Secrets Of The Thames Foreshore

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. Click through the gallery above to learn some of the secrets of the foreshore.

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. The next takes place on 15 May on the shore in front of Cannon Street. A number of lectures are also planned, including a talk on Roman hairpins on 13 May. 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.

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  • Enid Karr

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

  • Docklandgirl

    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!

    • MattFromLondonist

      This is apparently flint that’s been used for heating, which presumably would have altered its appearance. The archeologist seemed quite excited by them.

  • 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)

    • Tori

      In other archaeological contexts (I am only familiar with Roman archaeology), the top brick of a load was stamped with the manufacturer’s name for easy identification when transporting. That said… this doesn’t really look like brick.. more like stone… maybe limestone?

      • Richard Engler

        thanks for replying. yes it feels like stone not brick,

  • 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?

    • MattFromLondonist

      Yes, see the last paragraph.

  • Phil

    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.

  • GeoTom

    ‘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!