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Short Story: British Pottery Shards

Jan 8, 2013

by Hooler30

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Here at Etsy, we believe that the story behind an object is often just as fascinating as the object itself. Short Stories is our series dedicated to telling the tales behind extraordinary pieces found or created by Etsy sellers.
Gary collects fragments of pottery from the banks of the river Thames for his shop, British Pottery Shards. Here’s his meditation on the stories that surface with each little piece.
When I see a shard of pottery, I often think to myself, “Who ate off that?” Before I know it, I am transported to a wealthy Victorian family’s dining room, sharing dinner with them on the plate that I just found on the river foreshore. Another shard, and I am whisked away to the table of a Roman family living alongside the river, missing home.
I used to think I was slightly mad to think like this, but the pieces of pottery I find are so wonderfully colorful and vivacious, rich with a social history that sparks the imagination. What magpie could resist losing himself in the romance of it all?


After pondering the ins and out of Victorian family dynamics, I take my leave (the tide is coming in), pull my stuck wellies out of the mud, and wander over to have a closer look at a beautiful piece of a medieval beer jug. Maybe I will have more fun in a medieval tavern then the last house I visited …
Ain’t got much time though, as time and tide waits for…not this man.
All photos by British Pottery Shards.

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3 Featured Comments

  • memckeen said 6 years ago Featured

    I'm delighted to see someone else feels the fascination with those pottery shards I find at the beach! I treasure them more than any shell I find because they are my direct link to the past.

  • thewomensrepublic said 6 years ago Featured

    This appeals to me as an anthropology nerd and really you are a bit of an underwater archaeologist sans the diving! I love the desire present here, to preserve and learn from those little pieces of the past. Alot of what was waste tells archaeologists so much about a culture -this sort of garbology is fundamental and your eye for the beauty in them is simply wonderful. Happy hunting!

  • patspottery said 6 years ago Featured

    When I make my pottery and send it out, I sometimes wonder if pieces will surface thousands of years from now, and people will wonder about the one who made it!

76 comments

  • MissLucyA said 6 years ago

    It's not just you, I think those things too! Happy hunting :)

  • MegansMenagerie said 6 years ago

    What a great story! Finding treasures that have washed up from the ocean has always fascinated me. I too wonder about the story behind it. We are taking a trip this weekend to see the Titanic exhibit in PA. Its going to be incredible to see all the pieces lost and found.

  • memckeen said 6 years ago Featured

    I'm delighted to see someone else feels the fascination with those pottery shards I find at the beach! I treasure them more than any shell I find because they are my direct link to the past.

  • StacieFamilyTree said 6 years ago

    I love this history.

  • EdelweissPost said 6 years ago

    This brings me back to memories of old men scanning the beaches and parks of my childhood with their metal detectors, contraptions I was sure where magic. The idea of finding long lost valuables beneath the soil captures my imagination to this day.

  • hasincla said 6 years ago

    I love making up stories about things I find! It makes me wonder what stories people will make up when they find a shard of a Tim Hortons cup many centuries from now...

  • ArtDecoDame said 6 years ago

    Back stories make an item THAT much more interesting.I think that is one of the many reasons I love vintage so much!It is not just an item but an item with history.And things that wash ashore?Well,there just has to be an interesting back story.

  • expressyourself said 6 years ago

    Great story!

  • ZorroPlateado said 6 years ago

    Interesting story! Thanks for sharing with us!

  • mattyhandmadecrafts said 6 years ago

    Delightful!

  • beachyrustica said 6 years ago

    Very cool! :)

  • accentonvintage said 6 years ago

    Wonderful!

  • PinesVintageClothing said 6 years ago

    Great post! I'm glad someone is scavenging to save history for us!

  • ArigigiPixel said 6 years ago

    Nice story!

  • amysfunkyfibers said 6 years ago

    Very cool....lots you could make with these beautiful pieces of history!

  • AlisaDesign said 6 years ago

    Awesome!

  • lkmccray said 6 years ago

    These shards remind me of a story I wrote about farmhouse archeology, when professors and students conducted a dig on the site of a century-old farmhouse. Fnding a pottery shard made their long, hot day worthwhile and the place they found the most interesting bits was where an outhouse used to be...apparently that's where folks discarded unusable items in days gone by. Not nearly as romantic as finding shards along the ocean's shore, but just as rewarding.

  • murraynag said 6 years ago

    Its wonderful that the River Thames can deliver up such treasures!

  • KMalinka said 6 years ago

    Very interesting story!

  • ThreeBarDGifts said 6 years ago

    I loved reading this! I have found several arrowheads in a plowed field along the Red River and wish they could speak to me! Thank you for sharing this story!

  • daniglamour said 6 years ago

    I've been inspired by pottery shards such as these...even have made some seapottery jewelry because of it!! Thanks for sharing!!!

  • solocosmo said 6 years ago

    I have a small collection of pottery shards from Glass Beach in CA and I can't wait to work them into my tiling in my house somehow!

