Sunday, 29 April 2012

Potters Leaving their Mark: Thumb Marks

Recently, mudlarking on the Thames, I purposely sought out pottery where hands have left their mark. Poignant reminders of their makers. Impressions left by the maker’s thumbs, whether part of shaping the object, fixing a handle to the main body or in decoration have to be the most moving of all. 
Fragment of Medieval? Pot Found Mudlarking on Thames Foreshore
When following the potter’s decorative thumb mark on the piece above yesterday, I noticed clear finger prints captured in the clay, at the top of the indentations.

Close up of thumb marks on Medieval? Pot, showing finger prints. 
Perhaps a bit of a rushed job, the shapes are not quite as uniform as they are on the second  and third sherds below.  All I suspect  are  from the rims of storage jars, all have traces of glaze.   The curves on two are very shallow, they must have been enormous. My uneducated guess is the first is hand formed red ware made between 1250-1450. The second  and third are both wheel made, the second perhaps redware from 1600-1700,  quite possibly made in London as the redware industry was firmly established in London from end of 15th Century. The third could be Surrey whiteware made between 1240-1500.  

Sections of Pot Redware and White Ware Pot Rims found Mudlarking on the Thames 
Just now I noticed what could be 500+ year old finger prints on the reverse of the whiteware. The potter must have held the inside of the wet pot whilst they created the indentations on the outside, magic. Double click on the photo for a better view. 

Close up of border whiteware sherd, showing  potter's finger prints. 
The last example is a tree trunk of a handle base, decoratively attached to the body of a cooking pot with confident thumb presses.  Are the blackened areas the remains of the fires that cooked countless meals?

The base of a redware cooking pot handle found on the Thames Foreshore
I prefer not to dwell on the hours I’ve spent googling trying to identify these finds, with only partial success. Clearly something best  left to the experts and my up and coming visit to the Museum of London’s Finds Officer. Meanwhile,  I’ll  continue with this series of posts, it’ll be interesting to see if I get any of this right. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Dog Paw Print on Medieval Clay Roof Tile Found Mudlarking on the Thames

I hadn't been mudlarking for well over a month, so was pleased to go down on Monday.  As I reached the stairs down to the foreshore, the familiar smell of old Thames mud drifted up to greet me, offering up its secrets for just a few hours.

My favourite find from that day is, what I presume to be, a medieval roof tile with small indentations. I was so taken with this find I popped it in my pocket as I went to work the following day. Throughout the day a few of my colleagues contemplated the find, with an intake of breath we considered whether the small imprints were from a  child’s fingers, each of us putting our fingers into the dips to see whether they were smaller than ours. It took healthily sceptical Wendy to work out, pretty quickly, that they were the marks of a dog’s footprint.  I subsequently noticed one claw mark on the edge diagonally above the far left pad imprint.

Medieval roof tile with dog paw print found Mudlarking on Thames foreshore  
Apparently it isn't uncommon to find dog or even rodent prints on roman and medieval tiles, a result of being left flat before they were fired.

Medieval roof tiles, made between 13-16th Centuries, are very common on the Thames foreshore. The ones I’ve noticed are aptly named ‘plain tiles’. They would be attached to the laths of the roof by a nail or peg inserted through a hole. The tiles usually only have one hole which is either diamond shaped, a square or circle.

Medieval roof tile found on Thames foreshore

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Beautiful Delftware

Delftware is my favourite pottery find, perhaps because it is so old, 1560-1750 yet its hand painted designs are so vibrant, bold and modern, similar to the Spanish and Portuguese pottery seen on holiday. Several pieces I've found are also quite quirky. The unfamiliar, poetic names of the original objects enthrall, puzzle jugs, fuddling cups, bleeding bowls, porringers, flower bricks, posset-pots, blue chargers, drug jars.

