05 September, 2011

There's Treasure Everywhere

This Saturday I did one of my favorite activities that London has to offer.  I went mudlarking.  In the 19th century mudlarks were classified with pirates and thieves (Henry Mayhew, London Labour & London Poor, 1861).  Today there is no such taboo and it's a lovely day out.

Mudlarking is trawling the banks of the Thames at low tide and collecting the bits and remnants that you find there.  The first time that I did this was a little over a year ago.  I went equipped with my wellies on my feet and a bunch of bags to carry off the loot.  We had checked the tide table so as to arrive just before low tide to have as much time as possible on the river bank.  Descending a set of concrete stairs to the west of Cannon Street station I walked out onto the rocky riverbed into a different world.  The terrain begins with some sand and a lot of rocks and masonry.  From there I began to notice the animal bones.  It started with leg joints and then I spotted halves of lower jaws, teeth and all.  Quickly bypassing those I began to train my eyes to notice the treasure I was really after.  Spots of bright blue, white and green among the rocks appeared on closer inspection to be shards of broken pottery!  This was what I was after!  At the end of that trip I laboriously went home with two plastic bags full of pottery shards, a small slab of marble and a small slab of glass that I turned into trivets, a ceramic dish that I now use as a salt cellar and a figurine of a soldier who is missing his head and feet.  And how could I forget the masonry!  I also dragged home a carved white brick to use as a door stop and a mystery stone that may or may not have fluting carved into it.  I use that to hold my mail at home.  The other prize find of the day was my friend Greg's figurine.  Also missing some of its head and feet we couldn't tell if it was a sheep or a poodle.  So we called it a sheedle.  Or a poop.

I took my finds home and after soaking them in 5 litres of boiling water and then dousing them in baby-bottle sanitizer I decided they had been de-Thames-ed.  I laid them out on a towel and admired everything.  There was a shard of a plate showing a bishop performing a baptism, some birds flying over a garden and a hunting scene, as well as innumerable scraps of fretwork patterns.  I can't begin to describe how pleased I was with all the junk I had found!

This weekend I brought a friend mudlarking who had never been down to this part of the river bank before.  We had only been there a few minutes when she began telling me enthusiastically that we needed to do this again.  And she was right.  I had to stop an hour and a half later when I had so much broken glass that the weight, not the sharp edges, was ripping the bags they were in to shreds.  My mission became collecting glass as soon as I started finding the bottoms of really thick glass wine bottles.  I can't guess whether they are historical or modern, though I don't think I've seen bottles that thick in the wine aisle at the shop.  Some are made of opaque glass and some have varying degrees of iridescence growing on them.  They are beautiful!  To see more hard-core mudlarking follow this link.  Greg and I actually bumped into this man on my first mudlarking trek.
One of the bottles I found.  It looked much more iridescent than mucky in real life.

London has so many free and weird things to do!  Mudlarking is a uniquely London experience made possible by the tidal Thames, the warehouses that once lined the river where merchants delivered their goods from overseas and the historic use of the river as a dumping ground.  If trawling the river bank isn't your thing or you don't think your wellies are up for the job, there are countless other free ways to discover London.  Just think of something you love and search it out.  There are loads of free museums and parks that are ripe for exploring and you never know what you'll come across.  As Calvin (or Hobbes) said, there's treasure everywhere.



  1. i like this post! and i want to go mudlarking. :)

  2. that sounds really cool. Can I go next time?
    <3 Cat