In 1928, under the directorship of Sir Mortimer Wheeler excavations were carried out by the London Museum on the foreshore near the mouth of the River Brent, a tributary of the Thames. Parts of a structure, dated to the 2nd-3rd century AD and interpreted as a hut floor, were revealed.
In 1949, Ivor Noël Hume of the Guildhall Museum recorded the foreshore along the south bank between London Bridge and Cannon Street Railway Bridge and produced a plan of his discoveries. That drawing is reproduced here with his kind permission. In 1956 Noël Hume noted:
the river cries out not for private collectors, but for local museums who can patrol their own shores and so preserve for the nation the treasure that still lies there..”
Investigations of the Brentford foreshore continued in the 1950s under Noël Hume’s direction and evidence was recovered of possible domestic structures, this time dating to the Iron Age, and further artefactual material suggesting occupation during the Romano-British period. In the following decade, Noël Hume accessioned material from the City of London foreshore. WF Grimes noted in 1968 that to put such finds into their appropriate context there was an “outstanding need (to) know about the behaviour of the river itself…”
Further work at Brentford by the West London Archaeological Field Group took place in 1966 and continued intermittently into the 1970s. Meanwhile, the Wandsworth Historical Society began a campaign of systematic recording of areas of foreshore in the Borough.
The Guildhall and London Museums were amalgamated and opened in 1976 as the Museum of London. At this date, the curatorial team created an accession code specifically to deal with artefacts retrieved from the City’s foreshore, both as the result of professional investigation, and as chance finds. A second code was used for the south bank from 1978.
The Department of Urban Archaeology (DUA) was also formed and, because of the large-scale urban redevelopment of the City waterfront areas, undertook major excavations at numerous sites from the early 1970s onwards. The image to the left shows Cath Maloney excavating a shoe at Trig Lane in the 1970’s. Work at deeply stratified waterlogged sites such as Custom House, Trig Lane, Swan Lane, Billingsgate, Pudding Lane, Thames Exchange, and the Vintry, revealed a wealth of information regarding Roman and later medieval waterfront construction.
More recently, excavations by Museum of London Archaeology (formerly Museum of London Archaeology Service) at Bull Wharf, Regis House, Suffolk House, Millennium Bridge and Arthur Street have provided additional detail. These sites, plus a number of Thames waterfront sites investigated in other parts of Greater London, have provided key information relating to the study of the development of the river and its tidal regime through time.
The examination of waterfront structures was complemented by a study of nautical archaeological remains undertaken by Peter Marsden. In addition to the early 20th century discovery of the County Hall boat, a number of shipwrecked vessels ranging in date from the Roman to later medieval periods were revealed in situ on sites at Blackfriars, Custom House and along the south bank. Other timbers were found reused as parts of revetment and wharf structures on sites excavated by the DUA and MoLAS in the City of London and Southwark.