MAD ABOUT MUDLARKING
Some years ago a friend invited me to join her for a day’s mudlarking on the River Thames in London. I quite liked the idea, so I got my day licence from the Port of London Authority and off we went.
I was hooked immediately. There was so much to find! I picked up just about every piece of metal and pottery I saw and drove my friend mad asking her what they were. It didn’t matter if what I’d picked up was a Tudor nail, a shrapnel shard from the Second World War, one of the garnets that you find on certain places along the foreshore, a decorated clay pipe or just a unidentifiable lump of rust – to me it was all treasure.
I applied for my full licence from the PLA and I was off. I don’t live in London and that limited my visiting time, but I went mudlarking at every available opportunity. It took me a while to ‘get my eye in’ – to learn to blot out the mud and rubble and pebbles and focus on the shapes and colours of things that had been dumped or dropped there. Over time I learned to identify the places where treasure is most likely to lurk.
I made some laughable mistakes. I remember nearly breaking my back lugging home a boulder with some remnants of red and blue paint on it. I was imagining some miraculous survival from a demolished Tudor palace. I took some photos and sent them to a friend who is an expert at all things mudlark-related. His response? ‘Kate, you nutter, it’s a rock that some kids have daubed some paint onto. Maybe about 6 months ago.’ Oh dear.
But I have found treasure too – the top of an ancient ring; bullets from both world wars; a glass eye; a brass statue of Krishna; a piece of a Roman mosaic floor, still bonded by gritty cement, full of ground up pots. When I hold that in my hands and think about the people who laid it two thousand years ago, I’m thrilled. I’m touching history. I’m reaching back in time, and someone from that time is stretching their hand out to touch mine.
Lockdown came and I couldn’t get into London. But I live next to an estuarine beach and somewhere nearby there must have been a Victorian dump, full of rubbish barged out of London in the 19th century, because I started to notice all the bits of old pottery and glass bottles and other debris that were washed up with each new tide. My sanity was saved!
I can’t wait for the Covid crisis to end. I want to get back to visiting schools, where I show my treasures and use them to inspire creative writing. I want to find more inspiration for the Mudlark Mysteries, the series of books I’m currently working on. Above all, I want to put on my wellies and protective gloves and get back to the foreshore of the dear old Thames and see what else the river will gift to me.