Building 41 (the Old Cold War Gallery) at Firepower is closing on Saturday 1st August

It is with regret that I write this blog to celebrate an old friend who will not be with us much longer. When Firepower first opened they had a Cold War Gallery which displayed many vehicles I had grown up with as the daughter of a soldier in the British Army of The Rhine. Through time, as storage facilities became cramped and new developments took place in the Arsenal, this dwindled from being a full blown gallery, to becoming a store room for exotica and BIG STUFF, a kind of Aladdin’s cave of Artillery and other military vehicles, which we volunteers were privileged to be able to guide the public round, as it eventually became too cramped for people to just wander in. Although the gallery is closing, it is probable the vehicles will surface in a different museum somewhere else. Meanwhile, I am publishing some photos and some memories to pay homage to the sheer scope of the collection.Mary Rose gun sect 2

This is a gun from the ‘Mary Rose’. It has been in the collection since before the ship was raised, in the nineteenth century a firm of local divers salvaged some guns and sold them on. This one is in serious need of conservation, the metal is seriously corroded. But at the same time, this allows us a brilliant insight into gun manufacture of the period, you can see the wooden planks forming the barrel with what is left of the metal forming the outer casing. Just one of our hidden treasures.


This is one of our more obscure pieces, found when someone was clearing a store room. After some research, it turned out to be a covering for a Gun Emplacement in the Crimea. The rope it is made of acts like Kevlar to protect the Gunners from incoming! Then there is the gun presented to Queen Victoria by Louis Napoleon:

It looks gold, but in fact is highly polished gunmetal. But you should hear the Oohs And Ahs!
I promised some ‘funnies’:

Green Mace



This, from various angles is ‘Green Mace’ a massively over- engineered (and MASSIVE) project, which had to be abandoned partly because of the sheer impracticality of loading the ammo into the side pods, but also because the planes it was designed to shoot out of the sky, learned to fly higher and faster! In the foreground of one of the shots you can see a normal 25 pounder gun which has been adapted to shield the gunners from nuclear fallout. This design quickly fell out of favour when it was realised that if they didn’t choke on the fumes from the gun which would gather in the bell-like canopy, the nuclear fallout would definitely get their legs!


This is the ‘Cardinal’ a successor to the ‘Priest’ and ‘Abbot’ designs which had proved highly successful in WW2 and after- it was MUCH bigger, and no doubt would have been very successful, but guess what? we all went nuclear!

Yes, we have nuclear weapons platforms in 41- and a warhead!




Stormer starstreak anti aircraftGM

And as you see we have guided missile systems as well! And yes, one of them is ‘Rapier’ which guarded London’s homes during the Olympics (and it’s in a museum).

Some of our more successful designs:

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The Centurion Tank, developed right here at the Arsenal, one of the best tanks EVER. Also an armoured personnel carrier, the last military vehicle manufactured before all production stopped at the Arsenal down to Defence Cuts. I remember troops rolling out to excercises in these in BAOR. I remember lots of bawdy chanting and thunderflashes being thrown into gardens!


We also have the biggest cannon ball EVER. This monster was launched from a huge gun called Mallet’s Mortar. If you go and look at it where it still stands outside the Royal Artillery barracks, you can still see the long split running down the barrel which put a stop to it being used on the field.

So that is just a few items from the highly varied collection in 41. Don’t forget that although 41 is closing, there is still much of interest in the main museum!


Evening On Greenwich Foreshore

Oh dear, such a long time since I ‘ve  written anything for this blog. Well, first of all, life has kind of gotten in the way, I am now a volunteer at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and there is just so much to see and learn and immerse yourself in there. I shall write a blog about this one day, but it will be a substantial effort so I need to sit down and concentrate! Then I joined a local Morris side, Dacre, and although I am still quite a long way from ‘dancing out’ myself, I went to Rochester and took a lot of photos, and I somehow feel there’s a blog in that!

Alas, digging opportunities are few and far between this year, and there’s nothing like one of those to get my blogging juices flowing, so here instead are some pictures of a very pleasant evening with the Greenwich FROG, we started off at the big jetty- now even more visible-  and worked our way down to the Cutty Sark pub where we watched the sun go down and set the world to rights over a couple of pints and some delicious cakes which someone was thoughtful enough to bring along! Not many words, but they say a picture is worth a thousand, so enjoy!

