Fiona Haughey Oral History Transcript
Interviewee: Dr Fiona Haughey
Date: 12 July 2019
Interviewer: Denise Fairhurst
Q: This is an oral history interview with Dr Fiona Haughey on 12 July 2019 by Denise Fairhurst. Also present are:
Q2: Eva Tausig from Thames Festival Trust.
Q3: And Gina Slater.
Q: And the interview is taking place at Dr Haughey’s house as part of the Thames Festival’s Trust Foragers on the Foreshore Heritage Project. So please could you state your full name?
A: Fiona Margaret Haughey.
Q: And where were you born?
A: I was born in London.
Q: And where did you grow up?
A: All over the country. We moved.
Q: And what subjects were you interested in at school?
A: I wasn’t interested in a great deal of anything at school to be honest. I was very keen on sort of finding old things. Never had the chance to, it was all cerebral more than anything else. My mother would not have been keen for me to go and do archaeology, she considered it a rather dirty profession, so I became a teacher instead. I trained up at Durham, University of Durham, doing a degree in education there. And then not much after that I actually got married and then went on and had six children, that’s my second career. After that, when they began to grow up, I inherited a little bit of money from my mother’s estate and I decided I’d put it into something that I wanted to do. So in the early ‘90s I went back to university, I got a place at UCL to read archaeology, much to my surprise. My whole first year I kept on expecting the tap on the shoulder that we’d made a mistake, but by the end of the first year I thought, “No, I think I’m alright here.” Did the undergraduate degree, I actually came out with the First, much to my complete surprise and I think probably a lot of other people’s as well. And then I went on later to do a PhD, and my focus in both the undergraduate degree and the PhD was on the river here.
Q: And how long have you been mudlarking?
A: Well I’ve been working on the river since the first term I went to UCL, because I hadn’t had chance to do any fieldwork, not with bringing up kids and teaching and whatever have you. And one of the requirements of the undergraduate degree was that over the first couple of years you had to do 70 days field work. They were just beginning to look at the Thames at that point, so this is December 1993, that’s when I first went down, at a site at Bermondsey. And I’ve basically been going down ever since, I just found it a fascinating place to go. We weren’t doing what we’d call mudlarking then, we were actually recording ships’ timbers and various other things. But you see so much around there. I went on, as I say, and did the undergraduate dissertation on looking at certain things but particularly at this west end of the Thames, and then my PhD was doing a huge comparison of what we have on the Thames here with a lot of the major rivers around the world, but looking particularly at the prehistoric aspects of those.
Q: And what keeps you going down?
A: Because it’s never the same. You can go to the same geographic place, I mean day after day as the tides permit, week after week, year after year, and it is never, ever the same. You never know what you’re going to find. Sometimes you don’t find anything, I don’t pick up a lot of material, I never have done, over time obviously you do accumulate quite a bit but I’m very particular now about what I pick up because I’m not going to pick another bit of Tudor roof tile up because it’s another bit of Tudor roof tile. I will if it’s got something special about it. And that special may just be fingerprints or a different way of doing something. So it’s interesting to record the changes over time. But the material I work on now really dates from the end of the last Ice Age by and large right up to yesterday. And the river never ceases to astonish, surprise or just lull you into a false sense that you thought you knew it all and you don’t, attitude. You know, I’m always finding things, I don’t know what they are, but there are lots of very good people around that you can actually go and contact them.
Q: So do you go to the same place when you mudlark or do you go to different places on the river? Tell us about that.
A: There are lots of areas. Well when I went down first they’d started to think about doing an organised survey of the London Thames, basically Teddington down to the Erith/Kent border. It wasn’t meant to be quite that far but it ended up by being that. So I visited all the areas down the river, it’s a huge, complex area. Most people’s archaeological site is possibly no bigger than my back garden but actually ours is slightly larger. But after that finished, ’96 to ’99 the Thames Archaeological survey ran, there was nothing happening at all so I just kept going down to places. Some places we know are archaeologically sterile, there’s nothing there any more, it’s all just straight gravel so there’s nothing in them coming through. But there were other areas that we knew we’d only, if you like, skated the surface of that, there was always going to be more, as erosion went through you were going to get more. So some of those sites I carried on going on, like Chelsea, up here at Strand on the Green, Chiswick, further round as you go further down you’ve got Bankside, you’ve got the Northern Bank at the City, and all the way down Bermondsey, Wapping, it just is never ending. And I can’t cover everywhere, so after I started doing my PhD I ended up concentrating on about three or four different areas that I tend to go down a lot. A lot of my material here is from one of those main areas which I’ve been working on since ’95, and I’ve seen a lot of structures come, a lot of structures go, I’ve seen lots of deposits which have been deliberately dumped down there appear, erode away and are not there any more. So I hoping to go get all this written up to create--, like it will happen, it’s just when it happens, to actually if you like do the whole history going back. We know from archaeology that’s been going on on the mainland that there’s a lot of relicked islands that have become part of the mainland where there’s been ploughing, so we’ve got Bronze Age plough marks. I’m now beginning on the river to pick up pieces of Bronze Age pottery, we’re almost at the same level now, it’s eroded away on the top.
Q: What made you pick those four sites?
A: Partly because of the access, partly also because if you’re going down on your own you’ve got to be sure that you’re in a very safe place. I don’t drive, I don’t have a car, so it’s got to be somewhere that I can get to without having to walk three miles to get down there. Some people do that but those people do tend to have vehicles and things for that, I don’t. And anything I bring back has to come back in a bag on my back, so I don’t want to be walking too far. And also I felt very familiar with them. I can walk down certainly three of the sites I’ve walked up and I can tell you whether since this time last week or wherever it was I was there that that bit’s eroded a bit more and I can show you exactly how much more it’s eroded. It’s familiarity. I occasionally do walks with people down there, and two people’s responses to somebody else about a walk that I did, well it was more than two people actually, one person phoned in and said, “I don’t know why we did that walk, we didn’t see anything and there was nothing to pick up,” and then four other people from exactly the same walk had said, “I’ve never seen so much stuff in one place.” Now who got it right, who got it wrong? And that’s because I always say to people you’ve got to get your eye in, you’ve got to be able to see it, because if you look on any of the beachcombing websites they often put up a picture and say can you spot the object in this, and you just have got to get your eye in and you can find the most amazing things. Just a little corner of something sticking out so you just clear it a little bit and lo and behold it might be a bit of clay pipe, it might be a bit of a bomb head, that’s not working I hasten to add, it might be a worked tool, it can be anything, but you’ve just got to be aware of what you’re looking at.
Q: So is there a particular method you use, can you describe that?
