Flaming June

Well here we are again, and this is just a quick update. WARNING: this post consists mostly of concrete and bricks.

As planned, me (Sunny) and Roger planned to spend this evening visit to the foreshore drawing a couple of sections of embankment wall where there appears to be some hasty patching/repairs, possibly following the bomb strike on the embankment right nearby. So, with the help of new FROGlet Joanna, we set about making a drawing of the relevant sections.

So here’s the first little section of wall for drawing. It’s less than 3m across.

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It’s clear that the wall has been heightened a couple of times. This is often done in response to a flood event or a close call.We therefore have three distinct layers,quite apart from the filled-in section.

concrete with fine gravel.

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Concrete with big pebbles.

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and a smooth coating of concrete, probably over bricks.

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Then the hole if filled in with what looks like a bit of stone lintel and a couple of different types of bricks.

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Roger and Joanna fell into quite an in-depth conversation about these bricks during which, I’m afraid, I zoned out a bit ( 🙂 ). There are noticeable differences between them, so they may be of interest to any brick-enthusiasts out there.

The next section is much more bashed about, but we can still see where the wall has been heightened.

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The bricks right at the bottom seem to be what the wall was originally built of, and we have the same bricks further along the embankment. The upper two layers are the same wall heightening as in the earlier section,so it’s the bit in the middle that we’re interested in.

It’s made out of all sorts. Stone blocks, different types of bricks, crappy concrete. It took us a little bit of time to sort this all out and draw it,but we now have outline drawings of the different materials used to repair the wall.

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I’m going to do some shading on this drawing and add a key because we the descriptions don’t really say enough about the different materials.

So our little collection of drawings from this site is growing and is due to grow more over the course of this year. We have a number of features to record upstream of the bridge,which we’ll probably get started on shortly.

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FROGs, future dates will be posted on the Ning network. Do feel free to join us if you fancy it.

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May the 4th be with you

May the 4th

Yes, our latest visit to the Vauxhall foreshore was on Star Wars Day and the Force was strong with us.

In attendance, Roger, Sunny and, a little later, Anne. It was a bit of an early start but the weather was nice, if a little blustery. Our plan of attack was to finish drawing the majority of the structures downstream of Lack’s Dock and to make some decisions about the next couple of visits.

The first thing we wanted to have a look at was the structure which consisted of three timber boxes with concrete infill. Last time we had been speculating on whether there was any relationship between the three main boxes and some other timbers further up towards the embankment wall. To help sort this out, out came the flags.

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The flag-placement was followed by the usual umming, arring and chin-scratching before we decided that there was no relationship and the timbers were probably bits and bobs of other structures. Although it still leaves us with the question of what exactly the box structures are (pier? jetty? some sort of platform?), at least one question has been answered. Tick.

We then continued with a bit of drawing, as we wanted to get as many of the numbered features drawn as possible. Basically, we were able to get them all done up to the (possible) crane base. This all proved unproblematic, but we had a little surprise when we came to clean up the (possible) mooring feature, ready for drawing.

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As we brushed away some of the surrounding stones and sand, the feature grew and grew until we had half-as-much again on top of (well, underneath actually) what we had previously.

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It looks like a bit of ship’s timber, reused for mooring. There is a chain attached to it which, although it is pretty cruddy, is still flexible enough to move around.

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Next we went to have a look at the large pipes which run down the foreshore and into the river. We have always assumed that these are gas pipes, associated with the 19th century gas works that stood on what became Albert Embankment. However, we decided that we would need to do a little bit more investigation into this in case they just might be associated with something else, possibly the hydraulic power network. There was a lot of industry around here, so there’s always that possibility.

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We really want to get good drawings of these pipes, as they quite extensive and go quite a long way out into the river. We also spotted another one and some more connectors just a little way down stream, so we’ll be including those in the plan of these features. As, due to their size, the measuring and drawing etc of these would be a bit tricky with just me (Sunny) and Roger, we were hoping out loud that Anne would be able to join us, when who should appear but Anne herself! As the tide had already turned by then, it was too late to do the drawings there and then, but Anne was able to get a good look at the task, so we’ll be scheduling a day specifically for that (FROGs, look out on the FROG Network).

On our next visit (an evening visit. It’s on the FROG Network) we’re going to be doing some very specific drawing of the riverside wall. Much of the wall is a bland solid grey of sprayed concrete, but there is a particular little section where all sorts of things are going on.

