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Oh, to be a mudlark on the Thames foreshore, and find a priceless Richard III artefact….

As Ricardians, we know only too well that moment when we were first inspired by Richard III’s story. It just happens, out of nowhere, and remains forever as strong as that first second.

The thought of becoming a detectorist and finding something exciting from Richard’s time is enticing, but (to me) what is even more specifically enticing is the thought of finding something on the Thames foreshore in London. Of being a mudlark! It must be an absolutely gripping, always exciting obsession, and sometimes wonderful things have been found.

Finds can be everyday items….

But sometimes they can be unimaginably priceless….

Liz Anderson is just such a mudlark, and has a website that tells all about her passion. https://amudlarksdiary.com/blog/ I have taken the liberty of copying her account of the first moment she was inspired to become a mudlark:-

“I first ventured onto the Thames Foreshore at Southbank in the heart of London a few years ago. In those early days you didn’t need a permit to search, there were far fewer restrictions, not quite as many mudlarks, a few detectorists here and there, and you were free to search by eye and take home the bits of pottery and other fragments of the past that you were fortunate to find. I was going through a difficult time professionally, not in the best of health with two frozen shoulders plus work-related stress, and feeling very anxious about my future. I was actually on my way to a difficult meeting but was early so leant against the embankment wall near the Oxo Tower at Gabriel’s Wharf and watched the comings and goings on my beloved Thames.

“It was winter, the river was slate grey as was the sky, the wind was whipping up the waves while gulls screeched and wheeled above a barge carrying large, yellow containers heading downstream to the Thames Estuary. I could see the tide was going out and realised that I was only vaguely aware of the movement of the river. I’m a born and bred Londoner, passionate about London’s history, its bridges and buildings, and had been photographing them and other famous London landmarks for nearly thirty years. I was also a history graduate and history teacher for much of my professional life but that particular day, looking down on the river, realised I knew next to nothing about it or its inter-tidal zone (the stretch of the river from Teddington Lock to the Isle of Sheppey) that twice a day rolled back like a liquid carpet revealing the most unique archaeological site in the world, the Thames Foreshore. It’s quite magical when you learn something new about your home city, the greatest city in the world.

“I noticed a man walking at the water’s edge, wrapped up against the winter chill, walking, stooping, eyes on the gravel, searching for something, and wondered what he was doing. He stopped to pick up what looked like a pipe of some sort, examined it carefully and put it in his rucksack. I wondered if he was an archaeologist and was intrigued. I wanted to know more. So I walked down the Oxo Tower steps onto the sand and gravel below and went over to talk to him. He was, of course, a mudlark. He explained that mudlarks search the river at low tide for objects of historical interest such as clay pipes, pottery, coins, tokens, lead cloth seals and other artefacts. I was instantly hooked and knew I had to learn more. I wanted to be a Thames Mudlark, discover the stories of Londoners long since gone and hear their voices live again through the things they’d left behind in the river.

As I made my way off the foreshore my trainers brushed against what looked like a thick piece of pottery lying in some Thames mud. I picked it up and turned it over and saw this beautiful thing (see photo below); a fragment of a 17th century Delft-style, tin-glaze charger (plate), blue on white colour with a crudely drawn fern and foliage. It was free-style, a bit slapdash and utterly glorious.  I’d made my first mudlarking find. As I looked at it I realised that the last person to have touched this lived over three hundred and fifty years ago. Who was this individual? A Londoner? A careless servant? A high-status merchant? Was this a fragment of pottery from Pickleherring or one of the other many Southwark pothouses that proliferated on the Thames in the 17th and 18th centuries? Perhaps a bespoke order for a wealthy trader and his family, or a design that had gone wrong in either the firing or the glazing. Whatever, the colours were as intense the day I’d found it as the day it ended up in the river and I knew that there was no going back for me. I was a mudlark now and that was that.”

We know how she felt. Right?

Liz Anderson on the Thames Foreshore

{pingback to July 26}

And the Thames is not the only London river to give up its secrets to licenced mudlarks. The Walbrook, too, has been investigated, as this shows. 

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