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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.

8 comments:

rama said...

Dear Cara, what a wonderful post. You know I had never heard of mudlarking before. Having come to your blog, I have learnt a new word/ term. Thanks for sharing.
Happy anniversary!
I trust you both had a wonderful time together, and I pray you are wonderfully united forever.

Cara Cooper said...

Hi Rama thank you for your good wishes. I'm sure you can find interesting things beside any big river throughout the world just by digging around in the mud. They really are repositories of the past. We had a lovely anniversary.

Chris Stovell said...

Happy anniversary Cara; it sounds as if you celebrated in style. I like the idea of mudlarking, but I'm not so sure I'd like the mud bit!

Cara Cooper said...

True, especially in the winter Chris and particularly as the Thames mud is particularly fine and dense, yeuggh!

Sarah Callejo said...

Happy Anniversary Cara.
Gosh, we complain about crisis from our comfortable sofas watching TV, but what those children had to go through can't compare to any of our problems.

Sophia Harrop said...

Hi Cara, I absolutely loved this post. When I lived in London I met a mudlark and actually went mudlarking with him a few times on the Thames foreshore - Wapping and St Catherine's dock were two of his favourite places. It's amazing what washes up, the Thames being a tidal river and all, new things being dislodged all the time! I have a plate of my "finds" in my kitchen on display, mostly broken pottery, but a very nice Medieval metal button too! Thanks for the tip about the programme coming on, I'll look out for it - but I do hope the Thames foreshore doesn't get tooo packed with treasure hunters. Mudlarking has been a well kept secret for so long now!

Cara Cooper said...

Absolutely Sarah although I suppose in many parts of the world, children are still raking up a living on waste dumps and similar hideous places - as they say, where there's muck there's brass. Sophia - you must be the first person I've met apart from the nice man running the stall who's tried mudlarking. I am determined to have a go. When at the RNA conference in Greenwich I got up at crack of dawn one day and wandered on to the foreshore in front of the naval college. I was so tempted to have a go then but with only a pair of flipflops and no spade it didn't seem like a good idea! I know some of the serious ones go down feet and feet, but they have to have a different licence for that.

Haddock said...

Thats a great collection especially the old pipe.