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Archaeology Doesn’t Get Much Better Than This: Digging at Fulham Palace.

To start, some views of our venue:


An entrance that’s an amazing mixture of architectural styles, including that wonderful pink Gothick Gatehouse!


The palace itself, seen here in the soft light of morning.


In the centre of the Palace courtyard, a lovely fountain- and just a short way away, a restaurant selling delicious food!


This quaint old ‘bothy’ was our Site Hut, and we were surrounded by soft green lawns and trees in changing leaf.


So what were we archaeologists doing in the middle of this idyllic scene near the Thames? There has been settlement on the site going back a very long way, and we had come to record the archaeology in the Walled Garden, before a new orchard was planted, as once that is in place it could be many years before anyone except maybe the gardeners can dig there again. Which could be a hindrance to future archaeological studies of the Palace. We were a group of volunteers, a lot of us old pals from the TDP, led by a professional team from Pre- Construct Archaeology. Our trenches looked more like test pits, as someone had the bright idea that if we were going to dig holes, we might as well dig them the right size and shape to put the saplings for the orchard in! And that, of course, is why the spacing between the pits or trenches was so regular, as this photograph illustrates:


Finds were mainly in the topsoil and subsoil. In the main, building materials, glass, pottery, occasional metal finds like nails, hinges, and this;


First guess was a spoon, maybe a tie of some horticultural sort, and some one suggested that as it’s a bishops palace, maybe a book clasp.

There were clay pipes, this is a rather nice Tudor one;


and pot sherds from every period from Roman thru Medieval, Tudor 17th/18th Century and Victorian.

Once you got past the subsoil, the finds tended to dry up, but there was some excitement with struck flint; I found this rather nice scraper;

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Later on I found some other nice little flaked pieces and a lump of flint the size of a man’s fist (and not a small man) which had lines on one side suggesting working. Handaxe that never was? Did he just get bored? We shall never know.


We did our own surveying for the plans with a theodolite. This was something I’d never done before, took a while to get the hang of it, but at least I now have something else to add to my skillset!


This is my first trench; at the time this picture was taken, we thought there was a feature in it, but this turned out not to be the case. So here is the finished item;


The figures in white are beekeepers.


As the lines of trenches were extended- this is what they looked like towards the end-


the beekeepers had to move the bees around. A trench was opened up in the area where the beehives had been at one point, and I started digging it but didn’t get very far. Next day when I turned up, Alexis who was in charge of the dig, said ” Don’t go near your trench, Jan, it’s full of bees!” I don’t know why but I have the unshakeable conviction that my frustrations of the previous day were because the bees were trying to tell me something, something like,”that’s our patch, leave it alone!”

Still, I ended on a high note, powering my way through a trench in a day, despite some serious opposition from tree roots;


Later they met their end at the hands of Alexis with a saw he borrowed from Lucy the head gardener at the Palace.

A very pleasant time on the whole- sure archaeology DOES get better than this, when you are making ground-breaking discoveries which will change the whole way we look at things, or  unearthing a spectacular hoard- but then that doesn’t happen to all of us. Most of us get on with just recording how life was for the ordinary folk and picking up the poignant little objects they left behind, and somehow, that is deeply rewarding.

Jan’s Jaunts. Museum of London in Docklands.


‘Jan’s Jaunts’ is intended as an occasional series for the Facebook page ‘Plumstead People’- and anyone else who cares to read it. The aim is to describe days out at locations nearby which might interest anyone at a loose end.

Museum of London in Docklands.

Getting there.

DLR from Woolwich Arsenal, change at Poplar, take Canary Wharf train to West India Quay. There is a sign there telling you to alight for Museum of London in Docklands. Takes about 20- 25 minutes. After alighting at West India Quay, walk along the row of warehouses until you get to the end where the museum is located. Since most of the warehouses now house amazing restaurants, this could be a struggle!



Child Friendly:



Loos at the main entrance. Restaurant and shop on the Ground floor, together with special area for children’s activities, chairs at the front, shop mainly stocking children’s toys and books.

My Visit.

The museum is currently housing a free exhibition called ‘Bridge’. As you might expect, this is about London’s bridges in all aspects. It consists of photographs, a film and an art installation. There are activities centered round the exhibition, including some for children.DSC_0169 DSC_0170

After having walked through this (I loved the film of the river and its bridges, but did not ‘get’ the slideshow about creating patterns in the crowd on London Bridge), I started on the main museum. The galleries are laid out in a structured way, the idea is you take the stairs or lift to the 3rd floor and work your way downward through the history of Docklands and the Thames.