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We know, from the brilliant Bomb Sight website (below), that there was a high-explosive bomb strike here some time between October 1940 and June 1941 and it’s possible that what looks like hasty repairs to the riverside wall could be associated with that. As there’s probably not much record of this repair, we intend to make a fairly detailed drawing of the extent of the damage and the various bits and bobs that have used as filler.

bombs

This bit of wall is also the perfect site to consider erosion on this stretch of river. We always look at the erosion that is happening at the low-water mark, but there is clear evidence of erosion, and deposition for that matter, up at the top of the foreshore.

On this stretch, we have some remarkably clean-looking brickwork at the bottom of the wall; the exposure of previously covered brickwork indicating the drop in the foreshore level. A look at the bolts which hold these large timbers to the embankment wall also shows this up.

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The upper bolt in this image (above) looks exactly as you’d expect, a bit green, a bit gunky, showing signs of the usual wear and tear that comes with being subjected to the Thames and all its comings and goings.

The lower bolt, however, looks like it hasn’t seen the light of day since the moment it was installed.

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We only see it now because several inches of foreshore has gone, revealing clean wood and shiny new bolts.

As always, we retired to the Portuguese cafe for post-foreshore refreshments and a rant about the awful political parties we’re going to have to sift through on Thursday. The weather was so nice, we sat outside for the first time in 2015 😀

TTFN

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NB, when we clean around features for drawing we use only brushes, no scraping or digging implements. And we always replace the stones, sand, whatever that we move, so as not to exacerbate erosion on the site. We don’t want to be the cause of our features floating away!

Islands in the stream

The weather has been glorious, sunny, bright and warm. So why on earth did we choose such a flippin’ freezing cold day for our April visit to Vauxhall?

Well it must have been that lovely low tide forecast: 0.08.

Roger and me (Sunny) were joined once more by fellow FROG Anne.

If you’re here hoping for mesolithic timbers, you’re going to be disappointed because that’s not what we were about on this visit (have a look at the previous post instead. There are mesolithic timbers galore there). As we’ve completed the new Alpha (Beta?) Survey, we’re now starting on drawing each feature. We’re being doggedly systematic about this, starting at the far eastern end of the site, nearest Albert Embankment, and just working our way along drawing every feature. This may take a while, as we’re only a teeny FROG.

Most of the features at this end are 19th and 20th century industrial; timbers, barge beds, what looks like a crane base, what we think is a mooring feature, gas pipes, that kind of stuff. We’ve yet to come across a single person who is even remotely interested in this stuff, besides ourselves, as everyone is more interested in prehistoric timbers, but all of this more recent foreshore archaeology will soon be gone, swept away by the coming of the Super Sewer. We still have no word on when this is likely to happen, but once this archaeology is gone, it’s gone. We think that this archaeology is worth recording, as it represents the history of this area just as much as the prehistoric timbers, fish-traps and bronze age structure. What’s more we have other evidence available for this more recent time period in the form of photographs, paintings and maps, so we should actually be able to build a coherent story of this little patch of industrial London. It may not be glamorous, but it’s a part of what made London.

So here they are. We have a number of boring square timbers.

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But it’s possible that this particular boring square timber corresponds to the structure in this photograph from 1898 (taken during the demolition of the old Vauxhall Bridge, in the background).

8 - 1898 Vauxhall Bridge, in the process of being demolished and replaced---

This feature (below) has also been intriguing us. Three timber boxes with concrete infills. There isn’t much of the  timber left, but the concrete was definitely poured into a timber surround.

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We’ve been wondering if it’s a base for a small pier or something like that, perhaps associated with the gas works. This Stanford’s map from 1862 shows a ‘Coal Wharf’ immediately downstream of the gas works, so perhaps there was a small pier or jetty here.

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But it’s also just possible that it’s something to do with a set of stairs called (variously) Gunhouse Stairs, Bombhouse Stairs or Gunner’s Stairs. I haven’t been able to find out much about this access point, but it is mentioned on a couple of maps and in ‘A Topographical Dictionary of London and Its Environs: Containing Descriptive and Critical Accounts of All the Public and Private Buildings, Offices, Docks, Squares, Streets, Lanes, Wards, Liberties, Charitable, Scholastic and Other Establishments, with Lists of Their Officers, Patrons, Incumbents of Livings, &c. &c. &c. in the British Metropolis’ (1831)  by James Elmes (this snappily-titled text is available on Google Books)*.

