On Saturday October 3rd, I did something I’ve wanted to do for a year or more – I went mudlarking on the Thames foreshore. I first came across mudlarking on Facebook, of all places – a community of interested people gather to share their finds, ask questions and help those asking for information. So many finds, so much knowledge. It seems there are specialists in everything, from pottery to ancient shoe leather to vulcanised bottle tops – if there is something to be identified, someone in that group will know what it is and offer their knowledge. It’s a dream world and having pored over the photographs and descriptions for a while, I was seized with a desire to look for myself. It took some organising – the tide must be out at the right time on a weekend day and it had to fit in with the family members who were joining me and Karl – but we did it and I enjoyed every minute of scrabbling about on the little section of shore we chose for the day.
All pictures enlarge on clicking
The Thames foreshore is littered with discarded objects dating back over 2000 years, preserved in the anaerobic mud of the river. Each tide washes out a few more objects, which are gradually pushed up onto the foreshore by the force of the water. There they lie, to be picked up or covered over again as more washes up.
I had no idea what we’d find, though I did have vague wish-list. The cross Santa Claus face from a Bartmann jug, a wig curler, a shard of Roman Samian ware, or a bone hair pin would make my day. I didn’t find any of those things, but there was plenty to interest and here is the first of what I’ve so far identified.
The area we looked at seemed to be mainly medieval. No idea how it is that certain stretches of the shore gather objects from particular eras, but that seems to be the way it is.
One of the first objects I picked up was the foot of a medieval cooking pot, possibly 15th century, with traces of soot still on it. At one time, it probably looked like the one below and would have sat in the embers of the cooking fire.
Next was the bunghole from a medieval drink container, which would likely have held beer or cider. I first saw these on one of Richard Hemery’s excellent videos, where he describes mudlarking pieces and places them in their proper historical contexts. The inside looks like this –
I found a picture of an entire cistern which looks like it could have been similar to my find.
There was a lot of what could loosely be called ‘red ware’ on the shore and this piece caught my eye.
The pattern was formed by a long-dead potter’s thumb, which made it feel close. It took me a while to find out what it might have been until I came across an entry on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website of a similar item, described as ‘A single rim sherd of a large 16th century vessel, possibly a pancheon [dough mixing pot] or cooking pot’. This site contains a database of hundreds of thousands of images and descriptions of objects and is a useful resource.
The inside of it was glazed.
One shard looked more modern, but on tracking it down it could well be a piece of a salt-glazed German drinking mug or jug from around the 15th century.
At one time, it might have looked something like this:
The foreshore in the area we looked in was scattered with shards of medieval green-glazed pottery and one piece caught my eye. I wasn’t sure it was medieval to start with because it was quite a bright green. It had a point on it.
Which was definitely not just a chip because it was glazed.
And the clay seemed to have been folded.
I searched using every descriptive term I could think of, but the only thing that came close was a Surrey/Hampshire border ware chafing dish, 1480-1680. This one I posted to the Facebook group and it was agreed that it was a section of a dish that could well have looked something like this:
The final object of this blog had me puzzled for days. Initially I thought it might be what’s called a ‘strap handle’, as it is obviously strap-like rather than round, because it looked a bit like another piece I’d seen.
The clay was distinctly gritty, so it could be quite old, and it was only scored on one side. Parts of it appeared to be soot stained.
The ‘top’ bore traces of a mottled green glaze. I was a bit stumped so asked again of the mudlarking community and was told by Richard Hemery that it was very likely Coarse Border Ware dating from 1380-1450 and that it would have been part of a large cooking pot like the one below. The scores were to prevent such a thick item from cracking and breaking in the kiln. The oldest find yet and so tantalising to wonder when it was used and what might have been cooked in it.
That’s it for today. Next I shall be attempting to identify some of the green-glazed pieces.