Now I need to tell you here and now that this museum is always a special treat for a river rat like me. I am an archaeologist working on the Thames foreshore and also a mudlark. I like to think that the Thames is flowing in my veins, and the Thames tides are pulsing it round. Importantly, a large percentage of exhibits at the museum can and have fallen in the Thames at some point, so it is a real resource for identifying finds from the foreshore!

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The jug at the top is Kingston Ware, manufactured further up the river at Kingston. Shards of these are found up and down the river on the foreshore. The Venetian glass is found mainly at locations where there were palaces, such as the Tower of London and sometimes Greenwich. The hooked implements are bag hooks for lifting bagged cargoes out of the holds of ships in the Pool of London. I have an eighteenth century one I found at Custom House, but literally hundreds of them must have been dropped at some point!

Having declared my own interest, I should probably go back to describing the Museum!

On the top floor, you are welcomed by a film describing the collection and its relevance, which is presented by Tony Robinson of Time Team. The galleries start with Roman and medieval finds from the Thames and elsewhere, progressing through history as you go through the building. there are a couple of reconstructed streets, one of the business end of the docks in the eighteenth century, another of the less reputable ‘Sailor Town’ which has all sorts of spooky little corners.

Subjects like trade and shipbuilding are well represented, with period rooms and hands- on displays, and there is a thought- provoking section on slavery, where you are invited to share your thoughts. the last floor is devoted to Docklands in the modern era: the World Wars, the industrial unrest and the modern developments are all covered in detail. The section on the DLR even displays the archeological finds in context. DSC_0184 DSC_0192 DSC_0194

The top picture shows DLR finds: seventeenth century wine bottle and Roman Samian Ware. The middle picture shows eighteenth century slave bangles and African trade beads, and the final picture shows a piece of painted masonry from a Roman altar and a perfume bottle.

You exit the galleries through a display about the East End of London. There are comfy chairs where you can sit and mull over what you’ve seen or there is a restaurant with tea and coffee and sandwiches, these are very good but not cheap.

On the whole, this is a favourite museum of mine, and I generally go there at least once or twice a year, and there is always something new to see!












Community Dig at Charterhouse Square 2014


I had decided that possibly the world had had enough of my forays into the world of archeology and excavation for the moment, but some of the comments at our final little dig meeting this evening made me change my mind. As well as the digs themselves, there has been a whole calendar of backup events, and what with these and the thorough introduction to archaeological methods given by the archaeologists from MOLA, not to mention Crossrail, several of the people who volunteered for this dig are never going to look at life the same way again! I would have loved to have gone to some of the lectures, but I didn’t have the time. What I did have time for were three afternoon digs, and most enjoyable they were.

Monday afternoon Marianne and I were digging with Don as our mentor. The layer we were trowelling through at this point was mainly floor tiles, with plenty of bones included, mostly pigs. This was interesting in the light of being told that the Carthusian monks who inhabited the site were vegetarian. Though I pointed out that the lay brothers who did all the hard work around the place were not expected to stick to strict diets.



Marianne was blown away by Don’s ability to identify bones immediately. It transpired that he was one of the two osteoarcheologists always available on site, owing to the fact that the place was known to have been a burial ground. I was just stunned (and very grateful)that a senior archaeologist was emptying my spoil buckets! We learned quite a lot that day about the site and about the archaeological approaches taken to investigating it.

On Thursday(my next day at the dig) the volunteers were led by Martin from Bexley Archaeology Group. Martin is also, like me, a volunteer with the Thames Discovery Programme, so it was nice to see an old friend! On Monday we had been pulling lots of tiles and animal bone out of this trench, but now the finds seemed scarcer. I picked up a fragment of bone and recognised suture lines on it. I handed it to Martin, saying “here’s a piece of skull, but skull of what, I’m not sure..” Earlier I had handed him a piece of bone which he thought was human. He took the pieces over to the osteoarchaeologist, and it was confirmed: they were both human. Then everything in that trench stopped for a while, as the osteoarchaeologist furtled about for quite a while with his trowel until he was satisfied that further human remains were unlikely to emerge from that trench. Once the all clear was given, it was back to work. The other find of the day, maybe THE find of the day was a Tudor thimble which Martin found. I have no pictures of either of these finds, but here are some pictures of things which were found over the life of the dig:

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There were plenty of clay pipes including some nice quite early ones, and plenty of oyster shells. Oyster shells and clay pipes are an archaeological equivalent of finding cigarette- butts and crisp packets- proof that everyday life was going on in the area.

