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  • janenewaudby

Talking about Rivers

The post about the Deben got me thinking about rivers and their relevance to us. Take the Thames for instance. How many people cross or pass by the Thames every day without giving it a moment's thought? I know some people pause to admire the view, but few people think about the River itself as a witness to our history. I guess people assume that because rivers flow, they are transient, emptying and replenishing every day. It explains why, before organised rubbish collections started in the 1900s, everyone just threw their rubbish into the river. They would have assumed that the river would just carry it away. If a cooking pot broke in the time of Elizabeth I, it was thrown into the river. If smouldering roof tiles from the Great Fire of London had to be cleared, then these were also cast into the Thames, as were Oyster shells and the bones of Londoner's suppers and millions of smoking pipes. But far from carrying all the rubbish away, the Thames held onto its secrets, in many cases exactly where they were dropped.

The beauty of the Thames is that its tidal, so if you want to see this for yourself, you can, as long as you visit at low water. The brilliant Clayground Collective organise walks along the Thames at low water (its best to do it with someone who knows what to look for and there are also a few safety considerations because of fast flowing water and also rats!). Contact them to book a place on the next walk: Mike Webber, who is the archeologist who attends the walk starts by standing on one spot. He shows you how many fragments of history can be found on that one spot and then you set off. As you are walking at low water in the centre of London, the traffic and bustle is far above your head. You feel slightly cocooned alongside the fast flowing waters. Meanwhile under your feet lie the bones and fragments of centuries of the people who came before you. You feel as if you are treading along a vast timeline. I photographed some of the best pieces I found. The piece of tile is from before the Great Fire of London, and it bears the footprint of an animal that would have been made as the roof tile was made and was drying in the sun. The fragment of pot is probably foreign, and evidences the trade that made London such an important City. The other artefacts are the bowls of pipes. As a potter, my favourite piece is the foot of an ancient cooking pot which bears the finger prints of the person who shaped it. My fingers tips fit exactly into his. Holding it feels like a handshake across history.

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