Sunday 2nd March 2014
Sunny and I went in search of a low tide. We didn’t find it – as usual at the moment. The wettest winter in over 100 years means there are millions of gallons of floodwater making their way serenely down the river Thames. But we had a plan. So we put it into action. We have often pondered what archaeology there is to find in the River wall. It’s something that people take little notice of but a few things have caught our eye over recent visits, so we thought we would draw the river wall, take photos, have close look and see if anything of interest turned up.
Our first decision was where to start and then what scale to do the drawing. We thought long and hard about these and decided to start at the far end of our site where the Albert Embankment stops and what appears to be a much older line of wall starts. We decided to draw the wall at 1:50 scale and do detailed drawings of features at 1:20. This project will take a number of visits to complete – especially as our intention is to draw the entire river wall for the whole of the FLM01 site – although some of the modern sections may be dealt with in a more cursory manner.
The first job was to get the wall height from one end to the other so I nipped back up to the river walkway from the foreshore with measuring tapes in hand and Sunny got the permatrace, clipboard and pencil. We took wall height measurements at 5m intervals (3m in a couple of case to get the maximum width of drawing on the permatrace.) It took a while but eventually I got into a rhythm using two tapes but with diligence we managed to complete the section very nearly to Lacks Dock in about an hour and a half.
When you start having a close look at something like the River wall a lot of things emerge which normally are missed. At the join of the Albert Embankment and where we started measuring, the return wall looks fairly blank and innocuous. But right at the top (picture left above) there is an arch in the brickwork suggesting an opening at some stage in the past. A substantial section of the wall at this end has a cement sprayed covering. It was only on close inspection that the existence of timbers forming the jutting out bits (I’m sure there is a more technical name) became apparent. (see photos below) The shadow image of timbers is also apparent at the top of most of these sprayed cement posts.
Erosion at the base of the wall is very evident and something we will keep an eye on. We suspect that the base in parts was the initial foundation and start point for the construction of barge beds but these have now been completely eroded out leaving little protection. The erosion is extensive in the photo on the left and appears quite recent in the photo on the right with sparkling brickwork apparent at the base of the wall.
There are many features along this stretch of wall. Drawing them should keep us amused for a number of visits as will researching and interpreting them. This initial drawing work raised many questions about what is left as evidence on the wall, What appears to be concrete lintels (for one example see photo right) with openings above and a substantial square stone laid centrally below them but with an apparent 4 layers of modern looking grey bricks in between then may take some time to interpret.
We also came across Sam during our visit. It seems that someone else has a view about Sam. We couldn’t possibly comment. But we will need to look a bit more closely at the weathered stone work just above this graffiti.
Returning to the River walk for a moment there are also features land side that will need to be explored. We will need to relate these to the river wall drawing and perhaps draw these as well. At the start of the drawing work I found the brass marker on top of the river wall reading EA BM.(photo bottom left) Anyone know what this stands for?
From the questions that arose during this drawing work we will, between visits, be researching the features that have come up and what they might be. OS map extracts from 1871 (left photo)(curiously showing little ) and from 1914 – (much more detailed) will be one of our starting points as will the Lambeth photo archives and a series of river shots taken by Lambeth Planning department in the 1950s to see what we can glean.
A productive visit to the foreshore and some good work undertaken. In the midst of this we kept an eye on the appearance of the Mesolithic posts – they didn’t appear, no chance with the current volume of water in the Thames. In terms of finds we often discover that they come in themes. The finds on this visit were all about tops of bottles and corks. As ever we finished off in our favourite cafe and even had a celebrity – Peter Stringfellow in there having lunch though I’m not sure if that was the high or low point of the day.