Discover the Thames Foreshore at Greenwich - Learn about Archaeology

by KathleenDuffy

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.

Greenwich, steeped in maritime history, is a beautiful place to explore. It’s home to Greenwich Mean Time, the Meridian, the great Greenwich Observatory, the magnificent Cutty Sark ship (recently restored after a fire) and the 0² Arena, not to mention the beautiful Royal Naval College.

So exploring the Thames foreshore at Greenwich and learning about the history of this part of the Thames is to feel part of that history.

The Path to the Foreshore
The Path to the Foreshore
K Duffy

When I visited Greenwich I went along with a Meetup Group called The London Cultureseekers.  You can book your own foreshore experience independently  by going to the Thames Discovery Programme website. They take groups onto the foreshore at various points along the Thames.

We were met at Greenwich by an archaeologist from The Thames Discovery Programme.  After a short talk on health and safety and the history of this part of the foreshore,  she led us down onto the 'beach'.

Greenwich Foreshore

All areas of the Thames foreshore are different - the foreshore at Greenwich is varied with sandy beach-like areas juxtaposed with rocks and pebbles.  But it is also very wet and muddy in places!   So strong walking boots, or preferably in this case, Wellington boots, are advisable.

 

Also, on that particular day it was freezing cold and the wind was slashing up the Thames like a knife.  I regretted not putting on warmer clothing!

Volunteers excavating on the Greenwich Foreshore
Volunteers excavating on the Greenwich Foreshore
K Duffy

The photograph above shows volunteers excavating on the Greenwich foreshore.  They are allowed to do some digging as they are being overseen by professionals and have permission from the Port of London Authority.

However, as a visitor  to the foreshore, either with a group or solo,  you won't be able to do any digging.  You can scan the shore and pick up objects from the surface though, which is very absorbing!

If you want to volunteer and get down and dirty, then you can find further information about that later on in this article.

On the Foreshore at GreenwichNaturally, when searching for objects on the foreshore the habits of the tide and the social history of that particular area play their part in what will be washed up.

Sometimes you will find lots of items, but today the pickings for me weren’t so lucrative - although I did find lots of pipe stems and some pottery pieces.

Other members of our party were more fortunate. Someone found a number of pieces of Tudor pottery and one lady made an interesting discovery - part of a Victorian spoon with precious stone (an Victorian spoon handleopal?) decorating the handle!

When it was discovered, it was covered in mud and didn’t look particularly promising. But that’s what’s so handy about having a professional archaeologist on hand - he or she can immediately have a go at identifying your ‘treasures’.  Our archaeologist seemed thrilled with this find!

Prints of the Thames at Greenwich

It's hardly changed...

Archaological Work on the Thames Foreshore at Greenwich

 It was slim pickings for me in terms of ‘treasure’, but this was made up for by the work going on at the foreshore, which was fascinating.  

 At the time of our visit a number of volunteers and professionals  from the Thames Discovery Programme were working on uncovering  what is thought to be a medieval jetty or defence system.  Others were cleaning the original 17th century  wall of moss and debris.  You can see them scraping away in the picture below.

Scraping away at 17th century wall
Scraping away at 17th century wall
K Duffy

During this clean-up, a volunteer found a number of medieval pins lodged between the bricks. This is what is so fascinating about exploring the Thames foreshore - you never know what’s going to turn up. And of course, having eyes like a hawk helps a lot!

An old landing stage was also being uncovered just below this wall.

Uncovering floor at Greenwich Foreshore
Uncovering floor at Greenwich Foreshore
K Duffy
Wooden 'Bird mouth' stumps of old jetty
Wooden 'Bird mouth' stumps of old jetty
K Duffy

All archaeological work on the foreshore is governed by nature - the tide will soon be turning and has to be taken into account. Taking measurements and recording findings all have to be done at speed!

Additionally, this part of the foreshore at Greenwich has undergone severe erosion and it is now illegal for unsuspecting ‘mudlarks’ to dig here - the archaeological finds are too fragile  to risk being disturbed.

Monumental Industrial Structure on the Thames Foreshore
Monumental Industrial Structure on the Thames Foreshore
K Duffy

On the Thames foreshore at Greenwich I was struck by the variety of structures around us, from massive industrial scarey monsters emerging from the Thames, mossy romantic steps leading from the Thames Path, glimpses of the elegant naval buildings, to old hotels, warehouses and living spaces backing onto the foreshore.

Some Photos of Buildings on the Thames Foreshore at Greenwich

Back of old Trafalgar Tavern on Greenwich Foreshore
Back of old Trafalgar Tavern on Greenwich Foreshore
K Duffy
Elegant buildings seen from the Greenwich Foreshore
Elegant buildings seen from the Greenwich Foreshore
K Duffy
Stairway up to the Thames Path from the Greenwich Foreshore
Stairway up to the Thames Path from the Greenwich Foreshore
K Duffy
Building on Greenwich Foreshore
Building on Greenwich Foreshore
K Duffy
Sharing our 'Finds' with an Archaeologist
Sharing our 'Finds' with an Archaeologist
K Duffy

The Thames Discovery Programme is keen to train up volunteers who will eventually be able to keep an eye on their part of the Thames foreshore. They provide training days and lots of opportunities to work with expert archaeologists on the foreshore.

Volunteers with the Thames Discovery Programme are known as FROGs, which stands for: Foreshore Recording & Observation Group! They have their own page on the Thames Discovery Programme website.

What is so refreshing is the variety of people who become volunteers - there is no age discrimination here!

However, I do have a word of warning. Before considering getting involved with the Thames Discovery Programme you should know that it can become highly addictive!

 

Video Introducing The Thames Discovery Programme

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Some Further Suggestions and Websites

 

As I advised in my other article on exploring the Thames foreshore, although it is possible to explore on your own it is always better to go with an experienced group of professionals who know the times of the tides and will keep you safe.

Thames Foreshore at GreenwichOf course, if you’ve checked  on the tidal times  it is perfectly ok to go on to the foreshore to explore alone - just keep an eye on the time because it is easy to get absorbed in treasure hunting!

Also In this previous article I provide much of the basic information you will need to know about visiting the foreshore, what to wear, what you might find, and how to find the tidal timetables.  There is also a brief explanation of the rules of digging and  using metal detectors on the foreshore.

 

Here's Those Useful Websites Again.

Find out more about exploring the Thames foreshore :   Thames Discovery Programme

This is a Meetup Group which regularly visits the Thames Foreshore: The London Cultureseekers

An amazing site from 'mudlarkers' with a great sense of humour and some terrific finds: Thames and Field Metal Detecting Society

Essential site for checking tide times if you are going on the foreshore alone: VERY IMPORTANT: Port of London Authority

Have fun!!

Updated: 07/26/2013, KathleenDuffy
 
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