Hidden Thames Treasures Revealed
In New Exhibition
-Pictures Revealed For First Time-
WITCH BOTTLES, TO WARD OFF EVIL INTENTIONS
WORLD WAR TWO BOTTLE TOPS
ANTI AIRCRAFT SHELLS
30 August 2007: Fragments from the Foreshore, a striking
exhibition of contemporary photography of ancient and modern objects found
on the foreshore the River Thames providing vivid snapshots into our past
is on display at the River & Rowing Museum, Henley on Thames, www.rrm.co.uk.
The exhibition continues until 4 November 2007.
Roman figures and roof tiles, medieval clay pipes through to World War
Two bottle tops and anti-aircraft shells are just some of the 1,000 objects
presented in themed photographs, taken by artist Michael O'Reilly. O'Reilly
collected over 4,000 fragments during 15 years of kayaking along the Thames
and this is the first time the photographs have been displayed.
The pictures provide vivid and unexpected glimpses back into every day
life along the Thames, ancient beliefs and the river's historical role
as a dumping ground. They also powerfully illustrate how rubbish discarded,
no matter how long ago, is retained in the environment and returned to
us as evidence of past lives and actions. Example pictures include [images
||A Fragment of a 'Bellarmine' jar, a type of alcohol
filled vessel imported from Germany and sometimes used as witch bottles
to ward off evil intentions of a supposed witch. Urine, nail clippings
and bits of hair were mixed in the jug and heated up. This was meant
to cause the boiling of the witch's blood and water. The bottle would
then be buried under the threshold of the victim's house, or cast
into the nearest river. Pins, iron nails and fabric hearts could also
be added. Bellarmine jars were imported between the 1500s and 1600s
and named to ridicule Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621) who was widely
disliked in Northern Europe for his persecution of Protestants and
opposition to alcohol. The jars bear distinctive faces on their necks,
meant to represent a burgher (German civic) dignitary and symbolise
||A cattle bone toothbrush which would have contained
coarse bristles from the neck of a boar is just one of the objects
in the 'buttons and bones' photograph. The boar bristles would have
been pulled through holes in the bone handle and secured by wire -
Nylon bristles were only introduced in 1938. The brush, together with
copper boat nails, a Victorian lead soldier, porcelain doll's legs,
washing pegs (made and sold by poor East End families following the
decline of the weaving industry in 1700) provide a colourful cross-section
of everyday objects discarded or lost in the Thames.
||A graceful picture of the clay pipes captures the country's
smoking habits from 1558 when tobacco was first introduced into the
UK. By 1650 there were at least a 1,000 pipe makers in London alone.
Their round shape helps enables them to roll in the water protecting
them from the ebb and flow of the tide. Some still bear the maker's
decoration from Royal crowns and coats of arms, to decorations of
thistles, roses and hoofs. At low water O'Reilly can hear the water
tinkling and chiming on the pipes before he sees them. Some can be
found in perfect condition, protected by the Thames' mud and silt
since they were thrown away or lost over 200 years ago.
Other photographs display objects as diverse as rubber glovers, a 1950s
hot water bottle, fragments of French and British china, old bottle tops
and workings from Greenwich Power Station.
The photographs have a powerful aesthetic quality and often directly reflect
the colour of a specific stretch of Thames from which the items are sourced.
The powerful force of the river is also visible. Clay roof tiles, once
large and heavy, appear like red pendants, worn and smoothed.
Unusual for contemporary photographs, they are presented with two detailed
captions to enable the viewer to see the picture in two very different
ways. O'Reilly gives the artistic impression and his reasons for themeing
the objects in the picture to form a visual statement, while Netty Rawlings,
River & Museum, Exhibition Curator, provides the historical background
to the objects and how they would have been used.
O'Reilly collected the majority of his fragments on the foreshore of the
tidal Thames between Gravesend and Richmond. He has composed and photographed
the objects using natural light to bring out the colours, textures and
patterns of the fragments.
Michael O'Reilly, artist, said: "The Thames is liquid history',
said John Burns an MP in 1929. This statement is powerfully true. I kayak
along the river to explore and understand what the Thames really means
to the urban and rural communities it passes through.
"My interest is driven by the excitement of discovery and finding
items that inspire me. I am fascinated by the frequency with which certain
kinds of objects keep appearing, for example clay roof tiles can often
be found in one location and have turned the foreshore a rusty red colour
as they are slowly broken down by the river."
Netty Rawlings, River & Rowing Museum Curator said:
"The photographs in Fragments from the Foreshore act as striking
and colourful windows into ancient and modern lives along the Thames.
These fragments of rare, or every day items, bring communities to life
- from brushing one's teeth to roofing a house - all aspects of living
are displayed in the images."
Fragments of the Foreshore is on show at the River & Rowing Museum
until 4 November 2007. The Museum has four galleries with exhibitions
for adults and children, as well as a terrace café, shop, a dedicated
events programme and full time education centre with programmes for adults
and children. Full details can be found at: www.rrm.co.uk
Example images with descriptions
A wide selection of high resolution images for publication including
caption details can be downloaded from: http://www.kallaway.co.uk/rrm-picture-library3.asp
Kallaway Limited (www.kallaway.co.uk)
T: +44 (0)20 7221 7883
T: +44 (0)20 7221 7883
The River and Rowing Museum media centre, with all press release and a wide
selection of images for download can be found at: http://www.kallaway.co.uk/rrm.htm
Notes to Editors and Public Information
The River & Rowing Museum attracts over 90,000 visitors a year and celebrates
The past, present and
future of the River Thames;
The historic riverside
community of Henley on Thames;
The international sport
These themes are explored through a wide variety of exhibitions and events
across four galleries and special exhibitions. One the Museum's major success
has been The Wind in the Willows exhibition which recreates the timeless
E H Shepard illustrations from Kenneth Grahame's famous novel.
Since opening in August 1998 the Museum has received numerous awards for
its design and architecture, including the National Heritage/NPI Museum
of the Year award. The River & Rowing Museum is part of the Thames Valley
Museums Group (TVMG) Family Friendly initiative - a scheme which brings
together 29 museums across Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, to
promote their popular appeal to the whole family
The River & Rowing Museum,
Henley on Thames,
Tel. 01491 415600.
||The museum, terrace café and shop is open every
day from 10am - 5.30pm in summer and 10am - 5pm in the winter
||Paid for tickets are valid for re-entry to the museum
for 12 months
||Admission for The Wind in the Willows including the
£7 for adults,
£5 for children and
£6 for senior citizens and concessions
||Admission for the Museum Galleries:
£3.50 for adults,
£2.50 for children and
£3 for senior citizens and concessions
||Free parking for visitors