my own experience,  relatively rare to find, and difficult to clearly identify or date.

Pottery on the foreshore An introduction

POTTERY ON THE FORESHORE

AN INTRODUCTION

A basic guide to forms & functions based on finds collected on the Thames foreshore

INTRODUCTION

One of the most common finds on the Thames foreshore are broken bits of clay and pottery sherds, catchy to the eye,there for us to see and pick up.

Thousands of colourful, uneven remnants of cooking pots, drinking vessels, serving dishes, plates, beakers, jugs, storage jars, and other miscellanous items of the past Londoner ‘s daily life now lie anonymously on the banks of the Thames.

I must confess I was never really keen on pottery before, always skiping Museum rooms filled with earthenware or old teapot collections,  to prefer the more intriguing warfare relics or daily objects.

With all this time spent on the Thames foreshore in the last 3 years, the odd sights have instantly aroused my curiosity, to the point I even attended a pottery workshop organized by MOLA and TDP last year.

It was time to browse through my “precious boxes full of junk and mystery items”, whenever I collected  bits of clay for learning purposes, without really being able to identify or date them back accordingly. Being a fellow Thames admirer, it seems I have developed a light hoarding disorder, showing preference for the shiny medieval green glaze bits.

It is sometimes difficult to identify the ceramic function, former form and period, especially because it is not found during an archaeology dig where the historical context of the area is known, and pottery finds are often badly broken and eroded.

However, based on some observations and a keen eye for detail, identification can be made.

It involves looking for clues in the clay colour and texture of the surface, the firing, tempering, shape, sides & core, noticing if there is any glaze, decoration or pottery mark on the clay find.

I will use some of the finds I have collected to create a non-exhaustive, basic guide to forms, decoration and functions of pottery commonly found on the foreshore, based on my own experience.

PART I : a basic guide to forms & functions based on finds collected on the foreshore

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I have mostly visited the City’s foreshore (Trig Lane, Canon Street, Bankside…) and a few sites like Wapping and Putney.

After 3 years wandering about on a regular basis, I came across a large variety of forms and functions of pottery finds.

Regrettably, I have found very little and scarce evidence from the prehistoric, roman & Anglo-Saxon periods in terms of broken pottery sherds. May it be no luck, the erosion having washed away most evidence, or simply not having an expert eye and not looking at the right place.

It’s a bit stating the obvious, but the easiest way to identify broken pottery is to look for forms.

Is there any handle, is there a neck, rim, is it flat/ rectangular or rounded/ bottle-shaped? Etc.

Is it plain or decorated, glazed, can you guess if it is wheel-turned or roughly made in firing with sand or shell inclusions? Any detail on the form or texture can help you determine the function of your pottery find.

Let me illustrate in different sections the different vessel types using some of my finds and own pictures.

Health And Safety : Of the hazards and peculiar encounters on the Thames foreshore

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The Thames foreshore can be a strange place to be.

Hundreds of years of deposited history and dumped materials don’t come without a little hazard.

Wreckage, sewage, death reminded by the sight of stack of bones or perished animals, ammunitions & unexploded ordnance, oxygen bottles, broken glass, modern waste and needles, to mention a few.

The Thames is no longer the great stink of medieval times or as filthy as described by authors in the Victorian area, but if you plan trips on the foreshore on a regular basis you might as well be aware of some basic rules and get prepared.

Access

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The stairs at Wapping on a rainy day, where slippery takes all its meaning

I have witnessed flocks of tourists at Bankside on the foreshore with inappropriate footwear, running down the access stairs and strolling about with jolly faces in flip flops and shorts.

Sadly some people seem completely unaware that the Thames remains a dangerous environment, and that the tide doesn’t last all day. Often I had to step in and offer an impromptu friendly health & safety advice.

Here comes the boring bit of advice but always plan ahead your trip: consider the weather conditions, know your tide timetables, the site and your access points.

Always make sure the access stairs are safe and not too slippery (you will find that falling flat on your behind is not a great start to the day), wear appropriate footwear, inform relevant people where you are and for how long, pack a bag…

In other words, assess the risks first so you can put a smile on your face and enjoy your day to the full.

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Muddy stairs at Wapping foreshore without ramp

The Dangers

Germs, sewage & refuse

Be aware of your surroundings: look up for sewage pipes and refuse manholes still in use on the river walls. Ladies, dirty Thames water does not make that hair soft & shiny.

sewage incident

Be careful when picking up finds on the foreshore, I would recommend wearing gloves whenever possible, due to disease risks, sharp rusty metal objects, broken glass and needles that can cause serious issues & injuries. A first-aid kit in the bag won’t hurt, just in case.

