Monday, August 19, 2013

Update re the Surrey Docks Farm Heritage Project

Today the Surrey Docks Farm Heritage Project took another step towards piecing together the various chunks of data about the site now occupied by Surrey Docks Farm, and its foreshore area.   So far, apart from an inspection visit, the project has focused on archival research, which has produced some excellent information about the site, particularly during the period when the London River Ambulance receiving-station was based at South Wharf (more commonly known as Acorn Wharf).   Other research paths have also been identified and are being pursued by both the experts and the volunteers on the project.  I will produce a single post when the work has been finished, but I thought that a couple of photographs of the work in progress might be of interest.

Today's work focused on uncovering, cleaning, photographing and planning some of the many wooden remains of ships, the River Amulance receiving-station's pier and other features on the Thames foreshore, all revealed at low tide.  I should have taken some "before" photos, because if you weren't actually there you wouldn't believe what sort of state all of these wooden features were in before they were uncovered, washed and brushed to remove the thick, cloying mud so that the features of wood and fittings could be seen and recorded. Most conspicuously, vast wooden posts that once supported the ambulance station pier remain without any sign of serious rot setting in, but the remains of a flat-bottomed barge and other less informative wooden remains were examined.

A group of volunteers was organized into a useful team by the friendly and expert Thames Discovery Programme people, with the assistance of two co-opted Museum of London staff members, who had been persuaded to give up their Sunday afternoon to help out.  As someone who can't communicate anything without the aid of PowerPoint, I was so impressed at how well they took a bunch of amateurs and turned them into an effective, if slightly hesitant, group of assistants.  They are a great bunch of people, professionals and volunteers alike.

We worked for about two and a half hours, starting before low tide and working until the tide started to come in.  It is amazing how quickly the tide creeps up on you.  With my back to the river, helping one of the Thames Discovery people plan one of the wooden features in the mud, I was quite happy to keep going to complete the job until it was pointed out that the water would soon be lapping at my ankles!  

Mudlarking is a time-honoured Thames activity, and in addition to the more formal work of revealing and cleaning structures, wandering along the foreshore produced a fascinating collection of bottles, ceramics, bits of clay pipe, and anchors, deliberately halved, which served as mooring weights (and I presume were marked by buoys).  There was also a staggering carpet of bricks that had been cleared from sites bombed during the Blitz when Rotherhithe, targeted with great ease because of the moonlight reflecting off the Surrey Commercial Docks, suffered really appalling damage. 

Once you begin to understand what you're looking at, through the eyes of the people who know what they're talking about, the Thames foreshore begins to reveal a very multi-layered account of itself. Truly fascinating.

Various passers-by came to watch and asked questions, and the Thames Discovery people were welcoming, friendly and informative, which was really great to see.

It was a good day, if a very muddy one!  I was somewhat impressed, when I arrived home, at how much of the Thames foreshore was liberally plastered to my face, hands, hair and clothing. Thank goodness for my 10-year Tetanus jab!  My wellies were a sight to behold, and I created something of a stir on my walk home, looking as though I had just come from an Olympic-standard mud wrestling contest. 

As ever, click on the photos to see the bigger version, which may help you to pick out some of the details.

Related posts:

Surrey Docks Farm Heritage Project starts up    
Research taking place into the heritage of the Surrey Docks Farm site

No comments: