Traps on the Thames

Fixed fishing structures or fishtraps recorded so far on the foreshore by the TDP have usually dated to the Anglo-Saxon period with examples recorded at sites across Greater London, including those surviving at sites such as Isleworth, Chelsea, Nine Elms and Greenwich. Evidence for fishing during the later periods is much rarer with no recorded examples of fixed traps.

However we do have some evidence for portable fishtraps of a later date. In September 2010, a panel of wickerwork on the foreshore was recorded at Millwall, which dated to the early 15th century, while a second example further downstream sampled in July 2015 dated to the late 19th century.

Surrey Docks Farm

A very fine example of a portable trap was observed on the foreshore at Surrey Docks Farm during an assessment visit in June 2011 with further examples noted during a another trip in January 2013. During 2014, two blogs by FROG member Margaret Sparks looked at aspects of conservation and recreation of fishtraps, and contemplated how we might assess and record items of this nature. Meanwhile ongoing monitoring of the foreshore at Surrey Docks by Mudlarker Allan Murphy, with further monitoring visits by TDP especially during 2016, has now observed the remnants of over 30 fish baskets on the site – which is a concentration unique in London as far as we are aware.

During the most recent Foreshore Recording and Observation Group training session last month, five of the best preserved examples were cleaned, recorded and sampled for radiocarbon dating by the FROG members. You can see the photos from the fieldwork below:

Odessa Wharf / Surrey Docks Farm (FSW07 - 8): 25th April - 1st May 2017

Each one is different in shape and form, and while there is some evidence for rope associated with some of the baskets, we are not yet sure whether the baskets are fixed in any way to the foreshore or whether they are fully portable and used from either vessels or for shoreline collecting. Depending on the dates of the traps (anywhere from the 15th – 19th centuries?), documentary research such as that undertaken for the Smelt Research Project may help us to better understand the site. It would also be fascinating to know why there are so many in one place – was this a particularly good spot for fishing or was it just a good place to get rid of your basket when you no longer needed it?