Saturday, 31 March 2012

Clay Pipes

Segments of pipe stems are so easy to find mudlarking on the Thames. Bowls are less common but you are certain to find at least one on any foreshore walk. They range in date from 1580 – early 1900s. They can be dated by the size and shape of the bowl and size of the hole in the stem. The older ones have smaller bowls as tobacco was originally very expensive. The finds I've kept are below, dated using a identification chart to scale. They were the fags of their day, came packed with tobacco, were smoked only a few times and then thrown away. 

Top row  1610-1710,  middle  1700 - 1800, bottom 1820-40 found Mudlarking on the Thames
Clay Pipe Smoking 1600's
Some older pipes have very ornate decoration. I'm still searching for one of these. The most ornate to date is a simple diagonal leaf pattern on the seam. 

Clay Pipe from 1820-40  with diagonal leaf pattern along seam

A Reuters Article reveals ‘ A Museum of London study of skeletal remains excavated from a Victorian cemetery in Whitechapel, east London, found most people had "notches" in at least two, and often four, front teeth made through the habitual holding of pipe stems. Osteological analysis of 268 adults buried between 1843 and 1854 found that some disfigurement had occurred in 92 percent of adults exhumed, while wear associated with habitual use of pipes was evident in 23 percent. "In many cases, a clear circular "hole' was evident when the upper and lower jaws were closed," said Donald Walker, human osteologist at Museum of London Archaeology Service. Males were affected far more frequently than females. The study, published to coincide with national No Smoking Day in Britain, also found a number of young adult skeletons had tell-tale notches, suggesting pipe-smoking may have begun in childhood.’ It wasn’t until 1881 when James Bonsack invented a cigarette rolling machine that pipes began to replaced.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A shoe - but from what century?

Washed up on the surface of the south Thames foreshore was the first piece of leather I’ve seen. It took my 15 year old son, still woozy with sleep, to tell me it was a shoe, I’d thought it was some kind of purse. It then became obvious it was the sole of a shoe. The sole is made from two pieces of leather , with another piece attached to form the heel. One metal stud remains on the heel, presumably to reduce wear. The leather was kept together by small pins of wood pushed through handmade holes which surround the edges, at least 4 remain.

Shoe sole found on south Thames Foreshore, showing metal stud  and wooden pins 

Side view of leather shoe sole

I’ve failed to find any similar images on the web and have no idea how old the shoe is. I know enough to keep the leather damp, as otherwise it dries and splits. Whilst it was a delight to find, I really don’t fancy keeping something which needs care and attention, so I’m hoping the Museum of London might be interested enough to keep it. If they don’t, do I chuck it back into the Thames?

Sunday, 25 March 2012

“Staffordshire” Combed Slipware. 1690- 1830

This was the first type of pottery I found on the Thames foreshore in 2010, I didn’t bother to pick it up, assuming it was Victorian or even more modern. A volunteer at a Thames Festival stall with ‘things found on the Thames’ to my astonishment notionally told me it was 300 years old. Since then other foreshore explorers have suggested they weren’t that old. I was delighted when I tracked down the pictures below, which confirmed the original lady was right, very satisfying to find the name of this pottery. This pottery is very common on the foreshore. I still find its bold, simple, rather modern bakewell tart design delightful. 

Fragments of Staffordshire Combed Slipware found on Thames Foreshore

The pieces are usually pretty chunky and apparently are earthenware with a clear lead glaze, with iron inclusions, which gives the white slip its yellowish colour. Most pieces are glazed on one side only. Whilst originating in Staffordshire, the pottery was produced in potteries across the Midlands, in Yorkshire and Bristol. 

Selection of combed effects 
 Several have been ‘coggled’ or ‘crimped’ to achieve a very uniform pie crust edge, 

Pie crust edge of combed slipware
The late 17th century saw the production of combware dishes and plates intended for poor to middle class kitchens and dining tables, as well as for use in taverns. The images I’ve tracked down to date show baking dishes. 
Baking dish
Baking dish from Victoria and Albert Museum ca. 1770-1830

Baking Dish from Christies late 18th century

I’ve also found a few marbled pieces, which are glazed on both sides, most likely from cups and bowls. I’ve read that combed and marbled designs tend to be more elaborate and fine-grained on early pieces than on later 18th century vessels.

Marbled slipware found on Thames Foreshore 

Cup from Victoria and Albert Museum ca. 1690

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Willow Pattern Fragments

Willow Pattern 1780- present. 
The Willow Pattern was first produced in 1780-90, from Thomas Turners Factory in Shropshire from an engraving by Thomas Minton or from Josiah Spode’s factory in Staffordshire.

It combined elements from standard Chinese designs, willow tree hanging over three figures on a bridge, fence, bridge , boat, the pagoda teahouse with orange tree, island and two birds. The design was popular and copied by other factories.

In 1849, the willow pattern became associated with the tale first published in ‘The Family Friend’. English in origin it had no links to China, but captured the public imagination for the next hundred years.

I’m not adept enough to identify which shards are from willow patterns, but have clustered found elements from Thames foreshore over the last 5 months, which look as though they originate from this design. 
A Mandarin, grown fat and rich from bribes in his duties as a customs officer for the Emperor, planned an alliance between his beautiful young daughter and an old but wealthy aristocrat. On discovering his daughter was in love with his secretary, Chang, the son of a poor fisherman, the Mandarin flew into a rage and locked Koong-se inside a small house,

 surrounded by a fence to prevent the lovers from continuing their association.

As is the way with all romances, at least in fiction, love finds a way and the lovers met in secret to make their plans – on the day appointed, they began their escape, sheltering in a gardener's cottage temporarily until their absence was discovered. Recovering his wits, Chang leads Koong-seout through a back door and they cautiously make their way across the bridge,

but are spotted by the Mandarin who gives chase. Reaching the other side, the lovers make use of a small rowing boat to attempt to cross the waters and reach refuge on a small island. But the Mandarin and his household are gaining on them, in faster boats propelled by stronger oarsmen. Seeing their desperate plight, the gods take pity on the young people and turn them into birds who soar away to freedom(from

Segments of orange trees

 and willow trees & the only bit of boat I’ve found.

Full willow pattern (Photo from

Friday, 2 March 2012

Mudlarking on the Thames: How it all started

I spent my teenage years rather envious of those who had an absorbing passion, believing I just wasn't that type of person. To my surprise, scouring the Thames foreshore for fragments of long ago discarded objects, has me in its grip. 

Thames foreshore
A birthday treat Thames Explorer Trust guided walk started me off in September 2011. Returning home to party, I couldn't resist laying out my finds,  Roman pottery,  green glazed medieval chunks, earthenware Tudor pot handle, a section of a Tudor nit comb, pieces of tin glazed delft pottery from the 1600s, shards of blue and white Victorian pottery and the ubiquitous clay pipes.  I was hooked.

First finds Mudlarking on the Thames foreshore. L-R Roman, medieval, Tudor pot handle, Tudor nit comb, delft, Bellarmine both 1600s, combed slip ware, clay pipe, Victorian blue and white & glass bottle.