|Underside of a piece of clay tobacco pipe, |
found at Horns Stairs, with some very
delicate leaf decoration where the bowl begins,
and the characters A and O either side of the heel
There are a number of staircases still functioning that lead from the Thames Path down to the water, once the watermen's stairs which were used by "watermen" who operated small passenger boats and accessed them via the staircases between the built up waterfront buildings, and had their own association, the Company of Watermen and Lightermen. There used to be 13 staircases in Rotherhithe. The general public could also access the river by public rights of way, which enabled them to access the river from Rotherhithe Street to pick up passenger boats. The best known of these, due to the preservation of its sign, is the one that runs down the eastern side of the Mayflower public house (whilst the Church Stairs ran down the western side of the same pub).
The next set of stairs are the Acorn Stairs immediately upriver from the Surrey Docks Farm, where the Lottery project has been working (and will be continuing to work in September). These stairs were also named after a pub that no longer stands due to war damage. I've already talked about the foreshore on a recent previous post, so I won't repeat myself here. I took the stairs back up to the Thames Path to walk to the next set of steps, but if you are prepared to brave the mud in front of the Nelson dry-dock (wellies essential, because it is very sludgy and has a lot of suction), you can walk around the dock entrance to the Horns stairs at the Hilton Hotel. Nelson Dock is built at a point in the Thames called Cuckold's Point, marking the point at which Limehouse Reach becomes Lower Pool.
|Former jetty at Horns Stairs|
Today there were lots of seagulls, adults and juveniles, at the water's edge picking out something that was obviously providing them with some sort of food. Although there are relatively few objects to be found on the beach, the dispersed nature of the debris means that it is easy to pick out individual items, and I picked up a nice piece of clay pipe - nothing very special but with a delicate piece of decoration on the tiny piece of the bowl that remained. There is, however, a very interesting set of structural features immediately at the bottom of the stairs (see photo above). These mark the jetty and pier that once reached out over the mud for the ferry service to Limehouse Hole. Former ferry piers and jetties are usually good places to search for objects at low tide, but the tides don't seem to favour collection of objects at this particular point.
|Narrow section of foreshore at|
Globe Stairs are located just downriver of Globe Wharf. You need to pass through a small gate to access them, but this is not locked. The material here is much more fragmentary, reduced to a dark grey gravel over the decades. There were very few surviving objects and the small number that I found were of the more robust variety, and were very water worn. It is just as well that it isn't a promising area for small finds discoveries because it felt more than a little intrusive to be walking around in such proximity to Globe Wharf, because it has been converted into apartments. I could hear knives and forks on plates on a balcony above me, and there was a lovely aroma of garlic. I was a lot happier wandering around where I didn't feel that I was disturbing someone's lunch by fossicking around at the water's edge outside their home. On the other hand, if you like the 19th Century conversions along the riverfront, this is by far the best way to see the riverside frontage of Globe Wharf itself. The 1914 Ordnance Survey map shows a jetty leading down to "Globe Stairs Pier," but there were no signs of the remains of this at the time I was there.
|Under the bow of the houseboat at Hanover Stairs|
|The foreshore at the Surrey Dock Stairs|
Another set of stairs, Church Stairs, run down the side of the Mayflower public house but are inaccessible today thanks to a large locked gate. Horseferry Stairs used to be located midway down Sovereign Crescent but it, and the dry dock marked on the 1914 map of the area, have also vanished. It's the same story for King and Queen Stairs, which were downriver from the modern Old Salt Quay public house.
|A colourful mix of oyster and mussel shells, |
broken brick and Victorian ceramics.
I walked back up to the red bascule bridge, crossed the road to Surrey Water, where a nice selection of water birds were enjoying the sunshine, and cut back to Greenland Dock via the Albion Channel, where there the water lilies are just coming into flower. I then crossed one of the bridges and went into the Russia Dock woodland. It has been good, over the last few days, to see Russia Dock Woodland looking so neat and tidy, and so well used.
After four days in Paris and two obsessive days wandering around Rotherhithe, my feet were feeling the activity, but my ankles hurt even more, because even though I have been nagging on about appropriate footwear, the weather has been so gorgeous that wellies, hiking boots or anything else that gets in the way of nicely aerated toes seemed so tedious. All well and good on the area under the Hilton where it is just like a beach, but very tough on the ankles where the bricks and stones shift endlessly under foot. Appropriate footwear is seriously recommended; neon pink fashion trainers with no ankle support are not. I was also wearing shorts, which are great on a sunny day, but the sheer amount of fresh glass under foot is astounding and slipping and falling could have been very messy. I do recommend being careful about walking on the loose stone and brick, and taking measures against the sharp things that lurk under and in the mud.
|Timbers near Clarence Pier at the foot of Hanover Stairs,|
surveyed some years ago by the Thames Discovery Programme