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.

Glass find

                                                                             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 bottle

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.




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