A: Not really, I don’t think there is a method. I do take a trowel down with me because under the terms of my licence I can use it. But I rarely get it out, I’d rather just clean with a finger than actually use the trowel or even dig. The problem with digging, even if legally we can do it, even those who can dig the big holes, is the river itself because it’s built up over so many years has almost like a sort of locking system in it and if you create a hole you break that lock, and a lot of people say right well but we backfill, which is good, but that’s all loose, the tide comes so we have pockets which can only be described as quicksand down there, if you’re not careful. And there are places where I’ve walked across and it looks all the same but actually suddenly I’ve gone down up to the top of my thigh in a hole on one side where there’s been a hole there. Because a couple of tides over the top and it all looks the same, so you can’t spot where people have been digging, particularly if they’ve been digging deep. If it’s only ten centimetres it doesn’t matter, but if you’re digging one metre 20, I mean I actually literally--, luckily I had two people with me and I was able to get out, it was only one leg, just one leg that went down, but you wouldn’t have known that that foot was safe and that foot wasn’t, which is why I prefer not to dig. We have a big self-excavating trench out there. If we have a lot of rain over the winter, which some winters we’ve had a colossal amount and if you look in the upper Thames valley the ground is so wet it can absorb no more and you get these massive flooding of fields and everything. All that water eventually comes over Teddington Lock and when it hits the river here it can increase the flow four, five, six, seven times its normal speed. I know in 2003 when we had that it took until I think it was about June, end of June before the tide sort of resorted to its original, sort of the normal theme that we would have. And in 2013 it was actually October as we were hitting winter again before it went back. In 2003 the Environment Agency offered to fly over the river and take some aerial shots, would I like it. Is the Pope a Catholic was what I thought about that one [laughs’] absolutely, and I gave them a list of sites up the river and we could see from that that the chalk, we get chalk layers on the barge beds and things, you could see great scallops of white that had appeared and that was where you get the river current and the marine current sort of fighting each other and the current’s pushed back so it strips, and it worked out that all the way down the river we were losing between 20 and 30 centimetres of deposit, that’s quite a lot to lose in one, and over one period of time. So whatever was in that is now somewhere out in the North Sea. Normally the river picks up, drops, picks up, drops. This didn’t do that at all, it just went straight out. It’s a dangerous beast, the Thames, and nobody should ever, ever, even on a normal happy non-flooding day, ever underestimate that.
Q: So what was your most hairy experience?
A: Well a colleague and I who are, we’re very sensible, obviously we’re very sensible, but we have been caught out a couple of times but not to the point of irretrievability if you know what I mean. He’s known as Mr Teflon because he never gets mud on him at all. I, on the other hand, usually end up slithering down muddy steps and getting mud absolutely all over me. And I think on a couple of occasions we got to somewhere where there should have been a gate, we haven’t checked it beforehand, there was a gate but it was locked, and it was quite a high gate so I had to get--, I’ve never been a climber I have to say in my defence, but we had to get over that because there’s no way we would be able to get back before--, sometimes it’s a calculated risk that we do. One site we go on, the place that we’re working at is quite a way from the entry point but we know that there are some other vertical ladders. Now they are not for the fainthearted, those, especially if you do have a heavy bag of things on your back, because you’re actually going vertical and you don’t realise that you just need the ladders to be slightly forward to be comfortable, and when you get up to the top of the wall the hand rail so to speak does that, and you’ve got real hold on it then, so coming up that was not good. It wasn’t hairy, it was just uncomfortable and the thought of landing flat on my back again was not fun at that point. But no, I mean we’re not stupid, with that we calculated we knew we would do that in order to spend a little longer on the site where we were. If ever I take people down it is never in places where I’m anything other than completely sure that we can keep an absolutely clear eye on the tide, we know exactly where it’s going and I keep a very careful watch on it. I always know when the turn of the tide is, you look on the river, you recognise it, you know what rough time they give you, because we all know the Thames tide tables are a bit like the old British Rail time, they give you an indication, they’re not fact, so many factors could come into play so you have to be careful. Safety is absolutely paramount and if you’re foolish with that and you get stuck then I’m afraid who have you got to blame really but yourself for that. What you don’t want to do is encourage other people to go down who are not aware of that, and that to me is a very--, whenever I take any walks, for a Thames festival or whatever it is, we have a health and safety briefing before we start, I give everybody gloves to wear, they’re not allowed to take anything away with them but you can’t stop people touching things, and I always have what we rather probably rudely call a sheepdog in the back to make sure that we keep the group together, because they will once they get their heads down, you can’t manoeuvre them along the foreshore. So again, health and safety is very high for every one of the walks I do, and for Thames festivals no exception, I produce a multi page risk assessment of it. And I don’t think that’s over the top, I think that’s very important to have that.
Q: How often do you go down to the river?
A: Again it varies. I’m not down every tide, I don’t think anybody is really, and at certain places you really want perhaps the very lowest tides, so one site I haven’t been able to get down there to the extent that I would like to for ten years because the tides--, global warming has meant we’ve just got more water in the river, so we’ve never actually cleared that bit or at least not cleared it in daylight hours. I don’t do darkness down there, if you go down there you’re foolhardy it seems to me, because if you’re going to go down then you presumably haven’t told the police and various other people you’re going down. I’m not saying they’re doing it illegally, it’s not that at all, but if you’re going down and you’re going down with head torches and things, you know, it is not an even surface, it is very easy to fall over and damage yourself and if you’re going on your own, which some of them do, that’s their risk but it’s not a risk I’d be prepared to take. I do early evening walks with people but then in very specific areas, there are places I will not take people for those, and then I’ll only take adults. For me it’s to teach people what a fantastic place the Thames is and it’s just to educate people, because the more people that know and can begin to even get an inkling of how important the Thames is then I think the better chance we have of possibly getting some legislation or something to protect it. It’s London’s biggest open space, I think it should be declared a national park myself and we might actually get some legislation to look after it then.
Q: Do you always go with people?
A: Not usually, I mean may have an organised group to go down with me, but no I quite honestly will go down on my own, but only to places I know. If it’s somewhere I don’t know then I always go with at least one other person so that we are covered in case there is any problem. And I don’t think that means I’m not brave or anything, I think it’s more to be sensible than anything.
Q: So describe to me how you would prepare if you were getting up this morning and you thought right I’m going to go mudlarking today, what would you do, how would you sort everything?
