Gemstones on the foreshore


A short time ago I was given several small, gleaming and slightly faceted garnets, which had been found recently on the foreshore of the river Thames by mudlarker Jason Sandy.

These semi-precious stones are deep red in colour, and resemble pomegranate seeds. Perhaps what is most mysterious and exciting about these particular stones is that they do not come from the UK originally. Sources for garnets are actually as far flung as Sri Lanka and the USA.

There have been hundreds of garnets found in the Thames so far, and it remains a mystery exactly how they got there or when they arrived.  We do know that London has had links across the globe through maritime endeavours for hundreds of years, and that since the middle ages at least, garnets have been used as jewellery. They also have abrasive qualities which means they may have had an alternative, industrial use.

Stories and theories abound. For example could a jewel thief have unwittingly dropped sacks of gemstones overboard, only to return at low tide and find them gone? Tricked by the river’s notorious currents. What about a tragic shipwreck, a sunken hoard or an early form of industrial waste? You can take your pick.

It feels rather exhilarating to hold these tiny clues to past lives, unearthed from the great river. They connect us to exploration, imperialism, adventure and trade; they are part of London’s history as a global city. The Thames contains porcelain from China, pottery from Germany, gemstones from Sri Lanka, the list goes on. It is certainly food for thought.

*Thanks to Jason Sandy for his donation and for a few theories mentioned above. Read more about his work here.

**Please only ever undertake mudlarking with the relevant licences and an experienced guide, find out more here.

***If you would like to donate a specimen to the museum please get in touch.


Wanted: A Shard of Unicorn Horn


Did anyone else notice the proliferation of unicorns this Christmas? Slippers, key rings, onesies and that sort of thing I mean, not the genuine article (Latin: Unicornus Mirabile), which I understand is in fact very rare indeed. However, since they are being so publicly recognised once again I became determined to acquire a shard of unicorn horn for my collection.

Having searched high and low, and googled it on several occasions, this task is proving to be quite difficult and hence this public appeal. If you are in possession of a such a thing, please do get in touch.


You are probably already aware, but a unicorn is an extremely rare creature. It is also extremely shy. They have a certain amount of personal magical ability, but the exact perimeters have been impossible to research in any methodical fashion. We shall have to content ourselves with a number of conjectures instead. The horn of a unicorn (unattached) however, is even rarer; owing to the fact that they are only shed and regrown once in a thousand years, and one must first obtain permission from the actual unicorn it used to belong to before it becomes possible to perceive, let alone distribute it. (I would like to add here that, though not technically made of stone the unicorn horn has a consistency very like glass.)

Nevertheless my endeavours continue, and I hope that someone reading this can find it in their heart to part with such a treasure.

Yours sincerely,
Director and Curator,

Rock bottom

Of all the things one could accumulate - a stone that has been up someone's bum would not be most people's first choice! But I came across this unexpected treasure not so long ago at Bart's Pathology Museum

With a gleeful grin on his face, the museum's Learning Manager Steve Moore explained further. Apparently this specimen was once the property of a sailor who found it difficult to urinate. Medicine had no easy answer to this conundrum in 1886, and so he took to pushing a bottle up his rectum to help alleviate himself. One day he couldn't find his bottle and so greased up this stone instead.

Unfortunately the stone then got lost and was only located by a doctor willing to insert his arm inside the unfortunate gentleman, up to his elbow!!! I am now starting to feel a little queasy are you? Anyway, the stone was eventually retrieved through abdominal surgery and the man recovered.

Let's all learn a lesson from this one! And if I could steal it for my museum I certainly would...