Found in the Back Yard

By Judy Aitken, Curator

When I moved a few years ago the house was in a very bad condition.  Most of the heavy work was clearing a path to the house, because it was sodden, broken up and in a pretty poor state.  Having moved 4 tons of soil by hand (Ok wheelbarrow) we can actually get in now and the place is drier. But there’s a long way to go.  We found layers and layers of broken stuff chucked by the decades of tenants before us.  We saved these bits to clean and use for decoration or because we just liked them.  In the wood behind the house there’s whole heap of broken toys but as we’ve enclosed the back yard this is not as accessible right now.  Still, we also tidied up the wood as well as our patch.

In olden times people threw fewer things away but also these things were more biodegradable.  But bones, glass, pottery and clay, some metal and even fabrics survive for several hundred years depending on the soil, even for thousands of years. Most homes would have had what in Scotland we called the “midden” where broken things were thrown.  I don’t think the word is exclusive to Scotland but the midden survived in both use and language until the 1970s. 

Bottles and what might possibly be a parasol handle in the foreground

The white thing in front may be a handle of a parasol. It is made of a sort of early plastic type material but is solid and quite heavy.  It could be gutta percha, an early form of very solid rubber which was often used for handles. Bone was also used for handles but it doesn’t feel like that.

All the best bits

We also dug up lots of other bits and pieces but this is what we kept.

Pelvic bone from an animal

I am not an expert on bones but this is either a badger or fox pelvic bone.

Torpedo bottle

A torpedo bottle is a glass bottle shaped like a long cylinder.  Carbonated drinks such as Lemonade bottles in the mid 19th century did not have seals to keep the fizz in, only corks which were not always successful at doing this as they dried out and let air in and also CO2 (the thing which gives it fizz) out. This occurred especially if the bottle was upright as there was a small air gap at the top.  If you laid the bottle on its side the cork kept wet and kept the seal intact.  The torpedo shape meant you couldn’t accidentally leave it upright and lose the fizz.  The shape was no longer needed after proper bottle sealing was invented.

Leg

This mysterious disembodied leg is some kind of metal.  It could be zinc. I have a lot of things made from iron at home and in the museum collection and it doesn’t look much like iron underneath.  It has a rough surface which could be deliberate or might have corroded over time. 

Shells

Shells are not unusual in back gardens all over an island like ours.  I am near the sea and the house used to be on the quay side before the land was all filled in and the estuary diverted further out to the Thames.

Old Spice bottle

Old Spice was originally called Early American Old Spice and was developed in America in 1937, originally for women. Old Spice for men was launched in 1938.  The branding idea is about evoking the colonial feel and so sailing ships and the word spice is used to nod to adventure on the seas, exploration and the exotic trade.  Romantic if you were not on the receiving end of this colonialisation. The original company was the Shulton company but Procter and Gamble bought the product from Shulton in the 1990s.  Old Spice was very popular in the 1970s and the fragrance market for men was also growing, with items such as Brut.   Old Spice is regarded as a bit old fashioned now but has seen a retro resurgence.

What is a pickle jar from Peckham doing miles from London?

I found this pickle jar in the stream running near my house (really an open ditch, let’s not get too romantic although it does have eels and little fish and the odd shrew).

Peckham was famous for its pickle manufacturers as was Bermondsey and though I haven’t tracked this manufacturer down yet it should be easy from the trade directories at the archives.

See what you can find outside

  •  Take care though when sifting through anything.
  • Ideally a pair of washing up or gardening gloves are always good to have to hand (pun intended) and a couple of little bags. 
  • Wash everything very carefully, ideally outside, before you handle them.  You never know what has been in those containers and bottles and things need a good scrub and a soak.  Normally we wouldn’t give museum objects a dunk in detergent but in this case we should make some exceptions!
  • Animal bones should not be directly handled and do no suffer cleaning very well.  Best to look and leave them.