A: Well I mean I’ve done a lot of preparation work on this to what time the tide is. Tide tables do vary so you’ve got to work that out. The Port of London Authority Tide Tables are usually pretty good but they are only accurate up as far as London Bridge, so anything beyond or upstream from London Bridge they give you a thing you’re supposed to add or take various bits off but it’s pretty much hit and miss so there are other ways that you have to find that information out. I would also make sure for example that I have got in my bag a charged up phone, which is nowadays a luxury, the days when we only had phone boxes was always a bit more traumatic. Also to be sure that if I was not going with somebody else to a new site that I knew where the entry and the exit points were and also how much tide I’d got. That varies from foreshore to foreshow. Some foreshores you’ve got eight or ten hours before the tide returns because it’s a long, long slope down so it goes out a long way and then it can come back quicker but you still have quite a long time, they tend to be where you’ve got the boatbuilding and boat repair yards there as well. I’d also take gloves with me, lots of people don’t do gloves, I think it’s stupid, you are risking all sorts of health things then if you don’t take them. Also I think if people are working on the river quite frankly they need a tetanus injection before you go down, because we know that there’s sewerage and stuff in the river, that hopefully the fabulous Tideway Tunnel will solve or knock on the head, it won’t necessarily remove it all but knock it on the head. But there is more than that in the river that is not pleasant and is not nice, and anybody who goes down and just gets mud all over their hands, even if you scrub them you’re not always going to necessarily completely clean your hands. Any walks for example I do for Thames Festival everybody has gloves on and I always bring spares with me, and to ask them when they come off the river to please put your gloves in a rubbish bin, please don’t do what one lady did and throw them in the river. And when everybody took an audible intake of breath and she said, “Oh it’s archaeology of the future,” I said, “No it’s not, it’s absolute litter of the present, that’s not going to add anything to the archaeological record.” And they had gone, you know, the river goes very fast, you couldn’t have collected them.
Q: Is there anything else that you do to prepare?
A: Yeah, I don’t wear good clothes, which is harder [laughs], and also I don’t tend to go down with bare legs, you know, with trousers and things so that if you do stumble which we all do from time to time you’re not likely to slice yourself up at all. And make sure that anything you’ve got in your bag, if you go round with a bag and you look a bit suspicious the police sometimes do stop you, and my youngest son who’s in the police said of my Swiss army knife, he said you can have it but have it so it’s not easily accessible, so you can’t just sort of whip it out, so you make sure of that. And you always make sure that somebody knows you’re going down. I don’t think you can do more preparation, you never know what you’re going to find. I always take a whole load of zip-lock bags as well, which I wash and re-use because I do that sort of thing, and it’s quite good and then you just don’t get mud absolutely everywhere in your bag.
Q: How does it feel when you get down there?
A: Oh it’s--, I sometimes just go down there not with a view to finding anything but just go down if you’ve had a really hectic, tough, weight-on-your-shoulders, headachy sort of day or two days or whatever it is, just to go for a walk along the foreshore. There may be a bit of traffic round but you don’t hear it, you don’t really hear the planes overhead, you’re just in this sort of nice bubble and it’s very, very relaxing and you just start looking. I mean I once went down one site and worked my way from one set of stairs to another. Now if you’d been on the bank that would have taken you about eight or ten minutes max. I spent four hours just meandering up and down the foreshore, just enjoying myself. I didn’t go down for anybody else, I didn’t go down for anything, I just went down. And the water going by and everything, it is incredibly--, it’s not soporific but it’s incredibly soothing. Sometimes if I’m going because I know that there’s a dump of something there that’s been eroding out and I want to go and check it then you’ve got several things on our hit list that you want to look for, but the best thing to do is to go down pretty well as the water clears the wall or the stairs or whatever happens to be on the land side and then have three or four, depending on the size of the foreshore you’re likely to get out, three or four different things if you’re going to go down there to work so that you do, so you’re not wasting your tide. And also it always returns much quicker than you think it’s going to, it can catch everybody out if you’re not careful so be prepared to get wet feet if you need to, you know.
Q: So what’s your most memorable experience mudlarking?
A: Ooh. I suppose finding the Mesolithic hand axe was one, as a prehistorian that was really quite nice and I was totally on my own that day and I couldn’t get in touch with anybody else to show it to them. So I was like, “I think it is, I’m not committing myself, I know it is but I’m not committing myself,” you know. And the other was, I’m interested in people and what they do, I’m not really interested in your gold and your sort of fancy metal work and stuff and it’s nothing to do with the age of it, I can be as interested in an 18th century fisherman and his equipment and stuff, but give me something that has sort of presumably got monetary value and I’m not really terribly interested in that. So a lot of people if they think about the Bronze Age they think about all this huge amount of accumulated metalwork we’ve got from there. Now iron doesn’t last in water it just corrodes, so we’ve little iron that’s survived unless it’s in a very specific way, it’s sort of been jammed between things, and that’s happened. But they dredged the river for about 150 years and when they were dredging to make it a navigable river way for the boats to get through they came up with weaponry like swords, daggers, dirks, the whole lot, one after another. And I think it’s one of the biggest single collections in the whole world is this stuff, if you put it all together. When I started my PhD I wasn’t sure which period in the prehistory that I wanted to concentrate on so I just went round every museum in London and local authority museums here and then spread my net over Britain and actually went abroad to a few places as well where I discovered that Thames material had been found, well it’s now on display, and it’s on display for example in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto [laughs] which is a little bit far from the Thames, perhaps because it was an English director who found that. But keep your weaponry, I’m not interested in it, it’s the people. So to find a skull, as we did at Chelsea, and again that’s a site that is really very dangerous, you only get maybe an hour max down there because it’s pushed out because of the houseboats so it’s right out in the river and you can only go there at extremely, extremely low tides because of the entry point. You can’t get there at all now because the Port of London Authority have locked the gates. I had a group of students down there working with me and we found something that was laying on its side, that sort of shape, we had a look and realised it was a skull and I had to make a snap decision because the tide was literally about to turn and on that side when the tide turns you get off, you leg it off, it’s not one of those, “Oh we’ve another hour”, it’s you get off the minute it turns. And I knew any minute it was going to turn. So you’re supposed to leave it and report it but I knew we didn’t have a low enough tide for about another three months and I knew that hadn’t been there four days ago, it wasn’t going to survive three months of tides, so I made a decision to do a block lift, so 30-by-30-by-30 centimetre block, take the skull and some of the stuff around it and face the flack from the police later [laugher], which Jane, the English Historic England lady who is somebody I know quite well, took the flack on that for me very kindly. But there was no choice really it seemed to me, and actually in the block that we took out we found another piece that fitted, it’s the top part of a male one, and we know it’s male because we ladies have got past being Neanderthals but the men still have their eyebrows, their thick lumpy eyebrows and so we knew it was male, but the radiocarbon date came back that it’s mid-to-late Bronze Age. And I go to the museum and that’s on display as the earliest evidence for surgery because it’s got a huge trepanation on the top now. I must say, if that’s what surgery was in the Bronze Age I think I’m glad I bypassed that. But that’s a person, we’re looking at a person there, you know, somebody rather than just a bit of sword or something which doesn’t tell you anything about the person, but we’ve found out quite a lot about him now.
Q: How would you go about finding out about your objects?
