Fascinating and unusual beaches are revealed as the tide goes out and the water level is lowered in the River Thames as it passes through the city of London. The composition of these narrow stretches of tidal river foreshore, confined between embankments and revetments, varies from place to place, and maybe from tide to tide. At times, all is covered by soft sediments, while at others, the underlying clay and chalk with natural flint and stone pebbles can be seen. Most interesting of all is the accompanying debris that has been historically dumped through the ages. This is fertile ground for the licensed “mudlarkers” who search for valuables, curiosities and treasures. In the past, these items have included  significant archaeological finds such as carved wooden figurative objects, and ceremonial stone mace and axe heads, often given as votive offerings to the river which was considered sacred. Many of these finds are displayed in the Museum of London. More likely finds would be fragments of pottery, pieces of clay pipes, and food remains like oyster shells and animal bones.

8 Replies to “Urban Beach 1”

  1. Many, many years ago I lived in Greenwich I was fascinated by the Thames at low tide. I would walk along the foreshore and look at all the bits and pieces (lots of clay pipe stems, I seem to remember).


  2. There must be thousands of the clay pipe stems. I understand that at one time people in pubs who wanted a smoke bought the pipe ready filled with tobacco and threw the pipe away afterwards. I could get really interested in mud-larking. I am going to find out more. A book all about it has just come out.

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  3. Thank you, Philip. I like the way that they change so much and are steeped in history. You can see the remains of all the ancient timberworks and stone jetties dating back hundreds of years. I also wonder what kind of organisms find it a suitable habitat. When I was a child, the river was virtually dead – fish could not live there. At that time if you fell in the water and survived drowning, you would quite possibly die from the contaminated water. Now it has been dramatically cleaned up. Birds seem to like feeding on the exposed shores along the Southbank; I have seen migrating geese by Tate Modern.


  4. That is an interesting thought. Some of this rubbish may now lie far away on other shores, and, similarly, ballast from abroad may have been dumped on the Thames foreshore. I have been to seashores with ‘alien’ rocks that were the result of ballast dumping.

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  5. It is an intriguing area. The Museum of London Archaeology Service (MOLAS) has recently produced a book “The River’s Tale: archaeology on the Thames foreshore in Greater London” by Nathalie Cohen and Eliott Wragg with Jon Cotton and Gustav Milne 2017. I am going to order a copy and learn more. There is another publication “London in Fragments: A Mudlark’s Treasures” by Ted Sandling which is more focussed on the finds from these urban beaches.

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