I’ve been missing the Thames hugely while we’ve all been coping with lockdown and currently all monitoring activity for this year is on hold. A fortnight ago the Port of London Authority lifted the restrictions for mudlarking and other leisure activities on the water but I’m still shielding my elderly mother, who is on the vulnerable list, so I’m not able to return to the river just yet. Hopefully I will soon.

For me, this has been an opportunity to sort out my extensive river-based FROG and mudlarking photo collection, read, research and write, even though at times, particularly during the early weeks of lockdown, it was hard to find the right words and sentences struggled to form. I’ve been re-reading TDP’s ‘The River’s Tale’ by Nathalie Cohen and Eliott Wragg, and also engrossed in Gustav Milne and TDP’s new book ‘The Thames At War: Saving London From The Blitz’, especially timely as this year we commemorated the 75th anniversary of VE Day on May 8th, when Britain and its Allies formally accepted Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender after almost six years of war.

The Fulham Foreshore

At the beginning of 2020, when the world was still normal, I was mudlarking on the Fulham foreshore on a bitterly cold and windy day and found a mystery stone object the size of a large brick but made of concrete. I didn’t know what it was, not did other mudlarks nearby, and I initially wrongly identified it as a lead token mould before realising it couldn’t possibly be. Token moulds have a clear design and also a channel for molten lead or other metal to be poured into the stone before setting. When I looked at my mystery find again, whatever it was it clearly wasn’t a token mould. So, what was it?


I posted the photos on social media and very quickly a stonemason got in touch with me. He’d recognised this as a stonemason’s tool specifically for making plugs needed to make a quick, temporary repair to either a wall or a building and was a method in common usage during the 1930s, 1940s and the early 1950s.

Other mudlarks who are regulars on the Fulham foreshore have found similar carved brick or concrete, more or less in the same area, and it’s likely these also would have been used by stonemasons for the same purpose, often recycling a range of stone materials for quick repairs. The location of these in this particular area is interesting. In ‘The Thames At War’ there are photographs showing bomb damage done to the river wall at the upstream end of Craven Cottage, home to Fulham Football Club, while on 16 October 1940, following further bombing raids by the Luftwaffe, a hundred foot of the river wall at Bishop’s Park collapsed onto the foreshore. Semi-permanent repairs were made involving pitched tiers of 5,000 concrete bags while arguments raged about which local authority should pay for permanent repairs. My stonemason contact believed that in the light of the wartime history of this area, as in the rest of London, repairs would have been made to other bomb damaged structures using stone plugs fashioned quickly from these concrete bricks. There would have been no time for carefully cut masonry so shortcuts were necessary and it looks as though small stone plugs would have been part of this repair process.

The first bombs fell on the borough and surrounding area on Monday 9th September 1940 with a number of high explosive devices landing on St Dunstan’s Road in Fulham and Hamlet Gardens in Hammersmith. During the night there was a direct hit on Fulham Hospital, the current site of Charing Cross Hospital, and also to Fulham Power Station in Townmead Road which caused blackouts in much of West London. There were many more raids to come with September 13th 1940 being a particularly grim night when 38 people died as a result of a direct hit on an air raid shelter in Bucklers Alley, Fulham. There was considerable damage to houses and other buildings and structures. Fulham Power Station and Gasworks, riverside industries and factories were important targets for Luftwaffe bombers.

Records show that a total number of 419 high explosive bombs were dropped on Hammersmith and Fulham from 7th October to 1940 to 6th June 1941, 12 of them on Fulham Broadway. Stonemasons therefore would have been busy carrying out a constant stream of emergency repairs to the more important buildings in order to try to keep them functioning.

Victoria Tower Gardens

While sorting out my catalogue of river photographs I found this one below, just upstream of the Palace of Westminster, the other side of Victoria Tower Gardens. I took this photo a few years ago while mudlarking at this spot but unfortunately, a short while later, it became off limits to everyone for security reasons. Anyone even thinking of venturing down here today, unless with special permission, please don’t as you may get arrested.


I’m glad I got to visit it when I did as it gave me a rare opportunity to see and photograph repairs to the river wall here, a result of a bomb strike on the night of 16th to 17th April causing a huge breach in the embankment wall. A major flood here would have done great damage to London and you can clearly see the outline of the repairs today at the top of the river wall. At the base of the river wall you can still see fragments of the parapet plus other rubble from the breached wall.

It’s thanks to TDP and ‘The River’s Tale’ that I first learnt about Sir Thomas Peirson Frank, Chief Engineer for the LCC (London County Council.) It’s pleasing to see that although far too many people haven’t heard of this man and his Thames-Flood team, he is now commemorated in a plaque on the other side of this wall. His work stopped London from flooding.


Even to this day it’s still possible to see evidence of the Blitz on the Thames Foreshore. There’s barely a single occasion when I don’t find the remnants of a bullet or anti-aircraft shrapnel washed up on the low tide when I’ve been out mudlarking. Many of these bullet finds are mangled and spent, but some are still live and need to be handled with care as even after nearly eighty years they can still be dangerous. If you find one, throw it carefully back into the river. And on that note, I hope it won’t be too long before we’re all back on the foreshore again in happier circumstances, socially distanced, of course.