Jan 4, 2011

'Mudlarks' on the banks of London's River Thames.

Look at these guys of whom I just learned about. They call themselves Mudlarks, and what a mudlark is, according to Wikipedia, is someone who scavenges in river mud for items of value, especially in London during the late 18th and 19th centuries [...]. More recently, metal-detectorists searching the foreshore for historic artefacts have described themselves as "mudlarks". 

The Daily Mail published this article (a very interesting one on the occasion of the finding of the only known complete ball, chain and lock that was found in the banks of the Thames and that you can see in the picture to your left) in which they say that mudlarks are history enthusiasts, some of whom have been likened to amateur archaeologists, have special permits to search and dig the foreshore from the Port of London Authority. Digging on the north side of the Thames between Westminster in central London and Wapping in the east of the city is strictly prohibited because it is so rich in archaeological deposits.
There are only 51 'official' mudlarks who have achieved this recognised status -- through the Society of Thames Mudlarks -- by recording their finds through institutions like the Museum of London. Many have become experts in periods of English history through the many thousands of historical artefacts they unearth.

Well, I was just taking a look at the blog Spitalfields Life, and this entry strongly caught my eye. In it, the blog's author interviews Steve Brooker, the man with the ball, chain and lock in the picture. During the interview, Brooker shows us some of the objects from his personal collection that he has found during seventeen years of scouring the bed of the Thames, including a knuckle guard from a medieval gauntlet, a renaissance rapier handle or a clay pipe from 1600. 

It's fascinating to see the hard work that these people do to find these pieces of history, and one can only imagine the amounts of time that they spend on the banks of the Thames and the effort that they put digging into the mud. 
If you feel like looking a little more into what they do, they have a couple of websites worth seeing, where they show many of their findings: 

I found the amount of things that can be found in the banks of London's river really surprising, as well as how enthusiast these people are on what they do. You can also read these two articles, one from the Daily Mail, and another from The Guardian, on the finding of the ball and chain. They give a little insight on how it could end there... the lock is fastened, so it was probably locked to someone when it fell... What happened to the prisoner?

The BBC made this interview with them which is absorbing as well:

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