A favourite find, delftware pottery approx 4cm with childlike design 

Tin glazed dish  1571-1800  Museum of London 
Delftware was first produced in London from 1571 by two Antwerp potters, Jacob Jansen and Japser Andries, who opened a pottery at Aldgate. During the 17th century several potteries were established close to the Thames in Southwark (in the wonderfully named Pickleherring Quay) , Lambeth, Vauxhall and  Rotherhithe and later at Putney and Wapping. The best delft descriptions I've found are from  Judith Miller, antiques expert, author and TV presenter, so many direct quotes from her,

‘Delftware is a type of earthenware characterised by its opaque white enamel glaze, made from a mixture of tin and lead ash, powdered glass and water.Before the development of this revolutionary enamel, British potters had been severely restricted in terms of decoration by the drab browns and greens of the clays they used. The clean white finish of Delftware allowed them to paint patterns, landscapes and portraits for the first time.They painted their naive designs in bright colours derived from various minerals - cobalt blue was the most widely employed, although copper green, manganese purple, iron red and antimony yellow were also used.’ 

Polychrome delftware shards found mudlarking on Thames foreshore 

English Delft Polychrome Dish 1675-1700, Christies
Drug jars, wine bottles, and ointment pots were typically produced in the 17th century 

Delft Drug Jars Early 17th Century, Christies

Delftware, some with manganese purple found mudlarking on Thames foreshore 
In the 18th century tea bowls, pots, cups and saucers were made. They were the possessions of the middle classes, status symbols, shown off in the best rooms rather than kept in the kitchen. 

In the latter part of the 18th century, Josiah Wedgwood promoted his more industrially produced tableware, which chipped less easily and was decorated in the new classical style, the public responded eagerly and delftware went out of production by the early 19th century.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Radio London Interview about Mudlarking on the Thames

Never in a million years would I have imagined I’d be on the radio. When I’d written a fair bit on my blog & got it looking how I wanted it, I decided to make an effort to put it out there. One of the things I did was email Robert Elms on BBC Radio London, as he’s such an enthusiast about all things London and I thought it might be just up his street. I guess at the back of my mind I thought he might invite me onto his show and sure enough got a call and was interviewed live yesterday -  it would have been so easy to say… no I don’t think I can do this, but I thought what the hell, I won’t think about this too much and  just do it.

If you are interested in listening to the interview, you can get the link here Radio London Interview. The interview  lasts 10 mins, I was on @ 1:40pm. 

So there it is –  I was surprised how 'London' I sounded, my 15 year old is always ribbing me for how 'posh' I sound - when I mentioned this to him last night, of course he attributed any 'London' in my accent to his influence!  Thank you Graham for making me feel so welcome, at ease  and nice words afterwards. For me,  the moral of this story and all the lovely feedback people have given me about my blog is that you can do some pretty fab things, with not too much effort and why not just go for it.

Enough of all this self publicity- time to put a bit more content on the  blog – or perhaps even better get down and mudlark!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Chinese Musicians

This beautiful piece was just sitting in the middle of the foreshore, when I went mudlarking one day.  Whilst it is clearly the bottom of a bowl or dish, I have no idea what type of ceramic it is, I doubt it is porcelain as it seems too thick. I wonder how old it is? The pictures look hand painted, but I am completely out of my depth here and my internet searching hasn’t thrown any light on this find.

Bowl Base found Mudlarking on the Thames, London

Sunday, 8 April 2012


Sounds like it should be a character from a children’s book and on googling found out it’s the name of  a kids TV programme.  I had never heard of a pipkin until I was browsing through the Museum of London’s online catalogue and matched a find. A pipkin is an earthen ware cooking pot with three legs and at least one handle. Glaze is usually only found in the interior and can be clear (showing yellow) or less commonly green. Late 1500s and 1600s. Likley to have been  produced from potteries in Surrey/Hampshire, hence this type of pottery is called border ware. These manufacturers supplied most houses in London with pottery goods for 150 years.

Mudlarking on the Thames foreshore, I’ve found what I assume to be a couple of pipkin handles. I can’t avoid the inevitable comparison, which the kids and  teens immediately supplied when I asked them what they looked like, ‘small penis’, or the more colloquial equivalent.

