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Custom House Alderman
BEloW Thames Discovery Programme volunteers at work on the foreshore.
In September 1665, Samuel Pepys visited the excavation of a new dock in Blackwell. In his diary he records: ‘...were found perfect trees over-covered with earth. Nut trees, with the branches and the very nuts upon them…Their shells black with age, and their kernell, upon opening, decayed, but their shell perfectly hard as ever…’ It seems likely that the diggers had encountered the remains of a prehistoric submerged forest, similar to the deposits recorded at a number of locations along the foreshore.
Active collection of artefacts from the foreshore really began in the 19th century, as a result of Victorian infrastructure development such as the 1830s rebuilding of London Bridge, the sewer improvements of the 1860s and dredging of the Thames to maintain and improve navigation channels. Thousands of artefacts have been recovered from the Thames and the finest are displayed in the prehistoric galleries of theMuseumofLondon, the British Museum and many of London’s local museums.
‘Liquid history,’ was how the 19th century MP John Burns described the River Thames. The Thames has always played a central role in the life of our capital city; its rich history encompasses all aspects of London’s life - economic, social, political and cultural. It has been a ritual location, a source of food and water, a commercial routeway, a crossing-point, an international port and a focus of political power and grand residence.
The Thames tide rises and falls twice a day, with a difference of as much as 7m in water level. If you look from the riverbank at high tide, all you see is water; however, at low tide the river uncovers the Thames foreshore: London’s longest archaeological site, stretching from Richmond in the west to Bexley in the east. The river itself is excavating the site, revealing ancient remains with each ebb and flow. As features are exposed in this dynamic
BEloW Bronze Age remans (foreground) on the foreshore at Erith.