Bankside: A photographic report on erosion

Retrospective 2011 – 2015


It’s time for an update on what I have witnessed during countless walks on the Thames foreshore in London.

More precisely, I would like to reflect on erosion locally at Bankside, based on my own observation and my personal photographic records.

Monitoring the archaeology on the foreshore is the primary role of the FROG volunteer within Thames Discovery Programme.

In October 2011, I decided to regularly walk on the foreshore in the City near Bankside, more precisely in an attempt to monitor on a long-term basis the foreshore area between the modern Blackfriars Bridge and Southwark Bridge. A few volunteers gladly came along to help with the monitoring and assessment for a few visits, and the reports were forwarded to TDP professional team for archiving and review.

However after some time, it became difficult to organize events and a challenge to complete the monitoring of over 100 archaeological features during a low tide, due to the volunteers personal commitments and the popularity and extent of the site.

Low tide Bankside September 2012Low tide at Bankside – area in front of Tate Modern in September 2012

The foreshore at Bankside is extremely popular, taken over by tourist guides and large enthusiast groups of members of the public and schools descending on the foreshore for beachcombing or educational tour activities. This made monitoring tasks difficult to complete. There were additional time management & health and safety issues to consider in the site visits and risk assessments.

After a year of frequent walks and visits, I had collected enough evidence for erosion at the site.

I decided that realistically I would only continue the erosion assessment with a discreet presence, compiling a photographic and digital record of significant features getting dramatically eroded on an occasional basis. Taking photographs on site to illustrate erosion is a good compromise when you are short on time and visiting on your own.

I was also certain that professional archaeologists and mudlarks were actively present in the area and that the area was well-documented.

At this stage, I didn’t set a foot on the Thames foreshore at Bankside for almost a couple of years, moving out for professional reasons and focusing on other river sites that were overlooked whenever I had a chance. I have, since then, dedicated my time working in larger volunteer groups supervised by senior archaeologists, part of a team, during fieldwork or workshop activities.

Blackfriars Bridge causeway in September 2012Causeway near Blackfriars Bridge at low tide in September 2012

So, why monitoring erosion matters? It helps define recording priorities for local archaeology community groups, assess if the access (river stairs) has changed, if the main archaeological features have changed, if new historical discoveries can be made, if new health and safety issues or potential risks emerge across the same zone.

However, the pictures gallery below speaks for itself, showing signs of erosion across the zone.


Globe Stairs Picture Gallery – explanation

In October 2011 : a long horizontal timber is surviving on the last eroded step of the stairs, with consolidation block made of glass waste, concrete, etc. A couple of wooden planks fixed with big nails are fully exposed. The entire structure is probably associated with the bargebed feature nearby.

In October 2012: the horizontal timber is gone.The planks visible on the left of the stairs are gone and only the nails survive on site.The consolidation block is now scattered and most of it is no longer visible.

In May 2015 : more erosion is visible on the last step of the stairs, fragments of the consolidation block on the left are missing and more vertical timbers are exposed.

 October 2012 : more vertical timbers and consolidation block made of glass/waste/ concrete were associated with the river stairs. May 2015 : not much is left.

THE VICTORIAN CART WHEELS NEAR BANKSIDE – A retrospective – 2011- 2015

December 2011: only one cart wheel was identified and exposed on site as a mooring feature near Bankside Old Stairs. October 2012 :only the chain and a vertical timber pile remain visible since March 2012. May 2015 : I was unable to find remains of the feature

 In October 2011, we know this feature not far from Globe stairs on the foreshore as an ‘unclassified structure  of 5 squared posts around an iron-banded roundwood post’. In March 2012, it is is now identified as a second cart wheel and was possibly re-used as a mooring feature on the site. In October 2012, the cart wheel is more exposed than ever. In May 2015, the cartwheel has been dramatically damaged by the tidal scour ( I would also suspect the fact that being visible and accessible to large groups of tourists at low tide and exposed daily did not help keeping it safe). It looks like it has been dug, exposing the internal features, while much wood is missing.

May 2015

May 2015 : Just realized that another cart wheel is now fully exposed on the foreshore area near Blackfriars station/ OXO Tower, in what used to be a zone mixing up concrete blocks, vertical and horizontal timber structures that could indicate an old jetty structure.



There are quite a few intriguing modern hydraulic features at Bankside foreshore. These are helpful to assess erosion on a yearly basis.

In March 2012: the above feature, which was described as a ‘foundation and well for hydraulic crane’ is made of timbers, concrete and metal structures, 3 sub-squares and 1 circular (one of the sub-squares is underwater in the picture from May 2015).

In October 2012 : one of the sub-square showed signs of serious erosion as the water has dug under the horizontal timber, now uncovered. Fast erosion could have been a result of the building works undertaken at Blackfriars Bridge for the new railway station. Pipes and drains were then becoming visible on the third sub-square (partially under water on the 2nd picture from October 2012).