The Walworth Heritage Action Zone (HAZ)

by Walworth Heritage Action Zone Project Manager, Stephanie Ostrich

Heritage Action Zones are a national initiative launched by Historic England in 2017 with the aim to unlock the power in England’s historic environment to create economic growth and improve quality of life in villages, towns and cities. Walworth has a hugely rich history and the Heritage Action Zone is an opportunity to celebrate the unique historic character of this urban village and has the potential to make greater use of its heritage to support the social, economic and environmental needs of the area. The Walworth HAZ was announced in November 2017 and was the first in inner London.

The Walworth Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) is a five-year partnership running until 2023, overseen by the London Borough of Southwark and Historic England. The project is largely funded with grants from Historic England and Southwark Council, with significant contributions from the Walworth Society. Other partners include Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Excavation Committee (SLAEC), Museum of London, Creation Trust, London South Bank University, Lendlease and Notting Hill Genesis.

The Walworth HAZ is an opportunity to deliver a variety of research, community, conservation and improvement projects with a single vision. The project aims to protect the special character and social vitality of Walworth, to proactively manage and enhance its unique heritage assets and put heritage at the heart of delivering sustainable growth. We will be working with local people and partners to breathe new life into old places that are rich in heritage and full of promise – unlocking their potential and making them more attractive to residents, businesses and tourists. Projects we will deliver include drafting management guidance and seeking funding to invest in improvements to historic buildings and public realm, participating in community exhibitions and events like the Walworth History Festival, running training workshops for community members and our partners, and establishing a South London Young Archaeologists Club.

In search of a ‘lost river’: walking the Earl’s Sluice from Walworth to Rotherhithe with the Walworth HAZ

by Walworth Heritage Action Zone Project Manager, Stephanie Ostrich

The Thames winds through the heart of London, fed by its many tributaries, streams and brooks. Though we cannot see many of these rivers today, they still flow beneath our homes, our streets, and our feet. They also leave tantalising traces on the surface that hint at the rushing ‘lost river’ below.

One such river is the Earl’s Sluice which runs from the heights of Ruskin Park to Rotherhithe and into the Thames. In July, the Walworth Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) and Southwark Council organised a guided walk of part of the Earl’s Sluice from Walworth Road/Camberwell Road to the Thames, based on the walk in Tom Bolton’s book London’s Lost Rivers: A Walkers Guide.

Our intrepid explorers began at the Camberwell Road entrance at Burgess Park: the former terminus of the old Grand Surrey Canal. The canal, built in the early 1800s, was a bustling hub of industry, moving goods from the factories and workshops of Walworth, Camberwell and Peckham to the docks at what is today Surrey Quays; it also ran parallel to the Earls’ Sluice and was our first clue on our search for our lost river. The canal was infilled in the 1970s, and now is highlighted by the straight path running through the centre of Burgess Park.

1. Burgess Park map

Figure 1. Burgess Park used to be a densely packed neighbourhood with housing and industrial buildings lining either side of the former Grand Surrey Canal. This modern map showing Burgess Park (in green) is overlain by a 1940s OS map. The Bridge to Nowhere in Burgess Park once crossed this canal. The Earl’s Sluice forms the parish boundary here. You can see hints of it in the oddly curved rear gardens of properties north of Albany Road. (© Layers of London)

The Earl’s Sluice once flowed as a river through the fields and marshes of south London; this natural feature made an excellent landmark and acted as a boundary along its length for several parishes and boroughs and was also the county boundary between Surrey and Kent. Another clue to its existence beneath our feet was found as we walked one street up, to Boundary Lane. Road names can be excellent clues to what once was here before.

2. Boundary Lane

Figure 2. The Earls’ Sluice once formed the boundary between several parishes and even counties. When the river was covered over, it became a street called Boundary Lane which is still the boundary between Camberwell and Walworth and the postcodes SE17 and SE5.