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Glass bottles & needles: the Thames foreshore is not my idea of Alice in Wonderland

Impediments & trip hazards

There are many potential hazards on certain sites: damaged or falling objects like river wall fender, timbers, and bricks.

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Damaged slipway and unstable heavy stone work near Trig Lane foreshore

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Fallen stone piece near the river wall at the Tower of London foreshore, during a fieldwork visit in 2011

Be especially cautious when walking near a river wall, under a canopy or pier.

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Strange encounter under a canopy at Berdmonsey foreshore in 2011

The Thames foreshore remains one of the most important  archaeological site so you can expect to discover nautical features, jetties and slipway structures from past times, anchors & chains, and refuse from human activity.

Look down for tripping hazards: stone features, metal & industrial waste, mooring features …

tripping 2

Some old garden gate at Putney foreshore in 2013

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Modern mooring chain at Bankside near Blackfriars Bridge

tripping

Modern rubbish ? Angry golfer ?  Golf clubs probably dumped from the nearby railway bridge or lost at Putney in 2013

The Port of London activities & the tidal environment

Always have a look on the tide level, don’t just trust the tide timetables, as other factors can affect the river tidal behaviour (heavy rain, raising of the Thames barrier…).

Watch out for the Thames Clippers and cruise boats passing by at full speed, this will create waves of mini tsunamis and you might have to keep your distance. After all it’s been a while since you last assess if you are still a strong swimmer.

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A narrow path at Millbank foreshore

City foreshore

This picture in the City foreshore shows how you could easily get caught by the upcoming tide if not careful

Death is everywhere

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Fellow crows looking for a fresh shrimps meal are a common sight on the foreshore

I remember my very first visit on the foreshore and being amazed by the number of animal bones, skulls and even horns. Our sacred river is an animal sanctuary after all.

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Crow skull found at Putney in winter 2012

Such an amount of bones and skulls can be explained by centuries of human activity by the river, we can easily imagine local market stalls and generations of butchers cutting up meat and chucking unwanted carcass remains, all ending up in the river.

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Cow, horse, goat & sheep jaw bones are common finds on the foreshore

Londoners would also discard all sorts of broken & unwanted daily life items in the river,  creating layers of successive rubbish pits, contributing to the rich archeology of the site.

Always be on the lookout as some bones may be carved, drilled and potential history artefacts, tools that have been disposed in the river when there was no more use of them.

Then you have thousands of years of local wildlife living & dying on site.  Not just the common rodents or fish species. There is a number of written accounts through the past centuries describing whales found in the Thames near London and even many prehistorical animals like aurochs.

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Dead rat on the foreshore at Millbank in 2013

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Dead fish near Southwark Bridge foreshore at low tide

Beware of the “Triumphant Splash”: A mud bath

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Know where you are going and where you walk.

Don’t go on your own: even Indiana Jones had a supporting team.

Be confident, but cautious. It may take some time to learn and adapt to the different foreshore soil backgrounds.

You could witness the soft & sandy foreshore beaches in such places as Wapping, Bankside or the Tower of London, and rather firm rocky grounds at Putney.,.

sandy beach combing

My little London paradise beach near Wapping

You can also very quickly end up waddling onto the extreme pools of mud.

triumphant splash mud

Extreme mud bath and danger awaits & can surprise even the most experienced at Millwall

Please respect the environment and worship the prehistoric peat as I do, you might just destroy evidence of prehistoric roots or forest by stomping in the lot.

triomphant splash

Prehistoric peat & the fishtrap remains at Putney foreshore

Begin with the soft and more accessible sites on the foreshore; you will have all the time to be more risky and adventurous later on if you dare.

No matter how well you know the site, keep in mind that sometimes there are little surprises in store: don’t panic and stay calm.

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Prior digging or mudlarking can leave the foreshore unreliable, even if it looks firm and rocky at first

What I call the “triumphant splash + extreme mud bath package” experience probably happened to our predecessors a lot anyway, according to recent findings.

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Abandoned shoe at Wapping foreshore

This is WAR : unexploded Ordnance & Ammunitions

Last but not least, the Thames is here to remind us of the darkest hours of Humanity and History.

I have not yet discovered human remains on the foreshore but it is of course a possibility.

