A new history of an old city and its people, told through the objects found along the banks of the River Thames by the London Mudlark.
Mudlark /‘mAdla;k / n. & V. L18. [F. MUD n.1 + LARK n.1] A person who scavenges for usable debris in the mud of a river or harbour.
For thousands of years human beings have been losing their possessions and dumping their rubbish in the River Thames, making it the longest and most varied archaeological site in the world.
Lara Maiklem has trekked miles along the banks of the Thames, scouring the shores for over fifteen years in pursuit of the objects that the river unearths: these objects tell her about London and its lost ways of life. Where others only see the detritus of city life, expert mudlarker Maiklem unearths evidence of England’s captivating history, with some objects dating back as far as 43 AD, when London was an outpost of the Roman Empire, up to present day. A mudlarker can expect to find Neolithic flints, Roman hair pins, medieval buckles, Tudor buttons, Georgian clay pipes and Victorian toys.
“It’s the tides that make mudlarking in London so unique. For just a few hours each day, the river gives us access to its contents, which shift and change as the water ebbs and flows, to reveal the story of a city, its people and their relationship with a natural force. If the Seine in Paris were tidal it would no doubt provide a similar bounty and satisfy an army of Parisian mudlarks; when the non- tidal Amstel River in Amsterdam was recently drained to make way for a new train line, archaeologists recorded almost 700,000 objects, of just the sort we find in the Thames: buttons that burst off waistcoats long ago, the rings that slipped from fingers, buckles that are all that’s left of a shoe – the personal possessions of ordinary people, each small piece a key to another world and a direct link to long-forgotten lives. As I have discovered it is often the tiniest of objects that tell the greatest stories.” – Lara Maiklem
Lara Maiklem moved from her family’s farm to London in the 1990s and has been mudlarking along the River Thames for fifteen years. She now lives with her family on the Kent coast within easy reach of the river, which she visits as regularly as the tides permit. This is her first book.
To date, Lara has found three characters of the Doves Press font along the foreshore. Mudlarking has been set in this lost font throughout.
Photo of Lara Maiklem © Jonathan Ring