A: Well, since I’ve started of course we’ve had the introduction of the internet which has been pretty good, your local museums tend to be very good as well. The Portable Antiquities Scheme was just starting up when I was getting involved, it wasn’t as established as it is now but that’s always been very good. And also you find out from other people, you know, “I’ve found this, I don’t know what it is” sort of response and you get lots of people come back with some things or will suggest places that you can find. But actually because of the web if you put almost anything in it will come up. I mean that netsinker, because I reported it to the Portable Antiquities Scheme that is online now, you can find that. So if somebody comes up with something and they suspect it might be a netsinker, you put that in and it will come up with that, you have something to compare it with, and it’s all comparisons. And then there are people that you know, there are two or three people that I know who work for MOLA, Museum of London Archaeology, who are very helpful, if you email them a picture of something they’ll come back and they’ll say “It’s a...” How they have all this knowledge in their heads I don’t know. I mean they’re very specific periods that they know everything backwards and if they don’t they can recommend somebody for you. The other thing to do if it’s a piece of ceramic of one form or another or stoneware or something is to wander into the Victoria & Albert ceramic galleries which have been laid out stunningly well, I’ve never seen one so well--, I recommend it to people just to look round, and I took a little piece of stone that had about three letters on and I just wandered around until I found the right pot. And they’ve got all their store stuff instead of being in boxes you can’t see they’ve actually got a glass store in the centre of the gallery and if you want to find out more from that there’s somebody there you can speak to, you know. So I think doing work on your own I think it’s really good because it broadens your knowledge, you pick up something that you thought was just modern and actually it turns out to be 300 years old, and I think that’s always an uplifting and amazing thing for people to find out, you know.
Q: Shall we talk about the objects now? Do you want to describe this object to us in a few words?
A: It’s made from flint, not very good flint I have to say, but the Thames has a lot of flint in it and we find that you can see it where it’s on the foreshore there’s lots and lots of pieces of flint there. This is a hand axe. There’s no evidence on this that this was ever put on a wood haft, it would be tied on there, and when they do that often there’s bruising if you like, it’s what they call it in the stone to show where they’ve tied it to. This hasn’t got that at all. I can tell you it’s what they called a Thames pick, because they’re very typically very long and you get some abnormally long, two or three times longer than this which I think is probably about, ooh, roughly four inches long I would think in old money. But this is used for chopping, for scraping, it has multi purposes. Along its edges they’ve done what we call a retouch where they’ve just nibbled the edges to make like a serrated edge, you can see it quite clearly on two of the surfaces. That could have been used for cutting. I mean it’s all blunted now when it had happened this could have sliced your fingers open. And another typical thing is this big flake that’s been taken off one end, sometimes that flake will go all the way over, it’s called a tranchet flake, and that would have meant that would have been like, you know, your sharpest knife and you could do all sorts of things with that. But the intriguing thing about this thing is not that it’s got a little bit of quartz that’s naturally in it which glitters, gives it a bit of a diamante look on it, but the fact that you can see, and lots of people have tried it now, that actually it’s a right-handed hand axe. Because if you try holding it in your left hand, and bearing in mind where the two cutting edges were, you’d have cut your hands to pieces if you’d tried doing that, it’s not comfortable, whereas if you have it in your right hand it’s extremely comfortable to hold to do what you needed with. And these date from about 8,000 BC so we’re looking at a potential 10,000 year old hand axe there. As a prehistorian that warms the cockles of the heart.
Q: How does it feel in your hand?
A: Very comfortable. At the moment because it’s fairly warm here it doesn’t feel cold, but I like them when you pick them up sometimes because this is stone, it is actually stone, and the thing I like about this as well is that flint is a silicate rock and when you hit flint in a particular way you can guarantee it will break in a particular way, but when you hit it it leaves ripples in the stone, and I love the fact that that’s--, you know, stone to me is something some sort of immutable it either shatters or it is, whereas this, we’ve made it into something so these ripples are man-made but the stone is natural. I mean some of the flint that you get it’s so--, it’s been used, it’s smooth, it’s like silk when you touch it, it’s really good.
Q: Tell us about the day you found it.
A: I was working on a site going back to check the previous set of drawings we’d done of the forest that’s there, there’s a small forest there, which I’ve radio carbon dated to 3,750 BC. So nice and early that, early Neolithic. And I was checking the plan because every now and then we go back and because they get a lot of wash from boats and various other things, to see what had appeared, what had stayed static and what had completely disappeared. And I dropped my pencil on the floor and I bent down, picked the pencil up and then I thought just hang on a minute, and I just looked down again and there it was literally standing between my feet, on the ground between my feet there. Anybody who works on the foreshore knows that if you see something, if you don’t immediately pick it up, if you look back again the chances are it will have disappeared apparently, it just isn’t there, not where you thought it was. Which is why I did not move a muscle, and there it was still there sitting there, so I was very chuffed about that, that was very good.
Q: How did you feel when you saw it?
A: I almost couldn’t believe it was what I thought it was, so I tried to get hold of some colleagues but they were all out in places where they couldn’t get a mobile connection, so for about 12 hours I was wandering around thinking I’m sure, I know it’s a Mesolithic hand axe but I need somebody else to tell me that as well before I really believe it. So that was extremely nice to find that.
Q: Okay. Let’s look at this one then.
A: This is--, well I don’t actually actively look for fossils, I’m not a fossil hunter of anything. I find them intriguing but I don’t deliberately look for them. If I see them, I don’t always but I frequently pick them up because I just find them quite interesting. And this is a bit more interesting than most because I think when I found it it was laying on its--, what I would term its back was what you saw, which just looked like a piece of flint nodule, that was all, a bit hacked on the side, and I think if I remember rightly I moved it to see if there was anything underneath, and when I did what was underneath was actually in the flint. And it’s what we in Scotland would call a sea potato, it’s some sort of anemone that’s actually fossilised solidly in there but it’s coming out of the flint nodule itself and you sort of feel if you could just pull it up a bit the flint at one side you could actually get this thing out, it has the look about it. But it’s quite exciting, it’s almost as if it’s being born out of the middle and you can see the very clear boundary between the flint nodule and the fossil itself, it’s a very clear boundary there and you wonder why it’s not loose but it isn’t, it’s just stuck in there. I couldn’t put a date on this, it’s got so many noughts it’s probably unbelievable but it is clearly not modern, that’s all, and it’s definitely older than the hand axe, definitely older than the hand axe I think.
Q: And is that a recent find?
A: No, I’ve had this for a few years, I’ve had both of these for a few years.
Q: Okay. What now? Shall we do these pieces of pot?
