A Visit to Tower of London Beach - Find History on the Thames Foreshore

by KathleenDuffy

A rare visit to the Thames 'beach' in front of the Tower of London resulted in some fascinating finds including Roman, Mediaeval, Tudor and Victorian artefacts.

Most of the Thames foreshore is accessible to people who want to do a bit of 'mudlarking', i.e. search for 'treasures' that the Thames has thrown up in its tidal journeying.

But to visit the 'beach' in front of the Tower of London you have to get permission from the Queen who owns the land.

Or you can join approximately 500 other people once a year on London's Open House weekend when the Tower beach is open to the public. It makes a great family experience.

The Tower of London Foreshore

Chance for a rare visit!
The Foreshore below the Tower of London, with Tower Bridge
The Foreshore below the Tower of London, with Tower Bridge
K. Duffy

I’ve visited the Thames Foreshore at various points over the last few months, but visiting the ‘beach’ just in front of the Tower of London was quite a privilege. I went with a group called the London Cultureseekers which is part of a larger organisation. You can read about them in a previous article I wrote, here. 

The foreshore below the Tower of London isn’t generally open to the public - the land belongs to the Queen and her permission has to be obtained for a visit.

So it was quite exciting to go through the normally locked iron gate, descend the steep stone steps onto the tranquil beach and begin our search by this popular tourist spot.

A Short Talk Before We Go onto The Foreshore
A Short Talk Before We Go onto The Fo...
K Duffy
Down We Come to the 'Beach'
Down We Come to the 'Beach'
K Duffy
Gateway down to the Foreshore
Gateway down to the Foreshore
K Duffy

We Begin Our Exploration of the Tower of London Beach

We are  guided along the foreshore by Natalie Cohen, an archaologist from the Thames Discovery Programme  who spend most of their time measuring and recording changes to the permanent structures on the foreshore. They have lots of activities going on relating to the Thames foreshore, so if this sort of thing interests you, check out their website.

If you are planning a trip to London you might want to include a visit to some part of the Thames foreshore. You’ll certainly  see London’s past from a new perspective.

Tower of London Foreshore
Tower of London Foreshore
K Duffy
Exploring the Thames Foreshore - Shard in Distance
Exploring the Thames Foreshore - Shar...
K Duffy

There's a good chance that we might find some really interesting artefacts on this stretch of the Thames foreshore.   This section is rarely open to the general public, it's quite near London's old Roman wall, and close to the Tower of London. 

All these factors are reasons for optimism as we search for objects.

 

The Tower of London Foreshore
The Tower of London Foreshore
K Duffy

Traitors' Gate - A Dark Reminder of the Past

Soon we are face-to-face with one of history's most infamous structures.

Traitors' Gate is the old entrance from the River Thames which used to lead straight into the Tower of London. Its forbidding archway has swallowed up the likes of Thomas More, Elizabeth I when she was Princess Elizabeth, Ann Boleyn and Catherine Howard, to name but a few unfortunates.

Traitors' Gate
Traitors' Gate
K Duffy

As you can see, it is bricked up on the outside because the river has risen to such an extent over the centuries. But the bricks do nothing to dilute the chill presence of this infamous piece of architecture.  

Here's a photograph of Traitors' Gate from inside the Tower of London area. 

Traitors' Gate
Traitors' Gate

Normally you might get a quick glimpse of the infamous,  bricked up  mouth as you sail by on a tourist boat - but today we get an intimate, close up view.

For a little while we might stop our happy search for the humble debris of the past and glance at this seemingly mundane, banal archway through which so many went to their deaths. They would have passed Heads on spikes, London Bridgeunder London Bridge and seen the horrifying sight of the heads of previous 'traitors' displayed on spikes.  Catherine Howard saw her lover, Thomas Culpepper, in this way as she went to the Tower.

 

For a few seconds, gazing at this entranceway to death you imagine it's you - and a little shiver runs up your spine. Time to move on...