  • Rt9NJvintageFun said 6 years ago

    Love this story, every outing is an adventure. Having been fortunate to grow up on the Atlantic Ocean coast, I have been a sea glass collector forever. There is something about finding a marked piece of sea glass or ceramic shard from china thrown overboard years ago from an ocean liner. Enjoy the river Thames what a wonderful resource!

  • auntjanecan said 6 years ago

    Interesting and beautiful!

  • lapetiteposy said 6 years ago

    Wow- interesting pieces!

  • lovelygifts said 6 years ago

    Very interesting and so true. I love to imagine the story or the people behind an ancient object or place.

  • byDelirium said 6 years ago

    So beautiful!!

  • LivingVintage said 6 years ago

    Fascinating objects!

  • MaruMaru said 6 years ago

    I remember hearing about Lucille Ball's necklace was washed upon shore when she was sad and threw it in the ocean after her separation from Desi Arnez, I wonder what happened to it!

  • ThePolkadotMagpie said 6 years ago

    I agree "what magpie could resist these?" :>

  • HandmadeHandsome said 6 years ago

    Beautiful story.

  • kgpaintings said 6 years ago

    Beautiful first photo, especially. I like how time "rounds" the sharp edges of things. Some people I know, too, have mellowed over the years. :)

  • envision1prosper2 said 6 years ago

    This is a wonderful read...and ohhh so familiar. I find I like to make stories fo everything I come in contact with throughout my day! Bits and peices of SOMEONE's memories.... i just love love love your shop!!!

  • DanielHensley said 6 years ago

    These are really cool. The whole shop has some really neat things. I love little treasures from the past.

  • irinisklavounou said 6 years ago

    It has always fascinated me how fragile ceramic ware is by nature. It doesn't bounce well and sooner or later most of it gets broken, but then the shards are so resilient that eventually they are all that gets left to be found hundreds and sometimes thousands of years later to mark a place where people were once going about their domestic lives.

  • lmouer said 6 years ago

    Great story! Thanks for sharing!

  • Parachute425 said 6 years ago

    Fascinating - thanks for sharing. Makes me think of my aunt who, when we go antiquing, bemoans the fact that she threw a house full of dishes and pottery down an old well before moving during the 50s. Perhaps someone is digging through that find and wondering about her.

  • valeriephoto said 6 years ago

    Really cool. I read not long ago that they're constantly finding Roman artifacts in the banks of the Thames. It's amazing that everyday objects have survived for that long in a bustling urban environment!

  • thebibliophile said 6 years ago

    What an awesome niche shop, I live near the Thames and see people searching the banks, but never thought of pottery as being something that could be found there! Good luck with the shop!

  • phoebec said 6 years ago

    What a creative idea for a shop! I really love hunting for worn pottery shards on walks near my mom's house in southern France. You found some beautiful pieces.

  • RenFairePouches4You said 6 years ago

    That story of burying the jugs filled with urine and toe nail clippings was very interesting and Im sure it would ward off some sort of pixie, witch or mischievous spirit! Happy Hunting and Good luck!

  • FreakyPeas said 6 years ago

    What a great hobby to have...and you get to wear wellies!

  • truecolorprints said 6 years ago

    Interesting story!

  • lauraprill said 6 years ago

    fascinating...

  • mazedasastoat said 6 years ago

    Shortly after moving in to our property, which is a converted barn standing in an old orchard, I found the midden for the 17c farmhouse that originally owned the land. What a treasure trove of ancient goodies! Pottery, glass, axe heads, worn horseshoes, broken tools... 400 years of stuff they'd broken & thrown away! I've made a huge mosaic planter with some of the pottery shards, we have horseshoes over every door & I treasure the rest even though as yet I haven't found a use for it. It really makes me feel connected to everyone who's lived here in the past... & it's also very tempting to bury all my old & broken pottery so future generations can have the same thrill I had!

  • StayArtisan said 6 years ago

    Great story, thanks

  • nativestrandsjewelry said 6 years ago

    Interesting read. Thanks for sharing!

  • Iammie said 6 years ago

    Love it!

  • Hooler30 said 6 years ago

    Thank you everyone for your kind and very encouraging comments and purchases. I will shortly be adding new stuff so keep an eye on this one. If there is anyone out there that can offer me any new possible sites locally and in the South East especially East Anglia general please feel free to email me, Cheers. Gary

  • thewomensrepublic said 6 years ago Featured

    This appeals to me as an anthropology nerd and really you are a bit of an underwater archaeologist sans the diving! I love the desire present here, to preserve and learn from those little pieces of the past. Alot of what was waste tells archaeologists so much about a culture -this sort of garbology is fundamental and your eye for the beauty in them is simply wonderful. Happy hunting!

  • GracefullyGirly said 6 years ago

    How incredibly fabulous!!! I have been caught up in the same sort of ponderings when visiting historic places in the US (that's where I live). I have backpacked through slot canyons in Arizona and Utah where ancient Anasazi Indians lived and have found complete dwellings and villages seemingly untouched except for whatever even led to the complete shattering of every pot and ceramic item in sight. They have millions of shards of pottery left behind. I can't help but wonder what it was like to live there and then leave there with such precious possessions shattered. It is the most amazing experience to find something made by someone so long ago and dream up the lives they must have lead. Thanks for sharing!