In May 2015: the foundation bases of the structure and the side timber works are getting even more exposed.


 As you can see on this mysterious feature in the area near Blackfriars Bridge, it has been naturally uncovered by the tidal scour


Since December 2012, erosion has uncovered much of it and we can now notice a concrete or stone block ino the middle on the above brick feature : is it a culvert/ associated to sewage waste ?

May 2015 - detail of the brick work

May 2015 – detail of the brick work from the structure near Blackfriars Bridge



 Near Southwark Bridge, more timber and brick foundations are exposed on the foreshore since 2011. On the river wall, since 2011, at least 2 wooden fenders have gone missing on the modern structure.

 The old river stairs and causeway timber baselines beneath Southwark Bridge is getting more exposed since 2011



Erosion on the tidal Thames foreshore

Wapping :A stroll down memory lane (2011- 2015)

It’s now been nearly 5 years since I joined the FROG (Foreshore Recording and Observation Group) within the Thames Discovery Programme. It is time to reflect on my own observation of our tidal river and how erosion has changed the foreshore locally.

I will start with Wapping foreshore, as it was one of the first sites I visited during fieldwork in 2011.

There is a growing public and community interest for the Thames.

Community projects (such as TDP, Citizan and London’s Lost waterway) give an opportunity to Londoners or anyone passionate about the Thames to participate in community archaeology, while encouraging the assessment, survey and monitoring of the foreshore.

More recently, the PLA has launched the Thames Vision project: Londoners were asked to share their views on the river in a survey, for a better understanding, to help shaping the future of our river together. Meetings with members of the public and stakeholders are about to take place in London this month. It is an exciting time ahead for anyone interested in the river use.

Overall there is a demand from members of the public to protect the historical heritage of estuaries’ foreshores and sea coastline, continually eroded by the tidal scour or the river use, when not dramatically exposed or damaged in the event of floods or powerful storms.

Monitoring the archaeology on the foreshore is the primary role of the FROG volunteer within Thames Discovery Programme. Significant archaeological sites are being washed away.

Monitoring and measuring erosion on a monthly basis creates a full and long-term picture of erosion or deposition on determined foreshore areas.

I have decided to display below some photographs I have taken during foreshore trips at Wapping between Autumn 2011 and Spring 2015, to show how erosion is permanently changing the Thames foreshore and why archaeological remains are at risk of being washed away permanently.

River Access : Wapping Old Stairs

Timber feature on the foreshore, near Wapping Old Stairs

The Remains of Gun Dock

The brick culvert near Wapping Old Stairs

Mysterious iron wheel feature

The Thames in Oxfordshire from Port Meadow to Swinford Bridge

The Thames near Eynsham


This is a stunning walk along the Thames especially on a sunny day, probably about 7-8 miles, and a must-seen for wildlife admirers.

I have not yet been brave enough to keep walking from Swinford Bridge all the way to Newbridge, as I reckon it would take the day and some extra effort.

For traditional pub lovers, I recommend a visit to the Perch (and its lovely garden) in Binsey and The Trout Inn at Godstow, not to forget a little detour to the Talbot Inn in the village of Eynsham for a well-deserved pint at the end of the walk.

The walk includes delightful sights such as the Evenlode stream (part of the Cotswolds), open pastures and meadow, some woodland and Swinford Toll Bridge.

1. Oxford Port Meadow to Godstow Nunnery ruins

Horses grazing on the common land

I always start my walk from Port Meadow, Oxfordians ‘ favourite spot, an open grazing land left untouched from centuries.

If you are lucky, you will see some wild cattle and horses grazing on the land, sharing the space with rather aggressive & territorial geese, in spring and summer times.

Cattle crossing the remaining flood waters


The site really gives you a feel of the ancient Thames, inspiring landscapes demonstrating how open settlements and farmers would have gathered and lived along the Thames in Oxfordshire.

Port Meadow in summer 2013

Port Meadow in summer 2013

Port Meadow & the Thames - sunset summer 2013

Port Meadow & the Thames – sunset summer 2013


Many archaeological features are registered on the site, some visible from the naked eye, including survival and evidence of Late Prehistory/ Iron Age activity.

At a glance, you can spot low irregular mounds and some ring-shaped ditches, including the ancient scheduled monument Round Hill.

Irregular surfaces & mounds on Port Meadow revealing late prehistory activity

Irregular surfaces & mounds on Port Meadow revealing late prehistory activity

Port Meadow

possible ring-ditch enclosure

possible ring-ditch enclosure ?

Lying in the grass, I noticed during my walk that some fragments of limestone remains on the surface, raising questions.


The river Thames and its streams would have acted as natural boundaries for ancient farm buildings and paddocks, I suppose.

Signs of erosion are visible on this stretch of the Thames.


