some beachcombing finds and how to clean them

Thanks for all the comments on my last post, I’ve replied to most of them, but I thought I’d post a follow-up here for other interested people.

If you’re interested in finding things along the Thames foreshore, and want to make sure the tide will be out so you can get down onto it, then check the tide times before you go. I never have, I usually just end up on the foreshore if I happen to notice the tide is out when I’m by the river, but I’m sure you can find a tide timetable online. The easiest places to get to are on the south side of the Thames between Waterloo Bridge and the Tate Modern; there are staircases down to the foreshore dotted all the way along. There are other spots along the river, like Wapping, but I’m not familiar with those, so do some research before you go. As I said in my last post, if you want to find things actually buried in the mud (e.g. digging with a trowel, using a metal detector etc.), you need a licence, but anything on the surface is fair game.

I’ve seen other posts suggest that you wear stout waterproof shoes, but as you can see from my earlier post, I managed fine in a pair of canvas shoes! Just be aware that some bits of the foreshore can be muddy, and some parts can be the kind of soft wet sand you sink into (not quicksand!). The terrain changes a surprising amount in such a short space, and it’s actually quite interesting to see how certain parts of the shore almost seem to attract certain things — like the piles of old bricks in one stony spot, or the chalk deposits in another, or the bits of charcoal and black stones washed up on a sandy patch.

The other thing I see is people suggesting gloves or hand sanitiser, but again I’ve never used them. I don’t put my hands in the river (although I have washed mud off things in a passing tidal surge), and I do wash my hands afterwards (there are also quite a few places with public toilets along that stretch). However, I do use hand sanitiser to clean stuff when I get home — see the bottom of this post for how I do that.

Anyway, here are some pictures…

These are all the clay pipe pieces I found last week, about 40 of them, all found between the Tate Modern and Gabriel’s Wharf (apart from two, which I already had). The stem pieces are very common, but it’s less common to find a pipe bowl in such excellent condition. Clay pipes were the equivelent of a cigarette, they were bought pre-filled, and would be disposed of after use. Some stems are really narrow, which probably dates them to when tobacco was more expensive, so people smoked it slower.

clay pipe pieces found on the Thames foreshore
They look like pieces of chalk, don’t they?

Here are some other pieces I’ve found over the years — I’ve used the excellent Mudlarking on the Thames blog and the visual guides at Clayground Collective to help me identify pieces.

Various pottery sherds from the Stuart and Georgian periods (1600s-1830s), which is a few hundred years older than I thought some of these pieces were. There’s some annular (aka banded) ware from the Georgian era and a piece of Staffordshire combed slipware, probably from the same period. That black-and-white striped piece at the top right is one I found ten years ago under the Millennium Bridge by St Paul’s (actually, quite a few pieces date from that day, but that’s the only one I specifically remember).

pottery sherds from the Stuart and Georgian eras

Pottery sherds from the Tudor period (1480s-1600s), including a piece of Bartmann jug at the bottom of the photo. The piece at top right has a slightly pearly sheen to it, and a repeat pattern imprinted on the surface.

pottery sherds from the Tudor era

Speaking of pearly, this is some shell-edged pearlware, which again is about 150 years older than I first thought it was.

shell-edged pearlware from the Georgian era

I also have lots and lots of blue pottery sherds, which can be harder to date. After browsing Mudlarking on the Thames I’ve been able to identify a few of them, but I put them all away before I took any photos so you’ll have to wait for those for the next time I can be bothered to get them out and photograph them… In the meantime, here’s most of my collection (including pieces found on Hampstead Heath):

beachcombing/mudlarking finds
I realise now I should have made this image bigger so you could click on it to see it at a larger size, oops. Anyway, the eagle-eyed among you might be able to spot some blue Westerwald, some delftware, some white salt glaze, some green and blue transferware, some Flow Blue and lots of willow pattern dating from all over…

How to clean your finds

You will need:
• a bowl
• hot water
• bicarbonate of soda
• white vinegar
• hand sanitiser
• washing-up liquid (optional)
• something to stir with
• old toothbrush
(there are no exact measurements because it depends on how many items you are cleaning, just trust your own intuition)

Put your finds into a bowl and sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over them. Add the white vinegar — you don’t need a lot, just enough to make it fizz up when it comes into contact with the bicarb, and cover what you have in the bowl. The fizzing action should help to shift some of the dirt.

Immediately add the hot water and hand sanitiser, also the washing-up liquid if you want — the hand sanitiser claims to kill 99% of known germs, and I figure if it’s gentle enough for skin then it won’t damage anything I find.

Swirl it around with your stirring implement. Then leave it for as long as you feel like it, longer might help to shift more dirt.

Then rinse everything off and give it another soak in water and hand sanitiser — just to be sure to rinse that too, or there’ll be a residue on everything.

I use an old toothbrush to clean off stubborn bits of dried-on sand or whatever (but sometimes not everything comes off), and sometimes give it a final rinse just to get all those little bits off as well. After that, everything should be clean enough to handle without worrying about germs!

I’m sure there’s a proper way that people clean stuff, but I haven’t found out what it is. In the meantime, this method works and is very cost-effective, so I think it’s worth sharing.

feather on the foreshore

5 Comments to “some beachcombing finds and how to clean them”

  1. Somehow I missed your last post so I need to go back and read it now but just want to say that these are beautiful and fascinating finds, brilliant to see! I get disproportionately excited when I find pieces of old clay pipe in my garden and the occasional bits of pottery – I love to connect them to the unknown people who once lived here and let them fire my imagination – but they are nothing on these. Wonderful stuff and so glad you kept them and cleaned them up.

  2. Great finds! Interesting to read about.

  3. Oh my goodness Anna, what a collection! I’m fascinated and absolutely blown away at the condition of the pieces, I think it’s quite exciting to have such a vast array of history at your home and you can touch too – your cleaning method is very successful (I love an old toothbrush, soda and vinegar, useful stuff) x x x hope you are having a lovely weekend x x x

  4. The way you’ve photographed your collections is a work of art in itself! xxx

  5. I love those pottery sherds, so beautiful, and my mind wanders to think who might have eaten off them in days gone by… Xxx