The Passage of Time and a Face From the Past

Whilst in London last weekend I took the opportunity to visit the magnificent Queenhithe Dock Heritage Timeline mosaic produced by the Southbank Mosaics team along the eastern wall of the Queenhithe Dock. DSCF5690 Whilst I had seen photos of sections of the mosaic, to see it in its entirety, all 30 metres of it was truly spectacular set in the narrow passageway above the historic dock!

The timeline is the result of historical research and mosaic making volunteer groups from all walks of life led by Southbank Mosaics team, using the indirect mosaic method.

For someone like me who has only produced one small sized mosaic, the sheer number of hours of work which the teams must have put in and the detailing was simply amazing. DSCF5689 Beginning with the Roman invasion, it charts London’s history as a timeline.

DSCF5691 I particularly liked the different types of fish, fauna and plant life all presumably once found in and around the Thames and perhaps making a comeback today…DSCF5692The border surrounding the mosaic appropriately incorporates finds from the Thames foreshore, shells, tiles, clay pipe stems and pottery sherdsDSCF5694 DSCF5695 DSCF5693 DSCF5696 Even the rats look cute! DSCF5697 Dick Whittington seems to be protecting his cat from a dog! DSCF5698 Commemorating skating on the Thames in the last Frost Fair when winters were harsher than they are today! DSCF5699 Glad to see the London saxifrage flower, immortalised in song by Noel Coward, gets a mention! DSCF5700 Given today’s London skyline it is hard to believe that the first skyscraper was built in only 1979! DSCF5701The timeline finally brings us right up to the present day with wind turbines harvesting power out on the river as a grey seal waves us farewell!

This artwork is truly a tour de force and it is well worth a detour off the Thames Path walkway into the passage above the dock to admire it and learn more of the capital’s history.

To see a video of the volunteers mudlarking for finds to include in the mosaic, open my main blog site and click the link.

To see a video of the installation of the mosaic open my main blog site and click the link.

As the tide had just gone out, I couldn’t be this close to the foreshore without a quick look so I had a quick ten minutes mudlarking foray under the Millennium Bridge. Almost  straight away I noticed an “eye” peeping out of the sand at me!

Could this be part of the face of a Bellarmine Jar also known as a Bartmann Jug which were used as storage for food, wine and transporting goods in the 16th and 17th centuries? Brushing away the sand… indeed it was…and a very nice little fragment too with complete eyes and nose! IMG_1935 I met up with a lady who was today enjoying her first ever search on the foreshore, talking with a very experienced mudlarker who was helping to interpret her finds. This gentleman also confirmed my identification of the Bellarmine “face” and explained how the jugs had come by their name.

Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) was a Roman Catholic Cardinal and leader of the Counter Reformation. He was much loathed by Protestants in England, the Low Countries and Germany who ridiculed him by putting his face on their storage jars.


These containers were used for storing all manner of goods including mercury as well as alcohol which is appropriate given Cardinal Bellarmine’s anti alcohol stance! Protestants often used these vessels then smashed them deliberately before throwing them into the river. Their alternative name “Bartmann Jug” comes from the German for Bearded Man and may derive from the wild man image often appearing in European folklore.


A still life painted by Georg Flegel in 1635 shows the Bellarmine jug in daily household use.

These stoneware bottles, jars or jugs were made in Frechen near Cologne in the 16th century and have a dark grey clay body with an iron-rich, brown surface and salt-glaze treatment producing a characteristic mottled ‘tiger’ glaze. The significance of these jugs lives on today in the City of Frechen’s coat of arms.


Possibly due to their sinister faces some of these jugs were used as “Witches Bottles” in the 16th and 17th centuries as a type of counter magic.The jugs would be filled with pins, nails, stones and sand and then urine and hair and nail clippings were added before the jug was sealed up. It was then buried in the furthest corners of a property or beneath a hearth in order to ward off bad luck and evil spirits!

As I had planned to visit the Museum of London the following day I had to take a look at their ceramics section and what did I find displayed in a beautifully lit glass cabinet? IMG_1903 A complete Bellarmine Jar or Bartmann Jug!

It never ceases to amaze me that a chance find from a ten minute mudlark can open up a whole new world of research and interest. The next challenge is how to display my find as to me it is too fascinating to languish in a box!

About Anne Guy

I am a garden designer living and working in rural Worcestershire For more information and to see examples of my work see
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Passage of Time and a Face From the Past

  1. Allison says:

    What a charming epistle! Love the mosaic, and the thought of you paddling in the mud!

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Nan Quick says:

    The jar manufacturers of the 21st century should revive the practice of casting faces of current politicians–be they admired or loathed– onto their vessels. Think, then, of the entertaining rubbish that would find its way into our landfill sites….all potential Treasure for the Mudlarkers and
    Dump-Scavangers of the future!

  3. Dave says:

    Fantastic mudlarking find. I have walked along the same stretch a number of times, but have not found anything as good. Lots of interesting remains of the old wooden jetties there as well. A really interesting stretch of the river.

  4. Barry West says:

    Those Mosaics are amazing. Thanks for the another insight into Old London Town.

  5. Ian & Mary says:

    The mosaic looks well worth a visit and is clearly a wonderful potted version of London river history. We particularly liked the frost fair skaters and the greylag geese!.

  6. Hilary says:

    Your blogs always educate me and teach me things about my home city that I never knew. I am getting such a list of things to do and see on my visits to London. Well done on finding the belllarmine jug fragment . . . and recognising it for what it was. Thank you Anne.

  7. Nick Madeley says:

    Amazing bit of research into the Bellarmine Jugs. Thanks for another wonderful insight to the hidden joys of London!

  8. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Fabulous mosaics, they make me wish I lived nearer to London – but only for a moment, I know how incredible lucky I am to live where I live!

  9. What a beautiful mosaic – something else I haven’t seen in London. London really is an extraordinary City – every time I cross the Thames I find myself thinking ‘Wow! I am in a city which is over 2,000 years old!’

  10. Maria Grazia Ballerano says:

    Amazing piece, thank you. Just one question: can you freely go mudlarking on London shores?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s