A: Yeah, sometimes, well years ago I used to see one of the men, a curator for prehistoric material at the Museum of London, Jon Cotton, who is a lovely man and you talked about where do you get your information from, people like him, one of the ones who is very free with their information, suggestions where you might read up. They don’t do it all for you and you don’t want them to do it all for you, but just to be able to point you in the right direction is always very, very useful. He used to have people who would contact him with finds on the river, this is in the very early days, we’re looking here at 2002 this was going on in particularly, and one of the mudlarkers Andy had contacted Jon to say that he’d found a piece, and John said yes it was, of Neolithic pottery on one particular site. John contacted me and asked me if I would go down so I met Andy and I took a stake and we put a stake where he’d found this, we had a good look round and then we put a stake and then for the next few months I went down every possible tide to check a two meter area around this stake to see what we got out. We got quite a lot of other pieces. Now the thing about this stuff is that it’s not kicking around, these edges on it are really sharp, it’s as if somebody just broke it and dropped it on the ground. If this had been kicking around for a while that would have smoothed off very much and these aren’t, these are still absolutely--, and some of the other pieces it looks like it was literally done ten minutes before it was found, because it’s a lot of inclusions in this as well that you can see which help. Two bits were quite interesting, one found at the end of the January, the other one found towards the end of May, and Jon and I got all these bits together and spread them out and then realised that the one in May actually fitted... if I can still do it, with the one in January, and it’s what we call a carinated pot because it’s got like this shoulder that goes round it, and we can work out the diameter of the top because we’ve got the very top lip on it. So these pieces were found four months apart in time but actually they are the same one, which I always thought that was great when we realised that. We thought originally it might have been two or possibly three vessels but then we realised as we looked at them and looked at what we’d got there we realised it was one huge vessel. Whether it had been buried whole, which we suspect but we couldn’t prove, and that it was just breaking up as it was eroding to the surface, and if I looked at the area around it and there was a mass of roots from alder, that’s A-L-D-E-R as opposed to elder, roots from scrub really, which it likes to get its feet a little bit wet [inaudible 0:43:42] in the area. But where this was coming from was an area where there were no roots, it’s as if they’d dug out and put the pot in. Now whether it contained anything, there’s no way of knowing that, we’ve got no residue at all. It may have been something that was because you’re into the Neolithic where you’re getting perhaps just dry stock rather than a burnt or, you know, something wet going in that would cling. Who knows? We don’t really go in for cremation urns at that time, that happens in the Bronze Age, so we’re pretty certain it’s not for that, but what it was for, who knows, but it was a pretty big piece. We got enough to make the whole profile so we can work out whether the base is and the side, and because of this we’ve got a really good idea of the shape of it. And that got published in the London & Middlesex Archaeology Society transactions, which was really good.
Q: How big was it?
A: What are we looking at, that sort of size I think. What is that, it’s more than a foot, about 14 or 15 inches I would have thought, that sort of size, about that. And again you can look at the flow on that, so if that’s like that, there’s not much of a bend here so you know it’s going to be a big vessel. It’s easier on this bit. So you’re looking at something probably about this big, so you know, not--, chunky I think is the size of it. And it’s what they call Peterborough ware, which is early to middle Neolithic, so that’s four and a half to about three twenty five, 3000 BC, that sort of thing. So that’s quite good.
Q: When you look at it, what is it that tells you it’s really old?
A: Well first of all you can look at the inclusions in it. If you look you’ll see there’s lots of big chunky stuff in there, it’s not--, you do get inclusions and you get chunky inclusions in older stuff but the clay there is very different, it’s a very different type of clay that you’ve got because it depends on how long they fired it. Things like these would have been fired for a long time, not so much these, and you can see where this has been used probably for cooking at some point because you see the burn on it, it’s very blackened on the outside so it’s been in some fire or something. So you’ve got the big inclusions and you can actually look at the inclusions under a microscope and work out what they are, sometimes they show us, sometimes the flint that’s been ground down, sometimes it’s what we call grog which is broken pottery that they’ve roughly ground and then put it in. You need the inclusions to strengthen it and also make sure that it helps you get rid of the air bubbles. If you have an air bubble and you try and fire it even on an open fire it can explode, and that’s why you see a lot of things with inclusions in. These also, these impressions here are often done with bird bones or little bits of wood or something, but bird bones you’ve seen and are quite common, and you can see it’s a repeat pattern on them, and this is very distinctive of this type of pottery, you get it. So it’s what we’d call coarse pottery, they’ve done slashes on the back here because that’s quite thick and by doing some slashes it gets the air in, it makes it a bit thinner. Sometimes on later pots like in the Medieval, post-Medieval period you’ll get a big thick handle and if you look on the inside where the handle is meeting the outside of the body they will stick a hole or a finger or something in there so that the heat can get in because it’s so thick the clay at that point where a handle meets it. And they’re all very useful dating tools, looking at how they’ve dealt with handles, the shape, the way it fits, the coarseness of the pottery, the inclusions that have gone in, has it been fired in a kiln or has it been fired on an open fire, all those sorts of things you learn slowly over the years.
Q: How did you feel when you put the two bits together and you realised that--,
A: I think Jon and I looked at each other and went, “Bingo!” at that point [laughs], it was just--, because we didn’t think any of them would fit and then we were just fiddling around and suddenly, I mean it fits so beautifully, I mean there’s no doubting that that’s a fit on that, and if you look on the back side everything matches on the back, the colouration change and everything. And you can see this has been fired on a bonfire as well because it’s never even. In a kiln because the heat should be the same all round it’s a much even firing so you don’t get differences so much in the colour of the fired clay. We fire on the river in September as part of the Thames Festival, we make--, we shanghai people about four weeks beforehand to make small clay objects, we used to use clay from the footings of the Millennium Bridge but we’ve run out of that, we’ve been doing it for 20 years nearly and we’ve run out finally. We get people to make something small and then we fire them on an open fire, as these would have been, on the Thames foreshore at Bankside, and anybody can come along to that. It’s all on the Thames website. And so we don’t get them to make something really thick because we only usually have a two hour burn so I have to burn--, I mean the eggshells I have to walk over to get permission to do that is unbelievable but it’s really worth it, and you can see the different colour of the clay objects that we get off there is just amazing. So that’s how, you know, if you’ve done it yourself you know what that’s going to be like.
Q: Okay, shall we look at the Hindu statue?
Q: I’m a bit worried about handling this...
A: Oh don’t worry it’s pretty hard, you could almost hit with it, because it’s resin you see, it’s not stone or anything, it’s modern, it’s resin. I have a friend whose family is from India so I naturally went straight to her and said what have I got here, and she could identify it exactly. What you have to imagine is that would be roughly how high it would be, so how far’s that, 18 inches? I don’t know. Anyway, here, standing there would be--, this is Radha and Vishnu in one of his... well I don’t know what you call them, appearances. He is standing here and she has got one hand on his shoulder and the other hand he’s playing a flute and she’s got her hand I think on his arm or on the flute depending on which picture you look at. And she’s one of his lady friends that he has. But you see the jewellery has been stuck on it, it’s quite amazing. And this is all part of--, it’s one of the big festivals, because the Hindus have had the river blessed so that they can actually put offerings in. They put things in in little bowls as well which they buy en bloc, you can just look up Hindu offering bowls and there’s a million sites that come up with it, you can get them here, and they put offerings in and sometimes they try and float them out onto the river but sometimes they just sink in anyway. I’ve got a few of those here, and the thing is with the--, I’m not so worried about little pots but when I finish doing the work that I need to do with this that will be going back in the river because I think that’s where it should be, you know, I’ve got a little Ganesh as well, the elephant god as well.
