Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Mudlarking on the Thames
My (new) husband and I celebrated our first anniversary by staying at the hotel we stayed in on our wedding night, the Grange City Hotel next to the Tower of London. Purely by chance that weekend is when they always hold the Thames Festival. It's great fun and a wonderful way of celebrating the Thames. I absolutely love the river. For our wedding reception, we took a Thames barge from Tower Hill down to Greenwich. During the Thames festival, there are stalls all the way down the South bank and they close one of the bridges, lay it up with clothed tables and have a massive open air picnic. One of the most interesting stalls was one set up by a guy who goes mudlarking. In the past, mudlarks, mainly young children would make a pathetic living raking over the mud at low tide to find anything they could sell. Rivets from the boatmaking at Limehouse to sell to scrap metal dealers, canvas and rope and even fat thrown overboard by ships cooks could all make a farthing or a halpenny. These poor destitute children would work in rags through the bitterest winters scraping a paltry living, and the mud on the Thames still tells a million stories and still makes a living for some. The guy we met digs up bits of china, old clay pipes and makes pictures of them so that people can own their own small bit of history. In the picture above you can see odd white china figures like ghostly corpses which I thought were dolls. In fact, they were some of the first 'promotional' items given away with soap powder. He has also used one of the commonest finds on the river, pins (you can see them scattered over bits of old clay pipes) which were made by children and used to fix elaborate clothing throughout the ages. Apparently, an Elizabeth neck ruff could take a thousand pins to fix into place. There will soon be a TV series made about mudlarking and then the banks of the Thames will be heaving. So if you want to get there now, while it's relatively quiet and find your own piece of history, all you need is a licence from the Port of London Authority which costs around £40 for three years.