Up until the 18th century, when Walworth and the Old Kent Road were small villages surrounded by fields and orchards, the river flowed under a bridge at the Walworth Road/Camberwell Road here and turned east to the Thames. It then flowed under another bridge at Old Kent Road. This area was called ‘St Thomas a Watering,’ an important spot on the medieval pilgrimage route from Southwark to Canterbury, made in honour of Thomas a Becket.  It is also the first stop of the travellers in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales where they draw lots to decide who will tell the first tale on their journey, while their horses have a refreshing drink in the Earl’s Sluice. At a site near this spot stands a former pub and boxing hall called St Thomas a Becket – now a Vietnamese restaurant. The pub sign for St Thomas a Becket is still there, a memory of what was once here all those years ago.

3. Rocque 1761

Figure 3. Rocque’s map of 1761 shows bridges crossing the Earl’s sluice south of Walworth village and over the Old Kent Road at ‘St Thos Watering’s’

We walked east along Albany Road in search of more clues of the Earl’s Sluice. In the past, Londoners did not think about littering in the same way as we do today. An easy way of disposing of rubbish – and of poo – was to dump it into the nearby river which would wash it out to sea. Unfortunately years of this meant our rivers eventually became open sewers! By the 1830s and 40s much of the Earls’ Sluice was culverted – covered over with bricks – which was more sanitary and also meant the land could be used for building houses over it. In 1858, a very hot summer made the Thames, which was full of sewage, smell terrible! This became known as ‘The Big Stink’ and because of this, Victorian engineers like Joseph Bazelgette were hired to build large purpose-built sewers across London; this included our Earl’s Sluice, which because diverted into the Earl Main Sewer.

4. 1832

Figure 4. The Earl’s sluice is still open in 1832, running alongside Albany Road, in the bottom left corner of the map, (1832 Plan of London from the United Kingdom Newspaper)

5. 1840 map

Figure 5. By 1840, the Earl’s Sluice west of the Old Kent Road, under what is now the Aylesbury Estate, has disappeared underground (1840 Plan of London from the United Kingdom Newspaper 2nd ed)

So our poor Earls’ Sluice became a stinky sewer in the 19th century, but luckily for us the Victorian engineers left us some more clues to follow on our journey to the Thames. Large, green and functional, these stinkpipes jut out high above the street level and vent gas from the sewer below high into the air far away from our noses. As we walked along Albany Road, crossed Old Kent Road to Rolls Road, and turned onto Rotherhithe New Road and ventured to Surrey Quays we kept our eye out for this big green stinkpipes to make sure we were on the right track!

6. Stinkpipe

Figure 6. One of several tall green stinkpipes venting gases from the Earl’s Sluice and Earls Main Sewer which flows beneath them. This stinkpipe is on a busy junction at Rotherhithe New Road and there are many more along the Earls Main Sewer under Albany Road. These can be seen all over South London (photo © Walworth Society, Jeremy Leach)

The Earl’s Sluice eventually joins the river Peck (from which Peckham gets its name) in South Bermondsey. We followed it as it flows under Eugenia Road and Concorde Way, which is still a boundary between Southwark and Lewisham. At Oldfield Grove, we got a closer look at the Earl’s Sluice as it crosses over the railway line here in an unassuming pipe.

7. Pipe above ground

Figure 7. A glimpse of the Earl’s Sluice crossing the railway line in a pipe (photo © Walworth Society, Jeremy Leach)

At the end of Chilton Grove, we found the Earl Pumping Station, still helping to keep the Sluice and Earl Main Sewer flowing

We carefully ventured onto Plough Way, which was once known as Rogues Lane! Here off a side alley, we inspected two manhole covers. According to Tom Bolton, after rainy weather, you may hear the Earl’s Sluice rushing through the drains these cover.

