Few things are taken more for granted by Londoners than the foreshore of the River Thames. It is lost not only in memory but also in real time twice daily as the tidal river rises and falls by seven metres to cover up the foreshore completely. It is reckoned to be the longest archeological site in any capital city.
Mudlarks – who have to be registered – regularly find fragments of history there, from pipes to pottery still washed up on the banks each day. More importantly, the Museum of London, aided by volunteers, has been uncovering thousands of artefacts and mapping amazing archaeological treasures from Teddington to Greenwich and beyond. Watch the clip below for some examples.
If you are watchful about rising tides and wear appropriate footwear, you can go down some of the regular steps to the foreshore and rummage among the historic fragments, some of which may have been washed up that very day. But there are rules about what you can take away and it might be better to go on one of the fascinating walks organised by the Thames Discovery Programme. I wrote this poem after one such walk.
Observe, twice daily; the angry sea drives
The Thames back upstream then quickly subsides
Straining the banks that can barely cope
Shaking the foreshore like a kaleidoscope
Leaving freshly churned history on the beach
Medieval pipes, bricks, tiles, shards each
Could tell a story if only it could speak
Who last smoked this pipe? What mansion unknown
Was stealthily stripped of this half-hewn stone
Who built by Vauxhall bridge those submerged posts
Which emerge like 7,000 year old ghosts
And then only at the lowest of low tides
But of the gems the Thames so deftly hides
Watch your step you might be treading we’re told
On micraster fossils a million years old
Curated by the river over the centuries
By this, our Thames, free museum of memories.