Q: So what work will you do on this?
A: Well I want to do some research, the thing that I’m most interested in about this is that it seems to have been deliberately broken up. Because if that had been a boat across it it would be much more damaged than it is now, and it looks to me also as if the nose has been deliberately taken off. And I’ve got a whole list of questions about this. They talk about destroying things before you put them in the river or destroying things before you bury them, is that part of what’s behind this or not? So that’s really what I’d like to do. And I’ve been trying to get in touch with people to get answers and at the moment I haven’t got them but it’s on my list of things when we finally get round to looking at them. But to me I find it fascinating because as part of my PhD I was looking at two main uses of the river, one from what you might call an economic point of view, so trade, food, transport, protection, what were the islands used for, were people living there, all that sort of side. And then the experiential side, what did it have meaning for them? And if you look in the Neolithic period almost more than any other period the Thames was somewhere that people linked to, well obviously in our area. In the Neolithic period in the whole of England, this is not the same for everywhere else but for England, we have very, very, very few domestic dwellings, houses type things. I mean less than two handfuls over the whole country. Whereas Scotland’s got them coming out their ears and so’s Ireland and places. And we just don’t--, it’s not that we haven’t got them, we just haven’t found a lot of them I think, you know? It could be to do with the building materials but I don’t think so because they’ve been looking for them for years and we have so few, but what we do have is literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of structures that can only be described as either ritual or that sort of thing, because there’s no evidence whatsoever that they’ve been used for domestic things. And if you look at a lot of those they relate to the river, they either run parallel to the river or they cut across the river, they don’t have to do that, they could do it anywhere but they chose to do it there.
A: Alright, so what do we want to look at next?
Q: So, shall we look at this because this one is really interesting. Can you tell me about the day you found this and how you found them?
A: In certain places along the river there are huge collections, and I use that term very loosely, it’s the weight of them combined with where people have been throwing them in, and also the way the tide runs. So in some places you won’t get any bone at all, in other places you’re sort of crunching all over it. People were thinking it was to do with the nearness of Smithfield to one particular site. But Smithfield only deal with whole carcasses, the big meat place, they don’t do--, and they don’t do a lot of butchering there anyway, it’s for butchers, it’s not anything else. And people say to me what are these bones, well it’s somebody’s dinner or somebody’s industrial waste, it’s where people live, and you get whole bands of them particularly on the south side, we get a lot of people there. But apart from people’s dinner, and we often see butchery marks on them, you can find cuts and things where they’ve been getting rid of the sinews and all sorts of stuff, we get sheep, horse and cow and pig of course. It’s only in the Mesolithic period that you probably get deer, and that’ll usually be deer antlers and things, I’ve got a couple of those that I’ve had and they’ve not been modified for using, because antlers sometimes we used as a sort of weapon but these aren’t, these are naturally shed, you can tell. But there are two things particularly, there’s obviously going to be more but there are two things particularly that you can see; they’ve got if you like a third use. So the animal used them, then we ate them, and then there’s another use beyond that. This is the end bit of a long bone, and on this side on here they would have had a lot of cartilage on there because all our bones have got cartilage to protect them. And you can see it’s been deliberately cut straight off, that’s not an accidental break. The long bit in the middle would have gone to a glue factory because that’s how we used to make our glue, was to use bones, which is why some of the earlier glues, I remember, being significantly older than probably all of you, we used to have something at school called Cow Gum, that’s because it came from cows and people never thought the connection, they just thought it was name. No, no, no, it’s because it came from cows. The reason they didn’t want the end pieces of course was that they didn’t want--, the cartilage would have come off when they were sort of cooking it and that would have meant they would have had to have sieved it even more finer. So you don’t want those bits so get rid of those and we’ll just have the long bit. And also this stuff isn’t going to be brought miles, you know, we’ll travel 20 miles and we’ll drop it in the Thames. No, this stuff has come from somewhere reasonably local, people are not going to transport bones to dump in the river, they’ll bury them somewhere rather than anything else. And also the thing that’s interesting is that the production area wouldn’t have been too far away from where all this was happening because it’s a big smelly operation and it needs water and you’re near the Thames. The Thames was disgusting at one point, you’d find all sorts, there’s a horrible quote I’ve got that goes on for several lines and it ends up having gone through the cesspits and everything it ends up with dead babies at the end of it, which is quite true, that’s what you used to find in there. So a lot of the bones and stuff, the bits that they didn’t want would have gone into there, as well as household waste of people living nearby, they’d just throw them in. And it’s interesting on some of the production sites, not so much for the bones but perhaps for other ware, glassware and things, that we’ve actually found evidence on the foreshore that in the area there was a glassmaking kiln several years before they actually found the glassmaking kiln two or three miles away that they didn’t know was there. So the river can often be an indicator because it’s a massive rubbish bin of stuff that’s going on that you wouldn’t get if you didn’t go looking down there.
Q: So how old do you think that bone is?
A: I don’t think this is too old, to be honest, I mean it’s probably late Victorian I would have thought, early twentieth century, so Edwardian maybe, I don’t think it’s much older, and you can tell that really by the colour of the bone, because the older they are the darker they are. You have to be careful though with using that as a sort of straight thing, you’ve got to put a proviso on that, because the Victorians used to dump all their industrial waste in there you have this thick gloopy layer that fluctuates in size that’s very, very dark grey and itself is full of toxics. If you were working underneath one of the wharfs and one place at Bermondsey particularly we could only work there for 20 minutes and we had to come out and get some fresh air because you’d feel it in your throat and everything this industrial waste. But that stuff is really thick and grey and it will colour this grey. For age you want something that’s really, really, really dark brown when it’s dry because it’s always darker when it’s wet.
Q: Do you ever think about the person who touched that before you?
A: To do it, yeah. Not so much actually with the bone, but you will with ceramics because sometimes you can feel, see the thumbprint on the inside, and that may be the only record of that person. And roof tiles, they often used to just smooth the side that you would see with their hand, and if they’re doing it really roughly, the really cheap end of the scale, you can actually put your fingers in and you can feel where their fingers are. And that is actually like shaking hands with them. You don’t know who it is, you never will find out who it is, but particularly with the very early pottery like the Neolithic and even the Bronze Age materials, you think the person if you do find a thumbprint or something where they’ve been holding it on the inside, that may be the only record we ever have of that person. Because we know obviously there weren’t millions of people living in Britain in the Neolithic period but there certainly were thousands and we do not have thousands of graves, we do not have thousands of evidence of where people have been buried, so that thumbprint might be it.