9.-cover-e1567437508390.jpg

Figure 9. Another Earl’s sluice clue: two manhole covers showing where it still flows below out feet (photo © Walworth Society, Jeremy Leach)

10. 1761 map

Figure 10. In 1761, the Surrey Quays area was still open fields, with only one dock. The Earl’s Sluice ran next to Rogue Lane (now Plough Lane) flowing into the Thames near ‘The New Dock’

Our walk concluded at the South Dock, where the Earl’s Sluice meets the Thames. There is still a sewer outlet here on the foreshore of the Thames. Unfortunately we arrived at our destination 15 minutes before high tide so we could not inspect it ourselves. But it’s given us an excuse to return to the Earl’s Sluice in the future!

11. Thames

Figure 11. Where the Earl’s Sluice meets the Thames (photo © Walworth Society, Jeremy Leach)

Further reading:

London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide by Tom Bolton

londonslostrivers.com/earls-sluice

stinkpipes.blogspot.com

oldmapsonline.org

layersoflondon.org/map

Collection Creatives

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

The Collection Creatives meet at Canada Water Library every four weeks to hear the stories of objects from the Cuming Collection, brought by our Curator Judy Aitken, and respond creatively! Here are some of our outcomes from earlier in the year.

At the end of 2018 some of the Collection’s toys and games came to the library. We were especially intrigued by a ‘mutton bone doll’ collected by Edward Lovett. Children whose families couldn’t afford shop-bought dolls sometimes dressed up bones instead. They became very attached to them and Lovett approached a number of children before he found one who was willing to trade theirs with him. The girl who gave this doll to Lovett’s collection was offered a new ‘real’ doll in its place – but which was really more ‘real’?

2018 12 Toys and Games1

2018 12 Toys and Games2

In January we looked at artefacts related to tobacco, alcohol and other narcotics; including a snuff box, clay pipes and drinking vessels. This was a busy session but we only have a couple of pieces of work captured from it – if you were there and have sketches or note from the day, do send them to us to be included here!

2019 01 Narcotics

2019 01 Narcotics_2

February’s theme was jewellery, and the set included an emerald ring said to have been at one time a gift made by Charles I to his Gentleman of the Bedchamber Thomas Herbert, Victorian mourning jewellery, ‘Druidical’ beads marked as ancient (but we’re not sure…) and a necklace from Southern Africa which features a whistle said to charm away thunder.

2019 02 Jewellery

One of the jewellery pieces was a bronze ring found on the banks of the Thames, and in March we learned all about mudlarking – the riverside equivalent of beachcombing. In modern times this might be thought of as a recreational pursuit (albeit requiring a licence), but back in the 18th and 19th centuries children could be found scraping a meagre living from whatever they could find to sell in the mud – in what were dangerous and unpleasant conditions.

2019 03 Mudlarkers

And in April, to tie in with April Fools, our featured objects were all jokes and puzzles. The ‘Poisson d’Avril’ – April Fish – is a popular take on this in France. We have our own ‘Poisson d’Avril’ in France, which along with squirt rings, puzzle jugs and magic tricks inspired our Creatives in many different directions.

April Fools.png

 

April Fools_2

April Fools_3

April Fools_4

 

Collection Creatives

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

Collection Creatives is a new group meeting once a month at Canada Water Library, in the spirit of the Mystery Object Group.  At each meeting we hear the stories of a group of objects from the Cuming Collection from the Curator, Judy Aitken; with time given to respond creatively to the artifacts in writing, artwork, or however group members are inspired.

Tiger Skull

In our first meeting in September 2018, we focused on the skull of a tiger from the Royal Surrey Zoological Gardens  – as well as an image of a tiger at that zoo, being visited by Queen Victoria.

tiger 01tiger 02tiger 03tiger 04tiger 02 jean batestiger 03 maria sestini

tiger 04 alison clayburn

Egyptian amulets

In October, a selection of ancient Egyptian amulets was brought to the group, and we heard the stories of some of the beliefs associated with them, including the fact that some of them were believed to be the key to a safe passage to the afterlife, while others representing dangerous animals like snakes and hippos were also supposed to confer protection from those animals.

