Niki Gorick has been following the Thames Discovery Programme as they unearth the history of the Thames.
What really lurks beneath the swirling, muddy waters of the Thames? Thanks to squelching along 8 different low-tide foreshores to photograph ‘Thames Discovery’ archaeologists, I now know: layer upon layer of London’s maritime and social history, rapidly being eroded by tides and the powerful wakes of hydrofoil ferries. Tantalising glimpses of London’s previous life as a major port and shipbuilding centre can be seen whenever the tide goes out. From the Tudor/Stuart jetty of the Palace of Placentia at Greenwich, to the royal shipyards at Deptford and the vast slipways used to launch Brunel’s Great Eastern at Millwall, fascinating remnants of over 5 centuries of history are laid bare in a constantly shifting layout.
But this is transient and vulnerable archaeology. Tasked with surveying the whole foreshore, the ‘Thames Discovery Programme’ (TDP) archaeologists have gathered together an enthusiastic band of trained volunteers to help them record and promote this largely ignored part of London. Time is the enemy — they only have about 2 hours either side of low tide to explore and do their calculations before mud and water cover it all up again; plus the pace of erosion is speeding up. The Thames is a mighty river and each tide wears away at the foreshore but the churning wakes of hydrofoils are now adding to this destruction.
I would highly recommend that you grab your wellies and go and see this unique history with the TDP team before it’s all swept away downriver forever. As a photographer who has specialised in capturing London for many years, it was extraordinary to discover a whole new viewpoint on the city and its history. I'm always interested in how Londoners interact with their cityscape, and photographing the TDP at their muddy best on the Thames foreshore was certainly a fascinating experience. Go on one of TDP’s excellent walks, or better still join up as a volunteer – as the saying goes: ‘Time and tide wait for no man’.
A selection of my photographs from this project will be shown during the 'Maritime Lecture Series' from 1st September to 6th October - it will be a great introduction to the TDP's work and the layers of Thames history they reveal.
Tel: 077477 96362