Monday, May 03, 2010


click photo to enlarge
On a couple of recent visits to London I've done a bit of "mudlarking". For centuries the banks of River Thames, when they are revealed by the tide, have attracted "mud larks"; people who have scavenged in the mud, sand and shingle for whatever they could find. In Victorian times it might have been scrap metal, stone, bricks, timber for re-use or for the fire, lost money - in fact anything of interest or that could be sold. Today people look for historical artefacts as well as more recent items of use or value. In 1980 the Society of Thames Mudlarks was founded with the express purpose of unearthing archaeological objects and making them known to the Museum of London. Over 200 items have been given to the Museum so far including jewellery, Tudor bricks, clay pipes and coins.

My mudlarking was much more casual - no metal detector or other high-tech aid - only my eyes and a spare half hour or so. Nonetheless we have found quite a few pieces of Victorian clay pipes (the smoker's variety) and a brick marked with the Star of David not unlike this one. The design on the brick marked it out as one made by P. & S. Wood of the Pump House Brickworks, West Bromwich, a firm active in the nineteenth century, who sold their wares over a wide area of the country.

One of the difficulties in mudlarking is the constituent materials of the bed of the Thames. The mud is very sticky, with regular areas of firm (but also sticky) clay. Banks of sand and pebble are easier, and it's these we searched. However, the ducks of the river have no problems with the mud, or with the modern detritus that finds its way into the water. Near the area where we had been looking I came upon these mallards - a male and female - going about their business regardless of the fact that their immediate habitat was a topless 40 gallon drum, a discarded and discoloured plastic road cone, and a piece of driftwood. In fact the female's head regularly disappeared under the water in the expectation that she would find food there. And who knows, perhaps she did!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/2000
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On