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An Ancient Bottle in the River Thames

Three old bottles that Nicola White has found on the River Thames

Muck Boot UK admin |

An Ancient Bottle thrown in the River Thames sees the light of day for the first time in over 300 years!

One of my most recent and prized Thames mudlarking finds sits next to me here at home on a chest of drawers. It is an almost perfect example of an early 18th century mini onion bottle with just a few chips to the string rim of the neck.  It dates to circa 1720 and you can see a glorious rainbow-coloured iridescence on the dark green glass when the sun shines on it through the window.

An 18th century mini onion bottle washed up on the River Thames shoreline

It’s not in the slightest bit symmetrical but it’s absolutely beautiful. It measures just 12cm high and would have held a large glass of wine or several swigs of brandy. As always, I love to imagine who might have last held it and drank from it. One thing is for certain though, the person who disposed of it after draining the last dregs of whatever it contained, would never have imagined the joy it would give to the person finding it centuries later.

The 18th Century bottle on top of a wet rock

I remember the day I found it well, because in actual fact I almost didn’t go mudlarking that day. I had originally arranged to meet a friend to go larking in a completely different place. She had to cancel though and so I decided to go somewhere else on my own. I almost didn’t make it. It started to pour with rain and the traffic was appalling and so I very nearly turned around. When I finally arrived and made my way onto the wet and windy foreshore, there were several mudlarks scouring the mud and I didn’t feel particularly hopeful of finding anything at all. How wrong I was.

When I stooped down to examine a piece of decorated clay tobacco pipe stem, I noticed a curve of glass just emerging from the mud. As I probed around it, I fully expected it to be a broken base, but it soon became clear that there was a whole lot more of it under the surface. I was in disbelief when I felt the neck. I gently dislodged it and there it was, an almost entirely perfect little onion bottle, emerging into a world so vastly different to when it was tossed away. I wanted to share the excitement with someone and so shouted over to the nearest mudlark to where I was. Luckily, he was there to capture the joy on camera (Thank you Alessio!).

Nicola White holding the 18th Century bottle whilst crouched down on the muddy shoreline, wearing a pair of Muck Boots

It’s undoubtedly these magical moments that keep us from returning to the Thames at low tide time after time. I felt so extraordinarily lucky to be holding this bottle ; a precious piece of London’s history. I like to think that before it was consigned to the mud, it was in the company of a sailor who travelled to far flung places and witnessed some intriguing 18th century conversations! It now joins two other very old bottles I have found in the Thames previously. Between them they could certainly tell some tales!

About Tideline Art

Meet Nicola White, mudlark and creator of Tideline Art. Nicola regularly posts videos to her YouTube channel, showcasing her incredible treasures and finds. Over the course of the next 12 months, Nicola will be sharing her fascinating stories and finds with us on the Muck Boot blog!

When I first moved to London over twenty years ago from Cornwall, I had no idea that the River Thames would open up such a fascinating and magical world, and that when the tide went out, its muddy banks would reveal to me a wealth of historical secrets and characters from the past. I was used to beachcombing on windswept beaches in Cornwall, but it never occurred to me that something similar might be possible in an urban setting such as London.

More on Mudlarking
Stories from the River Thames
A Rare Tudor Coin

Related Product
Muck Boot Arctic Sport

Portable Antiquities Scheme database
Thames Mudlarking Permits
Nicola White YouTube channel