Posts tagged ‘beachcombing’

October 24, 2014

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

October 22, 2014

larking on the foreshore

I have always loved being by the river in London. There’s something special about a tidal river, especially one that smells of the sea right in the middle of a big city, the sea that’s almost 50 miles away. It smells of adventure and history and the most mundane moments of being human. It’s constantly changing, with the ebb and flow of the tide, and the ebb and flow of the skyline surrounding it, as buildings go up and come down and are replaced by new buildings that go up and come down, it’s no wonder that I’ve found myself continually drawn to its edges.

Last week, I found myself by the Thames again. I had actually planned to see an exhibition at the Tate Modern (the membership a friend gave me last year runs out in a few weeks oh noes I will miss having that), but as the tide was low I decided I’d have a little browse along the foreshore and do some beachcombing. (A lot of people refer to beachcombing along the Thames as “mudlarking” but technically it’s only mudlarking if you are actually digging in the mud, which you need to have a licence to do. Anything else is beachcombing, although the foreshore isn’t strictly a beach, but calling it “foreshore-combing” is too pedantic even for me.)

A couple of minutes on the foreshore in front of the Tate, and I’d already spotted some old clay pipe pieces. These date from the 1700s up until the 1880s, when cigarettes became more popular. Parts of the broken pipe-stems are really common, the pipe-bowls less so, especially intact bowls — so I was quite lucky with that one!

beachcombing on the Thames foreshore
clay pipes, toy dinosaurs, snail shells and mussel shells, spotted on the foreshore in front of the Tate Modern

There’s always interesting flotsam if you look. I like to spot interesting rocks and stones (everybody needs a rock). The egg-like one pictured below resembles one of the ceramic “river eggs” that an artist put into the Thames in 2012 (there’s a picture here for you to compare), but it was actually flint (one side had chipped off). The other one was a nodule of tar I think, but with something of a different texture that has sort of woven itself in. Surprisingly lightweight, but hefty enough to be an interesting paperweight!

beachcombing on the Thames foreshore

beachcombing on the Thames foreshore
A piece of flint that looks like a Picasso dove, and a shell face that’s yawning or screaming — and another piece of pipe-stem.

beachcombing on the Thames foreshore
a piece of flint that looks like a sugar mouse with the tail end bitten off, and a piece of a pocket watch — one side says “watch makers and jewellers” and the other side says “Fehrenbach Bros Strood & Chatham”.

I met some proper mudlarkers in front of the OXO Tower, who were very friendly so we had a nice chat before I wended on my way. One of them dug up the top of a watch-fob while I was there. The fun thing about finding stuff like that these days is it’s so much easier to research — a quick google shows that the Fehrenbachs were quite a famous German clock-making family, with shops all over the place, including Scotland and Manchester. When WW2 came, they changed their name to Fernbank and continued to make clocks and watches, but they also made bullets (for the British side).

The tide didn’t seem to move while I was down on the foreshore, but when any big boats came past they quicky caused a swell. Luckily I happened to be standing on a big rock when this one happened — but then again jumping to avoid getting your feet wet is part of the joy of being by a tidal river. That rather phallic-looking thing is an animal bone of some sort, they’re quite common to find. And that skirt is a new-old find of mine, I actually bought it back in the 90s (!) but it’s been lurking in my fabric stash for years. A little while ago I altered it to make the waist smaller and now it hangs better so I’ve worn it quite a few times lately.

Thames tidal gif

I didn’t have enough energy to wend my way back to the Tate for the exhibition, but I did end up collecting some nice bits and pieces, including about 40 pieces of pipe-stems (I don’t usually collect them, but this time I decided I would!), and some pretty sherds of broken crockery (I recently learned that “sherds” is the name for bits of broken crockery, “shards” just applies to broken glass). I always have a soft spot for those little fragments of pretty plates just for themselves (I find them all over Hampstead Heath, too), but I recently discovered that a lot of the pieces I’ve found over the years are probably a couple of hundred years older than I assumed they were. It’s funny how rubbish that’s three hundred years old somehow becomes special to people, even though it’s still just rubbish. But the rocks and broken plates on the foreshore will always be special to me.