Pipkin handles found Mudlarking on Thames foreshore
Ceramics and glass project digital image
Pipkin 1636- 1700, Height 14cm from Museum of London 
Each is hollow, so a stick could be inserted to lift the pot. The handles are short, one is 5 the other 6cm long. One has green glaze on the base, from the inside of the pipkin,  the other tiny remains on the outside. Movingly, you can still see the marks of the potter’s thumbs as they smoothed the handle onto the main body. 

Hollow pipkin handles 
Pipkin base showing green glaze

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Is this from a 400 year old money box?

To my surprise my web trawling suggests the small green glazed knob I found on the Thames foreshore topped a ceramic money box. The 'inside' shot shows  the potter's rather pleasing twist, used to create the lid.  

Money box lid found Mudlarking on the Thames, London 

Probably made from Surrey/Hampshire border ware. They were made between 1550- 1650, covering the life time of Shakespeare. Apparently, often found at theatres where they are thought to have functioned as box offices - could it have come from the original Globe Theatre, across the river from where I found this? 

Ceramics and glass project digital image
Money Box from Museum of London 
A couple of weeks after posting this, I've just seen one of these money boxes in the Globe Theatre's exhibition,  it is so much smaller than I thought from this photograph, even though the Museum of London's photo above has the dimension. You could easily fit it into your hand. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Thames Mudlarking Rules

It’s taken me a while to figure out what I’m allowed and not allowed to do. You are allowed to walk along the foreshore and pick up stuff that you see on the surface, but must check out all finds which could be of archaeological interest  to the finds officer at the Museum of London, apparently they record everything before 1700. All contact details can be found via

You are also asked to note the position of where you found the object, the Museum recommending ‘where’s the path’ which shows ordnance survey map next to google earth.

You aren’t allowed to disturb the foreshore at all without a permit.  There are also sections of the Thames which are very restricted. The police might ask you leave restricted areas, this happened to me. All the rules and regulations are spelt out, aided by maps on the Port of London Authority (PLA) website.You can apply for a permit from the Port of London Authority, I've just received mine, a standard permit costs £55 for a couple of years.
Everyone bangs on about safety. I’ve noticed how terrifyingly fast the currents in the Thames are, I suspect because over the centuries the river has been restricted to a third of its width. The speed at which the tide rises is rather scary. All things to watch out for listed on PLA website.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Bartmann Jugs 1550- 1700

Also called ‘Bellarmines’, produced in Cologne and surrounding towns such as Frechen, Germany, from 1550 – 1700 and exported to England in large quantities. They were later manufactured in England. These pieces have a very distinctive mottled effect, which was achieved by throwing salt into the kiln, producing a texture similar to orange peel. The fragments are likely to originate from jugs and bottles. For someone who knows nothing about pottery, I've found out that they are made of stoneware, a clay which is fired at high temperatures. This results in a more sturdy and chip resistant product which is more suited to transportation and storing liquids and food,  which is precisely what the Bartmann Jugs were used for. 
Salt glaze pieces, middle fragments from  Bartman Jugs 'eye' and 'beard' and 'medallion'  found Mudlarking  
Bartman Jug 

The face of a bearded man is emblazoned in relief decoration, on the neck of each one. Originally thought to represent the mythical wild man, popular in northern European folklore from 14th century. Later the face became linked with cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), a fierce opponent of alcohol and Protestantism in Germany, perhaps by protestants wishing to ridicule the cardinal by associating him with vessels carrying alcohol. In the 17th century, many would be decorated with a medallion in the middle of the body, usually a coat of arms of royalty, noble families or towns. No success yet in finding a full Bartmann face, tantalisingly I’ve found a few fragments of face , an eye and beard and other decorations, perhaps monograms, sections of handles and undecorated jug pieces. One to keep looking for.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Tudor Nit Comb Found Mudlarking on the Thames

I found a small section of a tudor comb on my first ever mudlarking trip in September 2011. It’s made of bone, so smooth to touch and beautifully made. One side is a regular comb, the other a nit comb. 
Section of Tudor nit Comb found on Thames Foreshore
When I picked it up I asked my sister whether she thought it was anything of interest, she thought not. Fortunately I ignored her and asked our guide what it might be. I found another comb section a few months later, but left it there for someone else to find.

Tudor Nit Combs found on the Mary Rose