River Thames ‘mudlarks’ flock to comb its shores for treasures

Britain’s rivers, particularly the River Thames, have long been the site of “mudlarking,” an 18th-century scavenging profession turned modern pastime that involves looking for ownerless objects that have been lost, discarded, or displaced. Amid the pandemic, mudlarking has become an escape from the monotony of lockdowns and the peril of crowds – in addition as a window onto the past and a break from urban life.

The Port of London Authority, which issues mudlarking permits for people to hunt for archaeological objects along the Thames foreshore, has seen numbers increase considerably during the pandemic. Last year the PLA issued 1,363 permits, up from an already 1,000 in 2019 and double the number issued in 2018.

Why We Wrote This

For some Londoners, poking around the shores of the River Thames for lost artifacts, aka mudlarking, isn’t just a pastime. It’s a way to escape the hustle of urban life and relieve the tensions of the pandemic.

Lara Maiklem has amassed a global following as a mudlark, with some 175,000 followers across social media keeping track of her latest finds on the shores of the Thames. Silver rings, Roman coins, and particles of pottery dating back to the Iron Age are among some of the shared items found. They are usually particles thrown away by Londoners of the past, she says.

“I kept going back to the river and every time I seemed to find something different,” says Ms. Maiklem. “It just became my go-to place to escape.”

London

It was almost 20 years ago when, waiting for a delayed friend, Lara Maiklem found herself by the River Thames at low tide. Stepping off a set of creaky wooden steps onto the muddy shore, she found the discarded, disused stem of a clay pipe.

Little did she know that her moment of curiosity would spark into an obsession for “mudlarking,” an 18th-century scavenging profession turned modern pastime that involves looking for ownerless objects that have been lost, discarded, or displaced, often by a beach or by the side of a river.

While Ms. Maiklem was unable to find in London’s parks the solitude she had enjoyed on the farm of her youth, she found it in London’s river. In that “ribbon of peacefulness cutting by the city,” she says, she would regularly look for a treasure-trove of objects retelling the history of London. In doing so, she quenched her thirst for peace.

Why We Wrote This

For some Londoners, poking around the shores of the River Thames for lost artifacts, aka mudlarking, isn’t just a pastime. It’s a way to escape the hustle of urban life and relieve the tensions of the pandemic.

“I kept going back to the river and every time I seemed to find something different,” says Ms. Maiklem. “It’s thoroughly addictive because it’s like a great lucky dip, you just don’t know what you’re going to find next or what the tide will wash up. It just became my go-to place to escape.”

And during the pandemic, mudlarking has become that much more important for Londoners looking to escape the monotony of lockdowns and the peril of crowds. It provides a window on the past and a break from urban life.



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