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. 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. Beginning with the Roman invasion, it charts London’s history as a timeline.
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…The border surrounding the mosaic appropriately incorporates finds from the Thames foreshore, shells, tiles, clay pipe stems and pottery sherds Even the rats look cute! Dick Whittington seems to be protecting his cat from a dog! Commemorating skating on the Thames in the last Frost Fair when winters were harsher than they are today! Glad to see the London saxifrage flower, immortalised in song by Noel Coward, gets a mention! Given today’s London skyline it is hard to believe that the first skyscraper was built in only 1979! The 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! 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? 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!