The title is a bit cheeky. This is not a piece about flooding (we will follow up on this aspect of dredging at a later stage.). But it is indeed about the value and benefit of dredging it. Please read on.
Malcolm Head was Dredging Master on the Thames for 44 years. You may have seen him speak on the news during the flooding last year. More recently Malcolm was our speaker at the Shepperton and Sunbury History Society. He started his talk with the cry “They stopped dredging the Thames! How could they do that?” He was not there to berate the EA that evening, however, but to show us part of his huge collection of treasures that he had found in the Thames during his regular dredging operations. It was quite fascinating and shows the history beneath our feet – surely much more to be unearthed yet.
The dredger has two large grabs, which scoop up 2.5 tons each time, which is deposited with a thud onto the barge before being broken into smaller parts. It is miraculous that so many of these finds are intact, but indeed they are. 1000 tons a day were dredged and sorted. Much of what was removed was in fact used in the construction of Penton Hook marina.
So what of these treasures? There was a huge array of bottles, jars and medicine bottles of all shapes and sizes. As well as showing that people have always been litter bugs, using the Thames as a giant dustbin, the bottles also showed how storage and transport of liquid had changed. Older bottles were bubble shaped which had to be stored on their side, meaning that the cork would be kept wet.
Malcolm had also amassed a huge collection of clay pipes (over 600 in fact) which he had eventually sold to a collector for a princely sum apparently. Amongst the more mundane and modern pieces he had brought to show us there were tiles and candle holders from Chertsey Abbey and Viking loom weights which were found below Chertsey lock. There were also thatch weights, giving us a glimpse into past industries and skills in the area.
Many old ink pots had been picked up by the dredger near Eton College. Nothing new in naughty school boys!
One of the most special pieces was a whey strainer dating back to the iron age. It was found with a heavy limescale coating which Malcolm had painstakingly removed. Local archaeologists were gobsmacked that he had a fully intact example as they had found only pieces of such an item.
These finds are not considered treasure trove, as coins and the like are , but what a nice job bonus not to mention a privileged look into our past.