Back to the River

Photo: Gabor Gergley

The Bankside area has changed substantially from an industrial centre into a cultural hub in recent years, best epitomised by Tate Modern, one of the world’s leading art galleries which was previously a power station. Through a new heritage project, Back to the River, ceramicist Raewyn Harrison and archaeologist Mike Webber looked to explore this change with local communities.

Working with elders and children, the project used archaeology and clay as a way to share stories and history, and culminated with a public day in front of the Tate Modern where a temporary installation recreating the Mason Stair Causeway was created out of clay casts made in workshops with school children and elders, bringing locals back to the river.

Find out more about the project on our timeline

  • Discovering through artefacts

    Archaeologist Mike Webber took students from Charles Dickens Primary School on a journey of discovery through handling artefacts found in the Thames and learning how these related to Bankside's industrial history

  • Foreshore finds

    There was even a trip to the Bankside foreshore, with a guided walk along the way to identify original buildings. Students discovered archaeological artefacts on the foreshore revealing what life would have been like for local residents in the past.

  • Making moulds

    Led by ceramicist Raewyn Harrison, students made moulds out of Mike's artefacts, and some of their own objects, such as toys. These moulds were then fired in a kiln.

  • Creating casts from the moulds

    Students then used more clay to press into these moulds, leaving behind casts in the shape of the artefacts.

  • Sharing stories and making casts

    Workshops were held with elders from Blackfriars Settlement to introduce them to archaeology, clay cast-making and to share stories and memories on how Bankside has changed.

  • Bankside resident memories

    "I could see St. Paul's from my bedroom window. I used to love lying in my bed looking at that. I can't see it now - the buildings and that. It's blocked the view" 

  • Take me back to the river

    During Totally Thames a public day bought together all the moulds that were created for the public to come and see. People were invited to make their own casts and learn more about the project.

  • Recreating the Tudor Causeway

    The casts were laid out on the Thames foreshore in front of Tate Modern, from the Mason Stairs to the edge of the river at low tide. The installation was a recreation of a Tudor causeway used when the Tate was a power station. It was a ferry point, taking people and goods, to and from Industrial Bankside for more than 400 years.

  • Thousands of clay casts were laid out

    It was a race against time to complete the installation before the tide came in.

  • Casts washed away by the incoming tide

    The final installation referenced the thousands of objects that have been found in and taken from the Thames. The tide washed away these casts, referencing ancient ritual ceremonies, meaning thousands of artefacts were symbolically given Back to the River.

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