 

Time to carry on collecting the ephemera of past daily lives, probably the less sensational lives of ordinary people like us, trying to get by, living their lives in blessed obscurity - pottery and shells and pipe stems and Roman ware, locks, Tudor pins, glass bottles, wine stems, Victorian crockery, mediaeval roof tiles, a plastic 20th century toy soldier...

Volunteers working on the Tower of London foreshore
Volunteers working on the Tower of London foreshore
K Duffy

Items Relating to the Tower of London

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Tower of London Beach Was Seaside for the Working Class

Part of the foreshore is closed to us because volunteers are busy working there - and also it is considered too dangerous.

But it wasn't always like this.  Years ago families from the East End of London used to come down to the beach and pretend they were at the seaside!  

Take a look at this delightful short video to see how popular the Tower of London foreshore was in the old days!

'On the Beach' at the Tower of London

Unfortunately, due to a number of deaths by drowning in the swift and deadly currents of the Thames, the foreshore was eventually closed to the public.

Some of the Things We Found on the Tower of London Foreshore!

At the end of our exploration of the beach we lay out our finds on the stretch of sand underneath the wall of the foreshore and Natalie helps us to identify them.  This is a chance to see what each of us has managed to pick up and to learn about them too.  

So here is just a very small example of the humble treasures we found on our visit to the Tower of London foreshore. 

pottery,pipe stems & bowls, etc
pottery,pipe stems & bowls, etc
K Duffy
A Victorian lock
A Victorian lock
K Duffy
Tudor Pins!
Tudor Pins!
KDuffy
Old Perfume bottle?
Old Perfume bottle?
K Duffy
16th/17th c. jug piece with finger pressings
16th/17th c. jug piece with finger pr...
K Duffy
Early (17th?) century pipe bowl
Early (17th?) century pipe bowl
K Duffy
Pots, metal bucket top, glass, etc.
Pots, metal bucket top, glass, etc.
K Duffy

Definitely the 'Find Of The Day'!

Parts of Roman jars
Parts of Roman jars
K Duffy

Shown above are two gorgeous tops from Roman amphorae.  These are about 2,000 years old. It's great to find one - but two is a bonus.

Amphorae An amphorae was a pottery vessel made for transporting products, both dry and wet.

But in the main they were used for transporting wine.  You can see a number of amphorae stacked up in the picture to the left.  Elegant, aren't they!

 

 

Buy Your Own Ancient Roman Amphora

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ANCIENT ROMAN OPENWORK AMPHORA TYPE FIBULA BROOCH

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ANCIENT TERRACOTTA NUDE HOLDING AMPHORA ROMAN 100-300 AD

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End of a Brilliant Mudlarking Session on the Tower of London 'Beach'

We've always got to be aware of the tide  when exploring any part of the Thames foreshore, so it's soon time to make our way up the stone steps to the embankment above.

It's a different world up there - the tranquility of the beach is in sharp contrast to the buzzing, chattering, photo-taking, ice-cream licking, crowds of happy tourists who've come to have a look at William the Conqueror's creation.

Tourists Queuing for Tower of London
Tourists Queuing for Tower of London
K Duffy

It's been a great experience!  And I can't wait for the next visit to the Thames Foreshore.

 

Further Suggestions:

You can find out all about the Thames Discovery Programme by visiting their website here.

And why not join the London Cultureseekers, even if you are just visiting London, and take advantage of the great Meetups on offer - including of course the Thames Foreshore visits.  Their website can be found here.

To find out more about the Thames Foreshore visit my articles below which give more information about how to find out about tides, health and safety,  what to expect, etc.  

Coming to London? Why not visit the Thames foreshore and discover the fragments of past lives that this great London river leaves behind each time the tide is out. It's addictive!
Exploring the Thames foreshore is a great introduction to London’s archaeology. Greenwich is a good place to start, with its maritime history and stunning surroundings.

Some Items Associated with the River Thames

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Updated: 07/28/2013, KathleenDuffy
 
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