The mystery of the Thames Crosses!

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It was one of those ridiculously hot summer days when London feels like an oven. It sensible (and cooler) to wander down beside the Thames rather than above it so I walked along the Thames foreshore from Waterloo Bridge to the Founder’s Arms Pub, just beyond Blackfriars Bridge.

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The first cross I spotted

I noticed what looked like a cross attached to river embankment.  It was about 6 feet up and about 12 inches long. The metal had oxidized and rusted and there were some swirls and lines carved into the main part of the crucifix. I took a quick photo and was about to wander off again when a woman approached me. We got chatting and she said she was a mudlark who regularly patrols this part of the foreshore but she’d never noticed the cross before.

It was then I spotted another metal cruciform shape a few meters along, and then another and another. There was no indication of what they were, who had installed them or how long they’d been there. They were all a similar size and at a similar height. Some like those above had quite intricate detail evident when you look closely, When the tide is fully in I think they are submerged beneath the Thames.

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If you look closely you can see the detail of a man’s head near the top.

Between Waterloo and Blackfriars I saw about a dozen – some much more ornate than others, some obviously made from found objects – in one a scissors has been used to make part of the cross.

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A scissors

I was curious about why they were there, who had put them there, when they were placed there and why they’d were all in the shape of a cross. Someone (or group of people) has gone to a lot of trouble to make them and place them all along the foreshore.  Are memorials for people who had drowned, do they have particular religious symbolism? Surely Google would have an immediate answer. It seemed not. If they are memorials then it seems strange that nobody had publicised them, but there was nothing (or at least nothing I could find) so I took to Twitter.

Twitter gets a bad press, but when it works it’s wonderful. Over the course of the last few days I’ve had all sorts of lovely interactions with people who are just as interested in these as I am. Two people said that they’d spotted similar crosses at other parts of the foreshore – at Pimlico and Vauxhall (on opposite sides of the river). One of those near Pimlico looks as if it’s made from two teaspoons and a kebab skewer.

It was suggested that the ‘Secret Rivers’ exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands might have some information. If anyone does go and discovers something about these artworks do let me know.

I’ve had all sorts suggestions as to what they represent – perhaps they are memorials to people who drowned in the Thames, perhaps they’re some form of Pilgrim crosses, or memorials to those transported from Millbank Prison (where Tate Britain now stands). My friend Ciaran suggested it was the work of the Illuminati and the Vatican Mafia – I’m hoping he’s wrong, for if he’s not my days may be numbered!

They may well be memorials, but very often the point of a memorial is make sure someone is remembered so it’s unusual that there are no names. It’s possible that these are not related to each other, but I think there are too many similarities for that to be the case. Perhaps the person who made these is no longer alive and left no digital footprint. I really have no idea.

Several people has suggested that the crosses may be part of an public art project by Sebastian H-W who has led ‘Mudlark Walks: Flotstam Talismans’ (and is doing so again in September – if you are able to go along please do and see if the mystery can be solved!)

I’ve searched online and can’t find any examples of the talismans that are made in these workshops and the information on previous Mudlark Walks suggests that people can take home, return to the Thames or give away whatever they make. The crosses on the foreshore seem a more deliberate and organised display than this suggests, but who knows (someone I hope!) While the crosses seem made, at least in part, from found objects the detail in some suggest that a lot of time was spent planning and then executing them. If the work is being created by Sebastian H-W then it seems unlikely that it’s part of the Totally Thames events.

Thanks to everyone who has been in touch with information, suggestions and links. I’m glad it’s not jut me that’s fascinated by these fascinating artworks and if anyone can shed light on this mystery please let me know!

Maybe I’ll never discover why these crosses were made and installed. But it’s a reminder to keep looking around, a reminder to take my eyes off my phone and stop racing to get somewhere, a reminder that everywhere has something intriguing if I keep looking for it.

 

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