Fieldwork at Chelsea makes the front page!


Ok, so it was the front page of the SPMA Newsletter, but anyway it feels good to get some information out there about my fieldwork. The full article is here on my page.


Fieldwork and family

After my initial visit to the Chelsea foreshore in January, which confirmed that there was interesting archaeological remains to be surveyed, I started planning some dates for a systematic survey. As my site is on the foreshore of a tidal river, it spends more time covered in water than exposed. As such, dates and times for site visits need to be carefully planned. The best times for visits are at ‘Spring tides’, where the gravitational pull of the Moon and Earth are aligned to created the higher high tides and lower low tides. These low Spring tides expose the most area of foreshore, and therefore the most archaeological remains. Spring tides are fortnightly, and the level to which the water drops varies daily, as does the time of the lowest water level. The provision of tide prediction tables makes planning easier. The low tides, however, still only provide around two hours when the foreshore is exposed.

The process of fieldwork planning was made all the more complicated for me, however, because I have a two year old to factor in. We do not live in London, but I am lucky to have family in central London who are willing to look after the toddler whilst I romp along the foreshore. To work around available childcare, my fieldwork needed to be on Friday – Mondays. The combined limitations of Spring tides, daylight, Friday – Monday childcare all conspired to give just four weekends between February and September with suitable tides. In February, a schedule of visits to London every other weekend in April and May seemed completely achievable. In my head, I would spend about three hours each morning doing my survey work, and perhaps a chilled hour over lunch downloading photographs and GPS data, leaving the afternoons free to catch up with family and my boy. Awesome.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

In reality, we returned ‘home’ from surveys at lunchtime tired and hungry, and with hours of work to do downloading GPS survey data and photographs, writing up recording forms and backing everything up. The less said about transfering photos from Macs to PCs the better! On days when my parents were on childcare duty, they went for a nap in the afternoon, having been run to exhaustion by the small one. This meant I had to wait until Small was asleep to download and back up data. On other weekends, my husband was able to join us for a few days, leaving me free in the afternoons to work. Unfortunately in neither scenario did I manage the chilled afternoon I envisaged. Having said this, highlights of my fieldwork so far have included a lovely lunch at the Tea House Theatre with Katie Mills on the first day of fieldwork, a family lunch post survey, with Mum and I still in wellies, at the Butcher and Grill, a picnic in Vauxhall park and ice creams in Battersea Park with Peta Knott, Nathalie Cohen and Eliott Wragg. These moments of calm digesting work and lunch in lovely surroundings have made working in central London a real pleasure. The amazing support my family has given me has made the difference between doing fieldwork or not. Because of their help I have not only been able to physically get onto the foreshore (without taking Small), but I have also been given valuable time to do all the data processing that has ensured every day has been productive.

In conclusion; trying to do fieldwork with a toddler in tow is harder work and more tiring than I thought. Which is also my current feeling about doing a PhD with a toddler.


Back of the car packed with survey kit, pushchair and balance bike. All the essentials for fieldwork with a toddler

Forays on the foreshore

I spent a couple of cold and soggy hours in January walking along the Chelsea Embankment and foreshore looking for archaeological sites and remains. Much of the information I have gathered so far has been from historic documents and mapping, both of which are fairly biased records of activity in the past. As such, the identification and assessment of archaeological remains associated with 19th century activity on and around the waterfront is a vital addition to my research.

The Thames Archaeology Survey (TAS), carried out a rapid recording of archaeological sites on the foreshore in London between 1996 and 1999. It aimed to locate, number and photograph all archaeological remains on the Thames foreshore in London. The survey was rapid and the recording minimal, often a position and a photograph. The interpretation of many sites is now questionable after decades of additional research into foreshore sites. The work done by the Thames Discovery Programme (TDP) volunteers and archaeologists has been instrumental in improving our knowledge and understanding of activity on the foreshore. In order to make use of this new knowledge, I was pleased to be able to lure TDP archaeologist Eliott Wragg down to Chelsea to join me on the foreshore for a few hours.

The aim of this first visit was to have a quick look at what was on the foreshore and get a feel for how useful, or otherwise, it would be to my research. Walking along the foreshore also gave me a completely different perspective on the Embankment itself, but I think I will write that up in a separate post. Our walkover survey was relatively fruitful and a number of interesting features were observed. Inevitably we found unidentifiable bits of wood, like the one below, numbered by TAS as FKN04 A119 and interpreted as a ‘mooring post?’. Our thoughts were that it was more likely to be part of a revetment or jetty structure, but it might require a bit more research to reach any kind of conclusion.


Eliott Wragg pondering over a timber and iron feature on the Chelsea foreshore.

We located a number of chalk bargebeds, more than had been picked up by TAS. These are areas of large chalk blocks or cobbles, which provided a stable surfaces on which barges could be beached. Unlike the bargebeds down stream, the Chelsea ones do not appear to have wooden containing revetments, but perhaps this is an area that requires a bit more investigation. Bargebeds do not generally appear on historic mapping, and without excavation and the recovery of dateable objects, are very difficult to date. They may have their origins in the late medieval period, but this photograph from 1929 shows they were still being laid in the early 20th century. Whatever the date, the Chelsea ones certainly pre-date the 1870s Embankment and are likely to have been important points of activity on the foreshore in the 19th century. Bargebeds would have been located close to jetties, wharves and onshore businesses and I am hopeful that historic mapping and business directories will help link the sites with the pre-embankment businesses.


One of the many barge beds we spotted.

One of the other interesting site types we found were peat outcrops, including one with an acorn in! Whilst not directly relevant to my research on 19th century activity, the presence of peat outcrops is of archaeological interest, and these are likely to be prehistoric in date.


An acorn embedded within some of the prehistoric peat eroding out of the foreshore

Overall, this first trip was not only interesting, but also reassuring. There is pre-embankment archaeology on the foreshore (phew) and I think it will help me find out what the social and economic impacts of the Embankment construction was. Thankfully. That is a relief!