In the many dangers of the Thames, even if you may not likely find that often, there are many unexploded ordnance & ammunitions on the foreshore: be suspicious with metal waste and watch out for bomb shells, shrapnel and grenade -like shapes, old oxygen & gas bottles, guns, bullets of all sorts and from all times.

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WWII bomb shell found at Bankside in 2011 & removed from site by the  bomb disposal unit

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Oxygen bottles are common on certain areas of the foreshore and can sometimes be mistaken with shells when covered in mud

If in doubt do not touch, walk away at a reasonable distance, and notify the relevant authorities.

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Bullet cases and fuse waste are also common finds on the foreshore

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Musket ball finds from the foreshore

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If it looks like shrapnel or grenade, it’s likely grenade: do not touch & stay away

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Bullet, shiny as new, found near London Bridge

I hope this post will not dissuade Londoners and Thames admirers to visit the foreshore occasionnally but I am speaking from experience.

I would also always insist on getting a standard foreshore permit  from the PLA & follow the access maps guidelines, respect the protected sites.

My best finds are eye search only and I do not find digging useful most of the time.

Be (reasonably) social: there are lovely people & locals from all backgrounds on the foreshore, for various reasons.

We may have different opinions regarding how the foreshore is accessed but we all share the same love and passion for the river Thames …

Be responsible. If you sense someone is exposed to danger,  seem lost or confused, may not be aware of the environment, do not ignore them.  A few friendly words or a  simple warning can do a lot and save lives.

I will also post a list of tips and useful items to pack when visiting the foreshore, it’s only free shared advice and personal opinion, but who knows, it might help a few.

(All content and pictures in this post are copyright of the author, Lucie C. All the pictures displayed were taken between 2010 and 2013 during various walks on the foreshore and speak from own experience).

The Victorians: Gardening duties – Victorian rope edge tiles

If there is something I love about those long strolls on the foreshore, is that you never know what your next encounter may be.

A while back, while wandering around on the muddy foreshore at low tide in Putney, I found some strange ceramic features of similar shape but different colours.

victorian tile 4

One was remarkable  with a trefoil decorative pattern, in a blue-grey colour, inspired from medieval times and church-like ornament features, while others were glazed in a terracotta or sandy colours, bringing to mind the time and style of Italian Renaissance splendour.

vic tile

victorian tile 3

victorian tile

These features were quite heavy, with the visual aspect of metal or stucco, but yet relatively fragile when carried out of the mud and made of ceramic tile materials. One common factor was a twist shape at the edge of the feature.

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So you would – hypothetically – think of finding your own piece of local historical mansion in the mud, the scrap of a bombed church that stood nearby maybe, with the little emotional tear at the corner of the eye. Not quite. It’s modern home rubbish and all down to the mighty Victorians again. I had just found broken bits of the traditional “garden edge rope tile”.

Yet a very nice find, posh and elegant to the eye, you will tell me.

It was the fashion then to have a neat, perfect lawn in the middle of your garden, surrounded by symmetrical features and flower beds to impress your guests.

These Victorian flower beds or garden paths were precisely cordoned off in style and separated from the lawn with these edge rope tiles, dug in the soil and lined up to create decorative edges.

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The traditional “Victorian blue” tile as in the above picture, making a rather posh flower bed.

We can see here how Victorians created modern styles for their home while re-using the patterns of the Gothic medieval splendour.

Some tiles were glazed, adding some fancy terracotta sandy-like colour to the edges of the flower beds.

The tiles came in gray or cream like colour, glazed or unglazed, the method was to salt glaze the ceramic to obtain a creamy colour.

These Victorian garden edge rope tiles are still visible in some places nowadays, and it is especially common to find them in cemeteries. Some graves were indeed bordered with edge tiles, so the graves would at the time be decorated with flowers or plants on top.

If you take a walk in the Hyde Park Pet Cemetery in London, or visit one of the “Magnificent Seven”, like Kensal Green Cemetery or Highgate, you will probably see for yourself the peculiar twist –like shape emerging from nearby graves or paths.

Sadly the sight of these refined, well looked after flower beds has disappeared from the surviving Victorian cemeteries, and the derelict graves are simply weedy, often hiding the former tile edging.

Below are pictures taken in a churchyard in Oxford, where similar Victorian edge tiles can still be found.

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After all, going on the foreshore is all about hand-on history and rediscovering objects of the daily life of past Londoners, and I personally love these ordinary yet extraordinary objects, giving me an insight into an age gone not that long ago but already forgotten.