My last day was Saturday, also the last day of the dig. As well as the team of MOLA archaeologists, Jay Carver lead archaeologist for Crossrail was working on the dig. It was during the Crossrail dig that it had first come to light that excavations in the square might be well worth pursuing. As it was a last day, there was a time pressure there had not been earlier to complete the dig and find what was there. This led to the archaeologists taking over most of the excavation work as, as seasoned professionals, they could work faster. Here are some pictuers of the trenches. In the big trench you can see Nick Elsden (MOLA) and Jay Carver with one of the volunteers. It is very nearly the end of Saturday, and a very hot day it was! The other photo shows the smaller trench with Serena from MOLA and some of the volunteers- while I was around the dig this little trench is where it all happened!

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At the end of the day, Nick called us all together to talk about the aims of the dig, and what had been achieved so far. The big discoveries of Plague burials during the Crossrail dig had prompted speculation that there might be more burials in the area. Geophysical survey had given evidence for structures, although there had been no evidence on period maps (unreliable to say the least). The little trench at the least had revealed a burial cut by a boundry ditch, but there was no evidence for burials in the large trench. But the dig would provide useful evidence for the developers who intend to landscape the area next year. And Jay added that the whole dig will be written up on the Crossrail website, where you will be able to read it in more and better detail than my wobbly memory allows!

Then Nick asked for feedback. One lady banker who had attended most of the events told us her entire perception of the area where she works has been completely transformed, and that she was fascinated by archaeology and its perception of how things relate! Another lady told us that during the week she had already signed up for a short archaeology course at Birkbeck- and of course not everyone on the dig was at the meeting. I think the dig realised its aims in terms of outreach, certainly! I enjoyed it as there was a ‘first’ for me, together with great working conditions, learning stuff from professionals, and a chance to stroll round some lovely historic buildings. I only hope I put in  sufficient graft to express my appreciation!







Tower of London Open Foreshore, last day.


For most of the year, the Tower of London foreshore is one of the few no- go areas on the London foreshore, but once a year it is opened to the general public. The resulting event is a wonderful feelgood festival where anyone who wants to can be an archaeologist (or a Mudlark, even)for a day, and rummage around on the Tower foreshore, where they are guaranteed finds, and there will be several teams of experts to identify the finds. There are two archaeology groups, COLAS and the Thames Discovery Programme, and this year, the Portable Antiquities scheme and also Thames and Field Mudlarks, headed up by Steve Brooker of Mud Men fame.


Thames Discovery Programme(foreground) and Thames + Field Tables.


City of London Archaeological Society (COLAS) had a large tented area.


Portable Antiquities. These people would not only identify your finds, but also register them if they were suitably impressive!

I hadn’t been able to go on Saturday, but I made up for it on Sunday! Lots of friends and aquaintances  were there, and there was news and gossip to be exchanged. The queue of people to go on the foreshore stretched right back to the gate of the Tower precincts at one stage, and people were quite happy to wait for an hour for their session on the foreshore. I did my usual thing that I do on these occasions, chatting with the public, helping them with their finds. The first year I did this the pressure was enormous, as it seemed like we of the TDP were the only perceived experts, and so we got everyone and everything, regardless. This year not only were there finds tables on the foreshore, there were specialists to refer people to.


The Queue For The Foreshore.

I have always loved this event, because I think it is such an inspiration, and as such it was the climax of my ‘Fortnight of Archaeology’ which happened to coincide with the national ‘Day of Archaeology’.

Next week of course, sees more digging, at Charterhouse and probably elsewhere, but that, as they say, is another story…….




Final Day of the FROG event at the Tower Foreshore


Three images from the final day of fieldwork at the Tower of London. The FROG recording the area round the ferry terminal, the survey team from MOLA recording and surveying the Tower Bridge end of the foreshore. And Mudlarks doing what mudlarks do. In this instance this included finding a large stone ball, clearly a cannon ball or a projectile for a trebuchet! In the picture you can also see the barrage material put in place to help arrest further erosion.