Often, the site is flooded and resembles a lake or marshland, getting a bit boggy when the waters recede.

The Thames

Port Meadow flooded – the ‘lake’ in February 2014


After the flood – also showing signs of revolting, unauthorized ‘bottle digging’ on the scheduled monument, reported to the relevant authorities

But time to continue the walk after enjoying the meadow, you are invited to cross a first footbridge, the Thames standing on the right side turning into a gentle curve, a second footbridge leading to ‘Fiddlers Island’ on the left.

the first footbridge in 2013 before the floods

the first footbridge in 2013 before the floods

The same footbridge during the floods in early 2014

The same footbridge during the floods in early 2014

Recent floods in December 2013 and the beginning of 2014 gave an impressive view of the site.

The second footbridge leading to  ‘Fiddlers Island’ was completely under water.

Footbridge to Fiddlers Island on the left during the summer 2013

Footbridge to Fiddlers Island on the left during the summer 2013


Second footbridge to Fiddlers Island during the recent floods

Second footbridge to Fiddlers Island during the recent floods


Now in April 2014, the trees on Fiddlers Island are still showing signs of the flooding.

Trees showing the flood water level

Trees showing the flood water level

Time to turn right and follow the towpath of the canal, with sights of the local moored boats, heading towards a steel arched rainbow bridge, so the walk can continue directly along the Thames.

the Thames near Port Meadow


After some time spent walking in the meadow with open pastures & fields on the left, you reach Godstow channel and the remains of Godstow Nunnery/ Abbey.



First founded in the 12th Century, little remains of the site : ruins of the precinct walls and the small chapel.

It was also a nunnery, Fair Rosamund, mistress of Henry II, is said to have spent the last years of her life here.

Godstow channel also stands on the site. However, to continue on the Thames Path, it is required to cross the road leading to Godstow Bridge and the Trout Inn pub on the opposite bank and right side of the site.

I recommend to have a break half-way of the walk, sit in the Trout Inn terrace garden and enjoy a well-deserved refreshing drink with stunning views on the Thames.

 2. The Thames Path from Godstow to Swinford Bridge & Eynsham

Back to open pastures and farmland on the way to Eynsham, with stunning views of the river.

The walk offers picturesque views of the Oxfordshire countryside.

Reaching King’s Weir, I find myself now close to the Cotswolds territories, walking along with delightful sights of lush pastures.

King's Weir

King’s Weir


Crossing a concrete footbridge, I get a chance to admire the river Evenlode, which slips into the Thames.

Then, I continue walking successively into open pastures and the proximity of woodland by the river Thames until I reach Swinford Bridge at the end of my walk.

The lovely village of Eynsham can be accessed by crossing the Toll Bridge and walking a little further. I also recommend to stop for a drink at the Talbot Inn on the road, not far from the river Thames.

The Thames in Oxfordshire : A walk from Iffley Lock to Abingdon

After more than 3 years dedicated to the Thames in the London area, I decided it was time to expand my horizons and explore the Thames Path a little further.

Oxford being my second home, it makes it easy for me to plan picturesque walks along the Thames.



Route description




So far, this is one of my favourite walks in Oxfordshire, highlighting a section of the Thames Path on a curve to Abingdon via Iffley, Kennington and Sandford-on-Thames.

Lots of narrow boats, canoes & rowers, wild life and countryside delights to be seen.

To do this walk any justice, I would recommend to spend the day, planning a picnic or having a lunch/mid break at the stunning King’s Arms pub with great views on the Lock at Sandford-on-Thames.

It is possible to walk the Thames Path all the way from Oxford city Centre/Folly Bridge but I start from Donnington Bridge, which is the closest from Iffley Lock.

I usually take the bus back to Oxford from Abingdon.

You will find details of this route online or in useful guides for the Thames Path walks (see my bibliography section).

1.Oxford – Iffley Lock

The walk starts with the open fields of Iffley Meadows Nature Reserve and the Thames Path leading to Iffley Lock.

A notorious spot for university rowers, cyclists, locals and dog walkers.

to Iffley Lock

Iffley Meadows (below) are ancient meadows, often flooded in winter, where the iconic snake’s-head fritillary flowers can be seen in spring.

Iffley Meadows

Next to the meadows is the Isis Farmhouse, formerly the Isis Hotel, an early 19th Century pub, full of character and benefiting from a large beer garden with views on the Thames.

Beer used to be delivered by ferry boat.

The Isis

Then comes Iffley Lock.

Iffley Lock house

Formerly built in the 17th Century, little remains from the original work, the Lock was rebuilt in 1924 with a small Stone Bridge and the Lockkeeper’s house.

