All text copyright Stephen Coates 2006 - 2015


The Thames has seen many, many strange things in its long journey - even in recent times, we have had headless bodies, a giant statue of Michael Jackson and a whale. Whenever I am at Vauxhall cross - a large busy intersection of railway lines, an underground station, a bus terminus and the home of the English secret service - I always remember that this is a place of some prehistoric significance. Take the ramp next to MI5 down to the relative peace of the river foreshore at low tide and you may see why.

In 1999, following the discovery of neolithic axe heads, the remains of a bronze age timber structure were revealed by the eroding river bank. It is considered to either be an early bridge across the river or possibly a jetty intended to connect the shore with an island which is now lost. Bronze spears were also discovered - apparently intentionally placed into the river bed.

This location is significant - it is the point where the tidal Thames turns - where salt water meets fresh and the place where the rivers Effra, on the south bank and Tyburn, on the north, (both now subterranean) empty into the greater river. These outfalls can also be seen at low tide.

As these rivers were once navigable, it is likely that the area was a focus of some activity and it appears that several ancient routes converged upon it - as their contemporary equivalents still do. A southern projection of the Roman Watling street reaches the river on the north bank and Kennington Lane, thought to be the route of a raised pre-roman trackwa, joins on the south bank. The timber bridge / jetty would be a continuation of this route - linking the Kennington settlement either with the 'holy' island or the north bank of the Thames.

There are two rows of about twenty stumps - leaning inwards and giving an estimated jetty width of about four meters. They may soon be gone because now exposed,they are subject to erosion. The mystery to me is how they survived for thousands of years at all - particularly in a situation like this.

It is a new year and that reminds me, I must soon write about a very odd thing - the time machine hidden in a secret location in a very posh part of town..


spillyjane said...

Absolutely fascinating stuff. Secrets upon secrets -- London certainly does provide.

As for the stumps and their (so far) non-decay: wood can be preserved for a surprisingly long period of time in the absence of air (ie., under water.) It's when you get air and water at them at same time that decay can really set in.

Jonathan said...

I don't suppose you know any bizarre secrets or mysterious things around the New Cross area? I'm trying to find some out myself!

Sally said...

Fascinating indeed!

This story reminds me of my uncle who, as a boy, used to paddle an old wardrobe as a boat down the estuary at home; one day it got lost in the sand and mud - and we joke that many thousands of years from now, that boat could turn up and historians might just suppose that Cornish people had oblong boats.

The history of London Bridge also has me in awe.

In anticipation of the story of the time machine....

clerkenwell kid said...

Hey Sally if you like London Bridge, there is a really great book devoted to it by Patricia Pierce "Old London Bridge".

Also 'Cross River Traffic' by Chris Roberts for all of the bridges

Jonathan, New Cross is a bit out of my patch but you might want to trace the route of the lost River Peck (it;s still there actually - but buried). You can often find references in street names and see where the land dips.

Jane - You;re right - it must have been the mud that preserved them but I fear that the exposure of this wood (which actually feels now like rock) will mean that it will disappear in time.

By the way, sorry if comments don't appear for a while sometimes. The moderation filter catches them occasionally (I couldn't tell you why) and I forget to check

Sally said...

Cool, thank you, I'll check those titles out :-)

spillyjane said...

I suppose it's too much to hope for that the stumps are properly petrified.

What a treat to be able to spend time in the company of ancient structures like this and to muse upon their age and purpose...this is a topic near to my heart as I have a couple of degrees in Ancient Dead People Studies (or as some call it, "Classics,") specializing in archaeology and religion.

Martijn said...

Ooh, I'm looking forward to seeing some London lore about Wells' time machine, whether about the book or actual findings (although their existence remains doubtful for now to me).

Sally said...

I'm undecided re: time travel - theories seem plausible - and possibilities are varied, e.g. how many of us dream or see things before they happen?

Jane, you are so lucky to have been able to study the things that you love; I am an artist, thanks to my father, who is a fabulous artist - and amateur archaeologist - we had the richest life excavating digs in Cornwall, with some finds now in museums, but were always so poor I was encouraged away from art - so my degrees are in science and business administration - my finances are great but it's just not me - the shoes are really pinchy!

clerkenwell kid said...

Well archaeology seems like an art form to me - you need a lot of imagination - particularly in London where the traces are pretty hidden.

For instance the contemporary city is several metres higher than the Roman one - if they could time travel and see us, we'd be walking in air.

Sally said...

Heheh! You're right.

Of course, your blog, and other TRTW and Antique Beat productions go a long way towards satisfying cravings for all things artistic.

Adam said...

This is a fascinating blog. It's easy to see why psychogeographers appreciate London so much!