Last night was a night of storms and thunder directly over London and incredibly noisy! Despite this the day dawned bright, sunny, and very hot. However I woke up almost unable to move and had to take pain killers to get myself moving. But after the events of yesterday I was determined to make it to the Tower for the last day of the fieldwork, even if I was late. And I was. But all this meant was that as all the tasks had been allocated, I could wander round the site taking photographs to be used as records and publicity to be shared on social media. As I had my walking stick with me I was happily able to poke around and I located some nice finds, including the beard of a Bartman, and an early clay pipe bowl:


The Tower beach this year has been very good for Delftware shards as well. As well as taking photographs of the foreshore, the river traffic,


and the activity on the foreshore,


I sat down in the cool area under the ferry stairs, and tweeted stuff and put stuff on Facebook to record for posterity what a great time we’d had out there. This whole area is one of the most iconic in London, and one of the great things about being a Thames FROG is we get to work in iconic places!IMG_7135






My second day on the Tower foreshore.


Tower Bridge from the foreshore.

When I started to talk about a fortnight of archaeology, I had a feeling inside that things would not go entirely my way, but hey, there was a fortnight of POTENTIAL archaeology, and it made a catchy title, so why not. Well, I already had to take a weekend break, and yesterday I woke up feeling seriously dehydrated, so I didn’t risk the foreshore/work combo I have used in previous years. Worse than that, when I got to work I found out that I had come in on the wrong day, so I was going to have to miss out on Saturday’s event, the Tower Open Foreshore, where I planned to do TDP Outreach with medieval replicas of artefacts which can be found even now on the Thames Foreshore. Oh, well, guess I’ll just have to do it on Sunday. Life really does get in the way sometimes.

But there was today. I revisited my graffiti and took some new photographs, which I have edited into my last blog post, so you can see it in all it’s glory. Then there was planning of timbers to be done. I am rubbish at drawing, but I did my best to help out with this, because it was happening in the lovely cool and shady corner by the stairs where the graffiti is, and it was a very hot day today.


Cool and shady stairs.



At one point I ventured out for a wander along the foreshore, as I do want a picture or two of the barrage in the coffer dam area, but it was blisteringly hot, and I was soon heading back to the more comfortable shady area by the stairs!

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These pictures show the stark contrast of the view up the river in the hazy heat, and the dark moist coolness of the corner next to the graffiti. Here’s hoping all the best for tomorrow and Sunday!


Fortnight of Archaeology round 2 Tower foreshore.

View of the Byward Tower, Tower of London and City Hall.


So today, Tuesday 15th July, my fortnight of archaeology kicked off again. There had been opportunities for archaeology over the weekend, and indeed I did help out with some monitoring and a guided walk on Saturday evening, very calm serene and unstressfull  over at Greenwich. But, needing a rest, I had to pass up the other delights on offer to save myself for the big event, the Tower of London foreshore fieldwork week which runs into and combines with The Tower Open Foreshore event for the public.

So this morning I arrived at the Tower Queen’s Stairs to find not only FROGs, but also a smattering of Mudlarks getting ready to go down on the foreshore, including the Thames and Field legend, Woolwich John or WJ as we call him.


MOLA surveying equipment ready for action on the foreshore.

When Natalie gave us the walkover, it soon became apparent that we would not be working in our old haunts by the Coffer Dam, as this was now so erroded that the PLA had put up a protective barrage consisting of nets full of stone and concrete rubble. Apparently this can be removed if necessary.


Facing outwards from the river stairs by the ferry terminal.

Next to the Ferry terminal there is a large set of stone river stairs, and some of the stonework here is very old. However, what Nathalie was interested in this time was not the age of the stairs, rather that there appeared to be graffitti there. So a small group of us volunteered to clean off the mud and slime and investigate. we found one slab with a list of names carved deeply, one slab with a few more lightly traced lines and letters, and one on the other side of the wall bearing the legend A Neve 192 (?) The pictures below give an idea of what it all looked like;

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Examples of Graffitti when cleaned.


But how to record this? After trial and error we found that slapping permatrace on the slabs and tracing the outline worked, and we did this with a final clean copy with the outline carefully traced- I have seen something like this used on Roman inscriptions in archaeology reports, but it must be said it caused some hilarity as I carefully traced out the final copy!


And then it was time to leave. It had been a good first day, and more tomorrow!