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thames discovery programme foreshore factsheet number four

Jetties and wharves

Jetties are timber platforms extending into the river, usually from a wharf or quay. They provided access to vessels moored alongside, usually at higher tides. They performed a similar function to causeways. Jetties may also be known as piers and marked as such on maps.



Parallel timbers of eroded jetty, note the similarity to the revetting timbers of a causeway; recording the timbers of a typically eroded wharf; plan (upper) and elevation (lower) of wharf timbers at Billingsgate showing the timber uprights, vertically set revetment planks, and horizontal tie-backs.

Form and materials Historically jetties were constructed from timber, although more recent examples may be of concrete or steel. Jetties were built using wooden piles driven into the foreshore, with any further structure of timber, and a walkway usually of planks. Jetties are occasionally infilled with stone. The timber used for the piles was often softwood or immature hardwood. Historic jetties have usually been badly damaged and eroded, with only the stumps of the timbers protruding from the foreshore. Jetties may also have been dismantled or demolished to make way for later replacements on the same site. There may be signs of demolition on the surviving timbers, for example saw marks from cutting the piles down. When badly eroded, jetties may be confused other eroded rectangular structures such as causeways or drains. Fragmentary jetties may also be confused with dolphins -a type of structure that was not attached to dry land. Jetties normally extend out from a wharf, and may be associated with landing stages (used to access vessels at lower tides). Jetties may have been public landing or mooring places, or private and associated with a particular industry or buildings –a jetty on Chiswick Eyot may be related to loading osiers harvested on the island. In the City timber 'bridges' (pontes) extended into the river from the ends of many thoroughfares. These were used for waste disposal, drawing water and laundering, although craft may have also moored there. These 'bridges' were public jetties projecting into the river rather than actual bridges spanning the river. Wharves are platforms on the side of the river that vessels moored alongside during the loading and unloading of cargo, usually during higher tides. The best examples of Thames wharves have been excavated on archaeological site in the City and Southwark, where complex sequences of timber and stone wharf revetments have been found dating from the Roman to post-medieval periods. Good, if eroded, examples can be found on the foreshore however, and these complement the excavated examples, especially in areas where excavation is unlikely or impossible. Wharves usually survive either as rows of eroded timbers parallel to the shore, as existing structures still in use, fossilised within later river defences, or as partially demolished structures. Wharves normally consisted of a timber revetment, either piled or built directly on the foreshore, and sometimes of fairly sophisticated design, They may incorporate other features like drains. The area

Recording issues: What material is the structure made of? How was it constructed? Is a jetty integral to its wharf? How much care was taken in its construction? Has it been repaired or extended? Are there later or earlier phases or structures? Is there any evidence for demolition: sawmarks or axemarks on the tops of timbers? Can you uncover the entire plan of the structure? How far does any jetty extend into the river? Is there any evidence for a landing stage at the river-endof the jetty? Are there any associated features nearby? Crane-bases? Mooring posts? Dolphins? Hards or bargebeds? Is there any evidence for any dumps of material behind a wharf revetment? These could be confused with a bargebed. Is the structure shown on historic maps or illustrations and drawings of the area?? Can you use these to date structures/activity? Are there any related place-names or structures shown on maps? How does the structure relate to property boundaries and roads shown on historic maps?

behind the revetment was infilled creating a new, raised area reclaimed from the river. The amount of land reclaimed with each revetment varied: in the City large areas were reclaimed on a piecemeal basis and the river narrowed considerably, in other areas the wharves were more localised and reclamation was not the main function. Wharves served two main functions: the wharf was a purpose-made platform for loading and unloading vessels direct from dry land without the need to carry cargo over the foreshore. In order to create an accessible platform the wharf reclaimed land from the river, including the working area of the wharf itself, and the vessel could then be moored alongside at high tides. Wharves also acted as a river defence, protecting the dry land from erosion from the Thames By the post-medieval period extensive wharves had developed along much of the metropolitan Thames, usually privately developed for cargo. Later wharves were often associated with cranes, used to lift cargo out of and into vessels. Crane bases may survive on the wharf, or adjacent to it. Local studies Extensive wharves were built alongside the Thames in the City and Southwark from the medieval period onwards, but wharves and jetties are also found all along the river serving settlements, palaces and industry. Wharves and jetties are often shown on historic maps and on illustrations of river views; associated buildings and structures may also be shown and named such as breweries, warehouses, cranes or mooring dolphins, this can provide useful dating evidence for later structures. The wharf name itself may give an indication of its function, such as Old Ferry Wharf and Timber Wharf, or the owner such as Chancellor’s Wharf in Hammersmith. Search for photos of jetties and wharves at the Thames Discovery Programme Flickr page:

this factsheet has been generously funded by the Barbara Whatmore Trust © thames discovery programme 2010