Q: And how do you visualise the person who was making glue at that time?
A: I don’t know enough about the glue industry, I suspect the chopping up, I think it probably could be done by either sex quite frankly, and you find women working in the most amazing places, everybody assumes it’s always just the men and the women were at home but no, often at home you wanted a large family because the older ones could look after the younger ones so both parents could go out to work. So that particular bit if you had a sharp enough thing and you can see it’s straight down, they’ve not had to do it twice. Could be a man, could be a woman, I don’t know. But it does make it personal. And this one here, this other little bone, it’s quite interesting because this is a bone that we have a similar joint, some people look at this and think that’s been carved, no, no, no, that’s as is. And incredibly some of them are like glass when you feel them, if you close your eyes you’d think somebody had spent weeks polishing it and it’s actually just the oils off a human hand making that smooth, because if you run your finger up it gets rougher there because they’re not touching there.
Q: Can you describe the shape of the bone and how it looks?
A: If you take your hand and put your knuckles up and then have two fingers one way and two fingers the other, that’s roughly the shape at the top of the bone. And if you look again at your fingers, if you look on your left hand your ring finger and the other middle finger stand up a little bit proud compared with the other bone on here. And this is being used in the ceramics industry. This actually came from Bankside, and a lot of them do, but we’re not very far from Lambeth there, and of course at Lambeth it’s Doulton’s, the main factory of Royal Doulton there. And Doulton of course made their money by making the sewage pipes for Sir Joseph Bazelgette who did the huge sewage system that we have. And we find a lot of bits from the pipes on the foreshore just thrown away. And it’s interesting that that’s where they made their money before they then went in to making the really expensive, very posh stuff. So you don’t actually have to start off at the posh end, you can actually start off at the most least posh end possible. And the fact that some of his pipes even though we’re getting them broken up there could have in themselves lasted another hundred years if we hadn’t needed a bigger system. So it’s quite interesting that. But this has been used in pottery work, so you’ve got the hand that’s done on here to move it whatever they’re doing across with the paste. Most of them are washed absolutely clean, there’s nothing on them and they’re just brown, but this has still got this very distinct red tinge which would be from the clay and it’s probably got, I don’t want to dig it out, a little bit of the clay on the middle. I need to get a conservator friend of mine to do that so we can look at it underneath a microscope to see if we’ve got any bits of clay, but this red colour, this wouldn’t be red, it might be brown but it wouldn’t be red, so that’s been used definitely. And once you start losing this definition here they throw it away and they get another one.
Q: What kind of object would it have been used to create?
A: This is working on making lines around, because if you’ve got it on a wheel you just need to hold it and it can go round on it. And it could have been used almost for anything I think, but it’s a third use and it’s only when it reaches the point that you haven’t got the definition on there that they throw it away. I don’t know what else, I mean we do have lots of bone on the foreshore and as I say the collections of it are done by the river, they’re not where they would have humanly gone, but they certainly wouldn’t have--, people are under the illusion that material on the river moves around, it’s constantly moving from one part of the river to another. It doesn’t. I can go down onto say Bankside and there is material that’s sat there for 20 years and it’s never moved, and I can always tell if one bit’s been worn because I know that foreshore so well.
Q: Tell us about the day you found this, what made you pick up those bones rather than other bones?
A: Well I’d noticed this--, this wasn’t the first one of this I’d picked up, I’d noticed this sort of almost polished effect here, and we know the Victorians who had these little collection cabinets of antiquities that they had that they liked to put things in, they were the ones that the dredger men would sell things to that they found on the river, until their managers discovered it and slapped them on the wrist, told them they couldn’t do it and then did it themselves which I thought was a bit sneaky. But you get bone that’s just bone, it isn’t polished and there’s quite a different feel about it, and that intrigued me. And then Ivor Noël Hume who wrote this book had this thing in and I thought yeah, really, surely, maybe, you know. And then I got this one that had the red clay on it, and that to me I thought well yeah he was right. He’s only recently died actually, Ivor Noël Hume. He was really I suppose one of the first, I wouldn’t call him a mudlarker but he was one of the first to recognise the archaeological value of all of this and wrote a stunning book called Treasures of the Thames.
Q: What would you say is a mudlarker? How would you define a mudlarker?
A: Well I tend to go back to what they were originally. Mudlarks were often children, not always by any stretch of the imagination, who were finding things. They were incredibly poor most of them, trying to find things particularly in the Dockland areas sort of below London Bridge that had fallen off the vessels coming in, both the ones coming up and down the coast like the coal merchants, or the oceanic ones coming in with all their amazing cargoes on board. They were literally going through the mud at low water to see what had dropped, because from that they could sell it. Yes they could burn the coal themselves but they may actually get more money by selling it, and they were the first mudlarks. And because there was no such thing as a childhood in those days, well certainly not at their level of society, you were either a baby or you worked and there was really nothing in the middle so whatever your age was you’d be sent down there looking for things that you could make a few pennies which would mean that you could get some food for your family and you could possibly eat that day, not necessarily the next day but that day. And you find things that sort of were recycled, you know, I’ve got an old shoe that literally it’s been worn by several children because you can see the wear is all in different places. And that’s the original mudlark. I think it’s got different connotations now, very different connotations, it doesn’t mean the same thing. Basically now it’s just anybody who goes down--, I mean we would think of a Thames mudlark, let’s give it the full title because people use mudlark for different rivers and things, but the Thames they go down to see what they can find. A lot of them do use detectors, I choose not to, it’s up to them, as long as they’ve got the permit they’re quite entitled to do that. I just think it’s a little bit of a cheat I have to say because you can’t actually see that, it might be quite a way down. I think the river excavates itself at quite a rate, you don’t need to be hanging around for that long.
Q: Would you call yourself a mudlarker?
A: No, not really, no, not in that sense, in the sense that--, I would call myself a Thames archaeologist, that’s what I would call myself because that’s where I do my specialist work. I work in a lot of other things in different parts of the world but that’s what I do here. Because I think it’s what you do with it when you’ve got it that determines whether you are an archaeologist or not. If you’re just accruing it for the sake of accruing it, and who knows some might, some might not, I don’t know, then that’s one thing. But if you’re going to do something with it to advance understanding or clarify things or whatever it is, then that makes you not just a mudlarker. A mudlark is a collector, it’s what you do with it after that. I do find it difficult when I see people who’ve just got a permit, they go down on the river, they pick up everything in sight, you get a table solid full of stuff and then they put it up on the web and they say, “Right, tell me what I’ve got.” And I can understand that, but why take everything? Just take a few bits, you don’t need to strip the foreshore. There are lots of other people who’d love to go down and if you go down--, it’s not the reason why we’ve got sterile areas, they’ve often become sterile because of the effect of the river on them and everything, but when it’s gone it’s gone and you can’t get it back again. There will be a debate once I’ve done all the writing up I want to do on here as to what happens to this material because by the laws you cannot go back and stick it in the river, we’re not allowed to dump anything in the river. But equally most of it isn’t museum worthy, they don’t want it either. So that’s another reason. I wouldn’t want to sell it, you know, it’s got no huge value in that sense, but I wouldn’t sell it anyway, you know.
