One of my new, but very intense, passions is mudlarking; something I only heard about a few years ago, and which I won't get to indulge very often, living on the wrong side of the pond from London, and lacking the funds to travel there often.
Mudlarking, in modern parlance, is the term for those who hunt in the mud of the Thames foreshore, for the fragments of history which can be found there. The term comes from the Victorian term for the very poor boys who used to scrounge in the Thames mud for coal and any other discarded or lost items of use or profit.
Last year, I found myself in London as a result of a family trip, which was my mother's wish, as part of my folks' 50th wedding anniversary. I decided to take a couple hours early one morning, at low tide, to try to find my way down to the Thames foreshore, to see if I could find any of the little bits of history I'd heard you could find.
The very first thing I found, when I found my way down cement stairs to the foreshore, was this blue Victorian glass ink bottle, shown here in it's dark and filthy state, full of greasy mud (sorry, the q-tip was my technique for extracting the gluey mud from the bottle). It was like a little "Welcome, yes, you're meant to be here!" from the Thames.
I cleaned it up, and voila. Here it is in it's cleaned glory. Beautiful iridescent patina from being in the River. Lovely grooves where you could like your pen. And best of all, buried in the glutinous mud inside the bottle, was this small pen nib, which had broken off it's pen, likely well over a century ago, has been in the bottle all this time.
In addition to the ink bottle, my hour and a half or less gleaned some clay pipe framents (stem and bowl fragments), some pretty pottery sherds (transfer ware, a stoneware bottle fragment (quite heavy), and a patterned piece of tile with yellow.Below are a few details: the bottom piece of a pipe showing a pretty leaf pattern heading up the bowl, and a particularly pretty piece of transferware.
In addition, because this was my first trip down, I felt I needed to pick up some emblematic London items, such as flint pieces, chalk, and a whelk.
Well, I was hooked. The exhilaration of history just LYING there, everywhere, underfoot, waiting to be picked up and held, and taken home, was phenomenal. To think I was holding things, daily things, which hadn't been used for a hundred years or three, was so exciting. I love museums ... but this was stuff I could hold, and touch.
So, of course, I decided I was going back the very next morning as well, bright and early. Particularly since it also dawned sunny and bright, like the day before. Unfortunately, I couldn't go down any more that trip, as it was near the end of the trip. However, having quickly found my eyes, I found lots that second morning!
A whole whack of pipe stems, some lovely pipe bowls, some pretty brown patterned yellow slipware, a piece of stoneware with an "orange-skin" texture, and some metal bits. I also was given a top piece of a Victorian stoneware bottle by a friendly mudlark chap I met on the foreshore, who had a shiny new license and had just dug it out.
Above are the pipebowls I found, showing a variety of time periods. Below, some details.
And now, I eagerly anticipate an upcoming trip to London this fall, in which I have a week to squander as I wish - which mostly means, mudlarking every single day. I have become quite obsessed. I read about mudlarking. I research what has been found there. I research the types of things found, so that I will be able to identify them better.
In addition to reading, I've also spent the intervening months getting my own license, which means I can dig down 3 inches in approved locations - mostly I wanted it so I can unearth half-buried pieces, as without it, one has to be "eyes only" - no tools. I've also been following some other mudlarkers online (Facebook and blogs). I've read up on all the rules & regulations, safety measure (common sense, really), and investigated maps and access points.
I've also been picking up supplies to bring with me - little ziploc bags, a trowel, rubber boots, disposable gloves, and a container I can clip to my bag to put finds in.
I can't wait. I'm addicted.
The River Thames, its spectacularly gluey mud, and history, await.