  • LoveButtons said 6 years ago

    Fascinating article - a lovely glimpse into the past. I think that our lawn is on top of an old rubbish dump, because we have a mole that often leaves tiny bits of glass and pottery on top if its mole hills! I will have to start studying them more closely.

  • LostInTheValley said 6 years ago

    Oh, I love old pottery shards! I'm always searching near old foundations to find them! They are so beautiful in their own way!

  • Stefanikland said 6 years ago

    I was once a historical archaeologist and love to see these sherds and recognize not only what the whole object once looked like, but where in the world it was produced. They may have all been found in England, but they did not all start out there. The krug fragments are fabulous!

  • LittleWrenPottery said 6 years ago

    I often find shards of pottery when digging over my garden, I too often wonder the same thing about who owned it and how it came to be just shards in the garden...

  • aressa said 6 years ago

    Love it! How wonderful it would be to be able to collect items like these. I know what you mean about your mind wondering who ate off the dishes....I love dishes and inherited a few sets from my grandmother.... They were old when she had them. I often wonder who originally owned them....and I go on from there!

  • Stratfieldworkshop said 6 years ago

    Love these pottery shards. I found some beautiful ones years ago in Italy and I have always treasured them. I use them in my garden along with shells for a ground cover.

  • QueenofCuffs said 6 years ago

    What beauties !!

  • Yarns said 6 years ago

    A life before our own. Such gems!

  • ScrapHappyLyrebird said 6 years ago

    I am so thrilled to see this! I studied ceramic analysis in grad school and I can assure you, you are not mad for indulging in a romantic and nostalgic daydream about their origins!

  • patspottery said 6 years ago Featured

    When I make my pottery and send it out, I sometimes wonder if pieces will surface thousands of years from now, and people will wonder about the one who made it!

  • sillylittlesheep said 6 years ago

    I love collecting things like this! I once got whole pockets full of pieces of pottery from a stream with a ceramics factory nearby. it was awesome, However, I still prefer to hunt on the seaside, seaglass and all that :) But finding pieces of medieval beer jug ... wonderful!!

  • destroymodernart said 6 years ago

    There is loads of willow pattern shards sticking out of the ground in my local parks in West London... always wanted to dig them out but get kinda embarrassed. I'd love to know how they got there...

  • Motleycouture said 6 years ago

    Treasure hunting is always so exciting! I also love when the shards are made into works of art.

  • BlissfulLife1 said 6 years ago

    I couldn't help but smile as I read this post. I am so glad to see that you share my same fondness of savoring the moment, and drifting away into the world of imagination after stumbling upon something beautiful and historic. It is very refreshing.

  • butikonline83 said 6 years ago

    I can see that you are putting a lots of efforts into your blog. Keep posting the good work.Some really helpful information in there. Bookmarked. Nice to see your site. Thanks!

  • CarolynsStampStore said 6 years ago

    Really cool, I like to pick up pottery shards from sandbars on rivers, from wrecked buildings and even in my garden where I've found lots. They're from the 1950s, I still enjoy that even though they're not that old. The oldest pieces I've found are Native American shell tempered pottery. Here is a table top I made with some of the 1950s pieces - http://pinterest.com/pin/17521886022262273/

  • StarTribe said 6 years ago

    When I was a kid, my Dad (who is a junk lover) taught me that before the days of dumps, people would bury their rubbish under the back step or at the bottom of the garden. I took up the hobby of wandering the back lanes in our home town, scraping at the embankments and uncovering 19th century garbage. (I think I was the only kid in school who wanted to grow up to be a rubbish dump owner!) Since then, uncovering this stuff has fascinated me, and when I visited London 2 years ago I spent the happiest of afternoons wandering the Thames foreshore, amazed at the sheer scale of history's detritus. To hear the clinking of hundreds of years of pottery shards and clay pipe stems as they're washed on the tide...well, to cut a long story short, I am insanely jealous that you're able to do this on a regular basis. To be a mudlark is my dream job.

  • Snowdon said 6 years ago

    Love those things! also those great bits of shimmered glass you find at the beach that have been worn by the sea, magical!

  • WoodsyWools said 6 years ago

    wonderful story!

  • edwardsandlace said 6 years ago

    Love the article...

  • Octavi said 6 years ago

    Great article - nice to see something local and archaeological!

  • paintingjoy said 6 years ago

    very interesting!

  • RealfaerySupplies said 6 years ago

    Loved to read about it. Used to live at the seaside and loved to look for these tiny pieces:)

  • youngfolk1314 said 6 years ago

    love this article!

  • misspoppys1 said 6 years ago

    Very interesting! My childhood home was built on land previously used by the local workhouse in the 19th century, we were for ever digging up interesting shards as well as clay pipes used for smoking by the inhabitants, as a child I always wondered what the stories behind the items were! Glad to see that I wasnt alone....

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