After some successful trips of his own, resulting in Roman pottery finds and interesting structures, James invited some of us on a trip down to estural Kent, to a Thames foreshore site which seemed to have serious potential. As the tame archaeologist I was particularly excited, having recently heard sites in Essex described, and they sounded similar. Also my archaeology experience to date has been pretty urban, all my sites have been accessible by public transport, and this wasn’t. We met at the station as some of us were coming by rail, then drove about five miles in a motorcade to a car park then walked maybe another two or three miles to the site where the interest was. We walked along a sea wall through a place which seems to have been used in the defence of the Thames Estuary from at least Napoleonic times onward, judging by the remains of defences scattered round the area.
It started as an overcast and quite misty morning, very quiet after the hustle and bustle of London. We noted the outlines of several wooden hulks in the water, gently breaking down as the years passed, and suddenly in the mist there were two Svitzer Tugs spraying huge fountains in the air, just a shame the visibility wasn’t better, but some of us got pictures anyway. These were followed by a massive container ship from Gemany, very clear in the mist as she was bright red.
After this diversion we walked on through a rural landscape of farming on the margins of the river, green pastures which looked as though they had started life as sandbanks, past grazing ponies to our site, pausing to check out possible areas on the way, when we arrived at the site we paused for lunch before investigating it.
The area James was interested in started with a small bay, one of many in the area. As the tide went down, a beach was revealed composed of sand, pebbles and deposits of red ceramics mainly tiles, and a detritus of metal objects which I quickly recognised as the results of ship breaking. These were so corroded that some of them did not read as metal when tested with a detector. This meant that wherever this ship breaking happened, it wasn’t recent. There were deposits of fine silt, and in one of these contexts we found wooden posts which led in parallel lines down to the river, and as the tide receded, a structure (or possibly two structures) were revealed. These consisted of wooden uprights with posts laid across them and wattle footings, James had dismissed these as modern. Certainly a map of the area from the 1920’s shows a number of wharves and piers, but I would need an earlier map to able to establish how long before then the structures had been in place. All of the structures we saw that day seemed to have wattle footings, and I have not come across these on structures of similar date in London.
Round the corner was the area where James and Wendy found all the pottery, and the structure thought to be a fish trap. On closer inspection the fish trap turned out to be a revetment (also including hurdles) but the area containing the pottery appeared to have given up the last of its secrets. However, when I was looking at the old map for a possible clue as to what the structures might be, I noticed something about the location of the site. It was more or less bang opposite Mucking in Essex, well known for its Roman finds!
At the moment then, as so often in archaeology, we seem to have more questions than answers, and some definite reasons to visit the site again, apart from the fact that it is so evocative. When we made our way back at low tide we saw the remains of the hulks exposed, so here are some pictures of that return journey. Not many Mudlark trophies,but a great day out!