1 - 1668 The Workshops of the Second Marquis of Worcester and Vauxhall---

The three main chunks of the feature also seem to line up with some other smaller timbers, so we’re going to be having a more detailed look at this next time and we’ll keep digging (metaphorically) to see what we can find out.

As we benefited from a lovely low tide, we were happy to see that the foreshore was visible all the way along Albert Embankment to The Thamesis Dock, the moored boat/cafe/bar. We couldn’t remember seeing the foreshore exposed this far along before, so we decide to take a walk along and see what there was to see.

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So much debris. Seriously, SO MUCH DEBRIS. Some of this may be debris from WW2 bomb damage, as there was a bomb strike here.

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And bottles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many complete glass bottles on the foreshore. Anne spotted the very best one.

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And we got to see one of the Thames Islands.

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We often hear about the earlier Thames, shallower and wider, with islands in the main stream. Well despite the embanked Thames being so much faster and deeper, we do still get these islands forming. They’re only visible at very low tides, but the one off Albert Embankment was visible during our visit and is actually quite large.

Also, as usual, we found an assortment of oddities and hazards.

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As is so often the case, the tide turned on a sixpence and, as we had no wish to end up on the evening news being rescued from the rising waters by Tower RNLI, we beat a hasty retreat and headed for the cafe for a cuppa and a pastel de nata. Our next date will be posted on the FROG Network, so feel free to join us for that if you like (we’ll be doing more drawing).

*This book is an awesome resource and free to download, so if you’re interested in every random alley, yard, square and lane in London, I’d recommend that you look it up.

This is a low

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We’ve learned not to always believe tide tables. We know they’re well meaning and it’s always necessary to check them before venturing onto the foreshore, but we also know that they can mysteriously crumble in the face of The River.

Today, however, the tide table gods delivered 😀

We were promised -0.02, super-low, and we got that.

live tides 22-03-2015
From the PLA Live Tides for Chelsea

This was particularly pleasing for us as we finally got to have a look at some timbers that we haven’t seen for more than a year. Seriously, more than a year!

But we started off with this…thing.

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It’s not particularly easy to see and even harder to get a coherent photo of, but it is definitely there. Honestly, we couldn’t decide what it is. It had previously been suggested that it could be something like a trackway made from twigs and sticks and such.

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Above, you can see the cut end of one of the sticks. And we did pick some animal bone out from the ‘thing’ too, if that’s significant.

Can you see it?

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There it is.

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But some bits of it had the look of possible industrial cack, with bits of coal and such in amongst it. Now it could be that some later cack has got into something earlier, but we haven’t  untangled that yet. What we can say is that there is definitely a ‘thing’.*

If you think that you might be able to help to work this ‘thing’ out, check for our upcoming visit dates on the Ning or leave us a message.

So, as the tide went lower our attention turned to the various timbers between Lack’s Dock and Vauxhall Bridge. Some of these are mesolithic, but we’re not sure about the date of all of them.

There’s one we haven’t seen in donkey’s years.

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Ok, this doesn’t look particularly impressive yet, but it gets better (it actually is quite exciting for us, as the tide going out this far is such an event!).

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Here are some more of the timbers.

Here’s one of the medium timbers nearest the bridge (below). We were speculating on that diagonal groove and wondering if it could have been made by rope rubbing on the timber. Could it have been used as a mooring post? Or is it a cut?

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As we don’t see these timbers very often, we made sure that we got some location shots. The timber above is just where Roger is holding the ranging pole in the image below, and there’s another smaller timber, possibly part of a fish trap, at the centre bottom of the image, by the scale.

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And here Roger is just locating a couple of timbers that didn’t fully emerge from the water.

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We were able to locate a cluster of 5 timbers of different sizes,  2 of which didn’t fully emerge.

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Ok, it might not be that easy to spot them all, so hopefully this will help.

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In the same area were some other features which we thought may have been eroded away, we haven’t seen them in so long.

In this vicinity there is a distinct area where there is an abundance of fire-cracked flints.

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You can spot these flints as they are quite red inside, and shattered, often into slices. They indicate an area of intense burning so, as they are concentrated in a specific area, perhaps this is an area where a large fire for cooking/feasting was lit. In the peat associated with this layer, we also managed to recover a couple of fragments of animal bone.

