B.J. Roche, writer and UMass professor recently visited the Thames in London. She wrote an article called, “BEACHCOMBING ON THE THAMES: A BACKDOOR INTO LONDON’S HISTORY”
Roche wrote, “It all began one Sunday morning, when we were drinking coffee and watching a Rick Steves marathon on public television: There was Rick, signing off from London, advising viewers to get off the beaten track by beachcombing on the shore of the Thames.
As he walked along, he reached down and casually picked up the bowl of a small clay smoking pipe–the kind you see in 19th century paintings being smoked by fat little men in waistcoats. Cute, but, we figured, Rick’s producer had probably planted that pipe. What were the chances that, in one of the world’s most expensive cities, you could stumble onto a 300-year-old artifact for the price of drycleaning your muddy pants?
Quite good, it turns out.
A few months later, as we were walking along the Thames Path that leads from the Tower of London to the Millennium Bridge, we came across a stairway down to the river.
The tide was out, so we wandered down to where the water lapped the muck.
Once on the shore of “Old Father Thames,” we were in a different world. Within a shout of the sterile, ultra-modern skyscrapers where Europe’s financial affairs are managed, we found the detritus of a thousand years: a beach comprised, not of shells or stones, but of waves and waves of broken down bits of debris: roof tiles, confetti-like shards of china, each with a piece of a pattern; frosty, pale-green chunks of bottles of varying shapes and ages.
Teapot handles. The footlong jawbone of an unidentified animal. Old nails, three and four inches long. A giant wagon wheel…”