Q: How do you feel about the rise of social media in the formation of mudlarking?
A: I think there is a danger of people going down who are not prepared, and not just physically prepared but mentally prepared, you know. Because now you can get your mudlark licence quite legally, you get your piece of bumph from the PLA which tells you what you can and what you can’t do, but it doesn’t actually tell you how do you gauge which bit of foreshore is safe, how do you work out where the access points are. I mean before internet, before mobile phones when we used to go down we would have to know for example where all the nearest telephone boxes were because that was the only means. You also had to know at least an ex--, if possible two ways of either getting down, an exit and an entry in case the tide changes on you, and also who to call if there was an accident. And nobody ever went down on their own, whereas a lot of people who come into London who go down, they just go down and they go down onto places and you think I wouldn’t take people down there, never mind you going down on your own and you’ve never been before. That’s the danger of it. I think if people--, I’m interested to see the number of sites of foreshore meet up people now so that they do actually go down with somebody because I think if you go down on your own you don’t know what you’re looking at, and also do you really know the safety aspects, looking after yourself. You go down to the river, you want to come back off the river in the condition that you--, yeah you might be muddy but in the condition that you came back in. And that’s a very, very important thing. And also to be report your finds, that’s the other thing. I don’t know how many of them genuinely do, and there’s a lot under the wire that haven’t even bothered to get a permit. I mean I’m talking about the ones--, I mean you’re interested in the ones that are official, that have got the permit and things, but I know there’s a whole raft of people that you know they go down there and they dig huge, huge holes, we used to watch them on the City reach at Queenhithe, you’re not supposed to dig on that bit at all and there was a whole procession of people, the police actually told us not to go over there and say anything to them, a lot of people actually from Eastern Europe had come over. There are books called The Treasure Seeker’s Guide that you can get which tells you where to go and have a look, and they were digging holes, I mean even when you can dig a big hole like the Society of Mudlarks can, they can dig a much bigger hole than the foreshore permit can, they were digging holes so deep and they shovels and you could just see the top of the shovel as they were heaving it out. I used to pray for incoming tide early, it never did sadly. And you knew when they found something, they got no signal actually down there so they used to come out, get a mobile phone out, two minutes later somebody turns up, something gets thrown up and it’s away. That’s not what I want to happen, they should declare. And then that will appear in some auction site somehere, you know, “Found on the Thames...” it’s a gold coin, that’s what they were after. Which is why when they say that whatshisname, Indiana Jones is an archaeologist, he’s not, he’s a treasure seeker. He only ever goes in for one thing and comes straight out again, no archaeologist would ever do that, they do all the boring recording.
Q: Well describe it to us and then tell us what you--, describe how you found it as well.
A: Yeah, I mean I can give the location of this because it’s somewhere that you normally can’t get onto. This was actually found on the beach in front of the Tower, which is normally locked and they only open it a couple of times a year, maybe only once now, it used to be two but I think it’s only once, on an open day that was run to celebrate the fact that after the war they decided to put sand down there under Greenwich and up at the Festival Hall, and at Tower they’d also put down some deckchairs and everything and there are pictures of kiddies going in in knitted swimming costumes and all this sort of business. And so they did a thing, the Tower did a thing for one day only that by if you could prove you’re a Tower Hamlets resident you could go to the Tower and come down to the beach for a pound, which must be one of the best deals man ever invented. And we had these nice older ladies who came down the stairs to the bottom, and “Ooh look at the deckchairs” and they wanted to sit on the deckchairs. And I was working with Thames 21 on that and we were doing a sweep before everybody came to remove any possible needles and whatever it is off the site, and we found this. And given how near the Tower was to the East End, and we know bombs were going off in the area and lots of places, it was suggested to me that this might be the detonator cap from a World War Two German incendiary bomb. And I’ve only finally, after all these years, got round to trying to verify that fact, because obviously I don’t want to publish it and put that down and then it not be right. So I have tried various sources but that’s what we think it might be, because there were literally thousands and thousands and thousands of incendiary bombs that came down, and they’re not particularly big, they’re no bigger than about that I don’t think from my--, I mean I’ve looked at a lot of them above the line. It was the fact they were coming down in huge clusters that cause that. But even if it’s not that, I mean most people who’ve looked at it, somebody thought it was an ice cream which I thought was a useful thing, and it’s clearly not--, there’s nothing to blow up in it now, I mean that’s just--, so I’m continuing to try and find out what it is to be sure, but I think it really is a bit of, you know, London’s history, you can’t ignore that. We still find and will continue to find over the decades that come ordinance in the river, they found one just before the last boat race if I remember rightly, the day before, but it wasn’t a particularly big one thankfully so they were able to--, I think they exploded that underwater because it was only--, which is a good way of containing it. But you’re finding them all over the place, the new Queen Elizabeth container... what are they called?
Q: Aircraft carrier.
A: Well done. When they had to widen and deepen the entry into Portsmouth Harbour they found a humongous one that was bigger than the table here which they had to get rid of. So we’re always going to be finding them, people are often finding bullets and things, I mean you look on the Thames mudlarking websites they’re always finding those. We used to find a lot at Bermondsey because of the swing of the river, we found machetes, we found a pistol that was wrapped up in plastic. Why? All of those we gave to the police to sort. But that, because it’s clearly not functional, is good. But it is a sharp reminder that actually we’re celebrating hundreds of years now since the last, you know, I mean we’re not that long to go before we do the 100 years of the Second World War, and we’re still finding bits from that.
Q: What made you choose that as an object to show us today?
A: Because I think it does precisely that, it shows you, sort of from there to there I know that [inaudible 1:21:53] more recent than that, but it’s a span of history, you’re looking at sort of roughly 10,000 years between that and that. And we still haven’t learned, we still attack each other in one way or another. And I think it’s something that we just have to learn to live with. It’s part of London’s history, you know, the Blitz here, we weren’t the only place to have it and I don’t think London’s ever spoken about it like that, but a lot of other people put a big onus, a big sort of spotlight on London and said quite rightly other places that were equally bombed get a big upset sometimes, but it just is a symbol for the whole country. That’s what happened, you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. We’re still finding evidence today of that.
Q: Okay. Shall we wrap up? Is there anything else you want to--?
A: Oh no [laughs] I think we’re alright.
Q: Well that was amazing, thank you so much
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