Secrets Of The Thames Foreshore

By M@ Last edited 20 months ago
Secrets Of The Thames Foreshore
Thames foreshore by Matt Brown.

At low tide, the Thames foreshore is a slimy bazaar of London history.

Objects cast into the Thames have a habit of sticking around, sometimes for centuries. Pay attention, and you can read the story of the city in the shingle and jetsam.

We took a tour of the Rotherhithe foreshore with the Thames Discovery Programme, an organisation devoted to the archaeological exploration of the river.

Within minutes we were finding Georgian clay pipes, identifying Blitz rubble and even finding evidence of prehistoric Londoners.

Clay pipes are a common find on the foreshore, and date from the 16th to the 18th century. We found this one within a few minutes of searching.

Above is an example of prehistoric flint. Ancient Londoners would heat the stones in a fire before using them to heat water.

Chalk is not a natural component of the Thames in London. When you see chalk beds like this, above, it's because they've been artificially laid down to provide a soft bed for barges at low tide.

These yellow potsherds near The Mayflower pub are evidence that a substantial pottery once operated nearby. The yellow fragments are unfinished English delftware, discarded before the second firing because of some kind of cock-up.

These 'Thames spuds' are actually old London bricks. Decades of tidal action have worn them into spheroids.

These colourful stones above are actually Blitz rubble — old bricks dumped in the Thames and worn down by time.

This photo is of Rotherhithe, looking west at low tide.

Old ship timbers line the foreshore. Chambers Wharf, in the distance, stands over ancient peat beds, which indicate a small island or eyot was once sited here.

Part of a ship's keel, above, commonly left on the foreshore to support boats at low tide.

Neat rows of bricks on the foreshore suggest that a large wall has fallen outwards into the Thames. In this case, the damage was caused in the Blitz. Evidence of repair can be seen in the building above.

A large collection of nails and spikes probably means you're standing on an old breaker's yard, where great ships were taken apart.

Look out for raised structures such as this, above. They're centuries-old man-made jetties packed with rubble and detritus.

Pottery sherds are another common find. The green piece in the picture here is probably medieval while the delftware is perhaps Victorian.

(Above) A ship's windlass.

(Above) A ship's rudder.

Look closely at old wooden beams and you can often see old copper rivets (above).

Green stones from the foreshore.

The archaeologists are not entirely sure what these are — especially the bright green stone on the left. These have been found in some numbers at Rotherhithe. Anyone got a suggestion?

This oddly shaped building close to the Angel pub is Victorian, but its base is medieval. It is very rare to find medieval stone facing directly onto the Thames.

If you'd like to explore this fascinating world for yourself, we'd highly recommend one of the Thames Discovery Programme's guided foreshore walks.

Or take things further and train up as member of the Foreshore Recording & Observation Group (FROG), whose 400+ volunteers regularly survey the vast archaeological site that is the Thames.

Follow @ThamesDiscovery

Last Updated 18 October 2016

Enid Karr

Fascinating. And on the other side of the Atlantic, Trashpaddler found a very similar clay pipe earlier this week:


The second one doesn't look like flint. It looks like chalk. The flint is black inside and sharp edged. Also worth mentioning are the tons of animal bones and teeth you can find!

Richard Engler

i found this and don't know what it is. it's the size of a brick, and has ROSH inscribed on it, found north side at southwark bridge last year. any ideas ? (sorry pic upside down)

Ronnie May

Are there organised excursions to do these low tide walks. I live in London and would love to do some, is there a website?


I used to go mudlarking on the foreshore back in the late 60s and early 70s with my dad. The backstreets and riverside were deserted at the weekends in those days. The warehouses were disused or empty and there was always a really eerie but "peaceful" feeling to the streets leading to the river. IIRC a lot of buildings were still bomb damaged even in the late 60s I still have dozens of clay pipes, bits of pottery, tokens and even a George III ha'penny I found as a kid. Great fun. I miss it.


'Green stones from foreshore'; very typical of rocks with high copper content or iron (Fe2O3). I don't know whether this area is known for metal-working but they could be related to this. Alternatively, slag and other waste was often used as ship's balast because of its weight (are these rocks heavy in the hand?), which might be a more parsimonious explanation given Rotherhithe's history as a maritime centre.

Aidan Stevens

Great article!


This is a good explanation of why objects tend to linger in the Thames (or any other tidal river for that matter)