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So, a very successful day. The weather has been fairly dry recently so the tide went right down to the forecast level. When it turned, it came back in very quickly indeed, but by then we had had plenty of time for a good look at the timbers and the geology. We ended up locating a total of 11 of these timbers; 4 small, 3 medium and 4 large.

More next time 😀

*I feel that I should just make it clear that ‘The Thing’ was only cleared using hand-brushes and we took the time to cover it over again with the foreshore gravel. It won’t last long if it’s just left uncovered.

We’ve got a little list, and there’ll none of it be missed.

 

This weekend, we’ve started on a clean-sweep project.

The foreshore at Vauxhall has been in a constant state of flux over the last couple of years. Features have appeared and disappeared and, in some cases, actually reappeared again! Keeping up with what’s going on has been ‘challenging’ at times, especially as the kinds of features we’re talking about have sometimes been difficult to interpret.

This is also a site that we’re going to lose. Thames Water have earmarked the Vauxhall foreshore as a construction site for the Thames Tideway (Super Sewer), so everything you see here is going to change. We’re not sure exactly when, but it’s going to happen.

From this

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To this

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http://www.thamestidewaytunnel.co.uk/the-project/construction-sites/albert-embankment-foreshore

But here’s the elephant in the room (well, our room anyway)… The Alpha List.

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This no longer makes a blind bit of sense. It did once, but because of all the change, with deposition as well as erosion, new features showing up, old features disappearing, it just doesn’t make sense any more. So the Vauxhall FROG decided that direct action was necessary. The only sensible thing to be done was to re-survey the entire site and create a new Alpha List. Alpha List 2? Beta List? Call it what you will.

Day 1

We were joined by Clare from the Greenwich FROG (all FROGs are welcome) who was a great help. We took a measurement of 142m down stream from Lack’s Dock, the main site access, to mark the furthest eastern limit of our site. This just takes in the most easterly on the original Alpha List, but goes no further. It might sound like an odd measurement, but it makes sense on-site.

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We started going over this end of the site identifying features and making decisions about which would stay and which were surplus to requirements. As there are quite a few things on the list that say ‘pebbles’ and ‘gravel’ (seriously, almost the entire foreshore is covered in pebbles and gravel), we ended up cutting the list down by about two-thirds. We’ve concentrated it on specific features but fear not, things like the surface and geology are being recorded. Just separately.

Here are a few pics from today.

Roger even found a human skull!

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Call the police! Oh no, they’re already here 😉

Day 2

Today we concentrated on the western half of the site, upstream from Vauhall Bridge.  Again we were logging key features, but in this half of the site, we needed to start with the embankment wall. There are several features which are not on the original Alpha Survey, but which we have been interested in. Not least, these dock entrances and associated equipment.

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And some photos of our features (with plenty of mud)

And, of course, the bronze age structure.

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Roger always finds the most random foreshore goodies, there are three from this weekend. Two skulls and a cavalier!

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We were also treated to an impromptu visit from TDP Central, with some added CITiZEN 😀 .

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With a new list comes a new map, so we’re combining the new foreshore survey with some new more flexible mapping which we’re creating using free QGIS software. Roger and I have both done some training on GIS, but I think that it’s fair to say that we’re not experts so the resulting GIS project won’t be particularly complex and will be distinctly low tech. Nevertheless, it is happening and here’s the evidence

Screenshot

Basically we took advantage of a super-easy-to-use OS Mapping website called The Hug and then downloaded the appropriate map tiles from the OS Open Data website (all free), and now we’re busy plonking our features on top of them. As for all that surface and geology information I mentioned earlier (we have various different clays on this stretch of foreshore which really do need recording), this is all getting a GIS layer all of it’s own. so nothing is lost.

If any FROGs would like to help with this or just come along for a little look, check for updates and details of visits in the coming months on the Ning.

A new year at Vauxhall 2

As suggested by Sunny here are a few more pictures from our visit. The first group show the fish trap feature again. And the next one shows how little mud there was under the St. Georges jetty. Often we don’t see this feature. And nearby this box feature is rapidly eroding away. It will be […]

A New Year at Vauxhall

Our first visit to the foreshore at Vauxhall of 2015 and, as always, there has been noticeable erosion in the area. This did enable one of our number (who has been excavating prehistoric sites and so knows what she’s looking at) to spot something rather interesting emerging from the foreshore. Can you see what it […]

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