 

Scrimshaw

For the Illuminate Rotherhithe festival in November, we had a special evening session in which we learned about scrimshaw in the collection and the link to whaling hundreds of years ago in the local docks. Scrimshaw is whalebone which was often carved by sailors in quiet times between sightings of their prey. Herman Melville describes scrimshaw in Moby Dick as “Lively sketches of Whales and Whaling scenes, graven by the fishermen themselves on Sperm Whale teeth or ladies’ busks wrought out of the Right Whale bone and other Scrimshander articles.”

scrimshaw 04 wes violascrimshaw 01 janet dunning

scrimshaw 05 preetha leela chockalingam 1

scrimshaw 05 preetha leela chockalingam 2

by Preetha Leela Chockalingam

Scrimshaw 06 Peter LePetit

Collection Creatives meets next at Canada Water Library on Tuesday 22 January  2019, where we’ll be learning about some of the objects in the collection related to smoking and drinking! The group, which is free to join, welcomes anyone in the local area seeking creative inspiration, from beginners to professionals. And as you see, if you take part, your work could feature on the Southwark Heritage blog!

Roman Southwark

By Judy Aitken, Curator of the Cuming Museum

For more than 2000 years, Southwark has been a place of settlement, business and trade.  The Romans established a foothold on the south bank of the Thames shortly after establishing their city of Londinium on the north bank from around AD50.

This southern location, around present day Borough High Street, then grew into a major “suburb” feeding the new trade and travel routes to the South coast and thrived under nearly 400 years of Roman rule.  Sites and artefacts have been found all over Roman Southwark helping us to build a picture of this fascinating period.

Roman Cinerary chest lid (C15232)

The Cuming Museum has over 600 items of Romano British archaeology in its collections, some dating from the earliest days of archaeological excavation.  Early digs in Egypt tended to be focussed on excavating treasure for profit, rather than intellectual understanding and most found their way to traders.

Richard Cuming, the founder of the collection, would have purchased or traded for curios from these digs.  Henry Syer Cuming, his son, was much more interested in archaeology as a discipline.  But even so was keen to take items given to him by workmen who were themselves “excavating” London for new roads, embankments, tube tunnels and other developments.  Henry tended towards Roman British finds rather than Ancient Egypt and there are a large number of small, often personal artefacts from all over London.

The rest of the Cuming’s archaeology collections come from digs during the 20th century.  Professional archaeologists such as Kathleen Kenyon, who went on to make her name as one of the world’s foremost archaeologists in places such as Jordan, carried out extensive excavation of sites around Borough High Street.  Look out for a blog about her soon!

The Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Excavation Committee (SLAEC), which continues to this day, also carried out extensive excavations of sites.  Much of the material came to the Cuming Museum as the nearest place of repository.

However, in the late 20th century the main place of repository for archaeological excavation material was the Museum of London.  The Cuming’s collections still contain large amounts of material from Kenyon’s and SLAEC’s digs however, and we are working with Museum of London to review it all.

Roman Hunter God statue (C15236)

London Borough of Southwark still supervises major digs in the borough, along with professional archaeology companies such as Pre-Construct and Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) as the north of the borough in particular is rich in archaeological evidence.  Companies who want to build or alter premises have to have an archaeological survey carried out and if there are finds then work can be paused in order for archaeologists to record and preserve the sites and any material.

“Pots and Prayers” is a new free exhibition at Morley College, giving a glimpse of Southwark’s Roman story by showcasing from the collections of the Cuming Museum.

It will run from Wednesday 1 March to Wednesday 19 April 2017 and will be in the college’s main foyer.

Events during the exhibition run include talks, walks around Roman Southwark and creative workshops. Families will be able to make Roman mosaics, try a toga or create a Roman city.

While the exhibition only scratches the surface, you will be able to learn a lot more during Morley’s 10 week Roman London course, starting Wednesday 26 April 2017.