Iffley Lock Stone Bridge



Iffley Lock Stone Bridge


Iffley Lock Stone Bridge

Iffley Lock Stone Bridge


The Stone Bridge carries a bronze bull’s had and a coat of arms

Bull's Head

Coat of arms

The old 17th Century pound lock would have been located near the weir stream according to local maps.

Iffley Weir

Iffley Lock - the weir stream

If you cross the Lock and next to the weir, is the site of the former Iffley Mill.

Standing there since the 12th Century, it sadly burned to the ground in 1908, and was a well-documented event at the time; some photographs remain accessible online, not to mention the famous pictures of Henry Taunt when the Mill was still active.

It was used for grinding corn and other cereals.

Some stone work remains from the entrance gate.

Iffley Mill remains

Nearby, on the little lane up from the river going to the lovely Iffley village, a couple of millstones are displayed on front of a private cottage.



It is worth making a little detour to Iffley Village, with its thatched cottages & St Mary’s Church, one of the finest Norman churches, on a hill overlooking the river, almost unaltered since the 12th Century.

Iffley VillageMill Lane in Iffley village


St Mary's Church

St Mary’s Norman Church

St Mary's Church

An ancient grave cross in the churchyard



2. From Iffley to Sandford-on-Thames

Back to the river towpath, the Thames grows in size near Kennington railway steel bridge, which is quite an eerie sight.

 Kennington old steel railway bridge


old steel railway bridge

The Thames Path slightly disappears into green, open meadows.


The views of the river showing the Rose Island on the opposite bank are particularly stunning.

Rose Island

Rose Island

Now a private house, this property used to be the Swan Hotel, a public house owned successively by Morlands Brewery and Morrells brewery in the end 19th Century.

There was a ferry boat crossing and steps bringing the customers to the public house.

Traces of the landing place can still be seen today:

Landing place of Rose Island

LaLanding place of Rose Island

The walk continues ahead towards Sandford-on-Thames, crossing open fields, footbridges and beautiful weir streams.

open fields

Four Spires Hotel


water fall

weir stream


Near Sandford-on-Thames is the Sandford Lasher, an impressive weir, it is now difficult to get close for great views of the Lasher as part of the path has been blocked to public access due to danger.

The name Sandford probably refers to an earlier river crossing (sandy ford).

Soon in the distance can be spotted the King’s Arms public house with tall chimneys and Sandford Lock.

King's Arms

The Kings Arms Hotel was converted from a malt house, used by the local Sandford Mill. The Mill, closed in the eighties, is now gone and replaced by flats.

King's Arms


King's Arms & Lock

The Mill can be traced back to 1100, it was owned by local monks for making bread. At a later date it was owned by the Knights Templar and used for grinding corn, and again rebuilt in the 19th Century.

Sandford Lock has been reconstructed, just like Iffley Lock, it was one of the first pound locks on the Thames in the 17th Century.

3. From Sandford-on-Thames to Abingdon

Past Sandford-on-Thames, the towpath continues into a wild stretch to Radley village, the river turns into a curve with lush pastures, farmland and woodland on the side all the way to Abingdon. This is your chance to spot cranes, grey herons and wild life on the Thames, with breathtaking views.

It is a scenically rewarding walk until you reach the historic town of Abingdon-on-Thames, with St Helen’s wharf and the 15th Century alms-houses.

Erosion on the Thames near Sandford                                          Erosion between Sandford-on-Thames & Radley village in Oxfordshire


Wild stretch of the Thames Path on the way to Radley                                               Wild Thames Path near Sandford on the way to Radley & Abingdon


Dead tree                                                                                                       Dead tree on the Thames


Thames Path to Radley                                                      Picturesque view of the Thames and farmlands in Oxfordshire

Thames near Radley

Thames river


Farmland near Radley boathouse     Walking through farmlands on the side on the Thames Path to Radley village

Lush pastures                                                                                      Lush pastures on the Thames Path


Boathouse on the Thames, way to Abingdon


Boathouse on the Thames                                                                           A private boathouse on the way to Abingdon



woodlands                                                                                      A very ‘Alice in Wonderland’ walk

Thames Path to Abingdon

   Walking through woodlands and ideal picsnics sites

Thames Path to Abingdon Thames river to Abingdon

 A grey heron near Abingdon                                                                                 A grey heron in the Swift Ditch area near Abingdon


Abingdon Weir

Abingdon WeirAbingdon Weir


                                   The walk finishes with the views of the old Abingdon Bridge and St Helen’s Wharf.

Abingdon Bridge

Abingdon Bridge

Abingdon Bridge

Abingdon Bridge

Abingdon Bridge

                                  View of the spire of St Helen’s Church and wharf, with the almshouses facing the river.

St Helen's wharf and Almshouses

Abingdon on Thames

St Helen's wharf and Almshouses

 Almshouses in Abingdon


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


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.


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.


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


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


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.

Glass bottlebottle

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


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


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.


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.


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.




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.


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


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.


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


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.