Mudlarking on the River Thames

What is a Mudlarking

The easiest way to describe Mudlarking on the River Thames is hunting for treasure and ancient artifacts in the oozy deep mud along the banks of the river. Whatever the weather, which is usually wet.

The Thames foreshore has always been a magnet for kids of all ages. So what is Mudlarking.

Mudlarking is the verb, of being a Mudlark. The act of searching for treasure. Whatever you define treasure to be. It can range from a 2000 year old Roman coin to the remains of an ancient Saxon fish trap.

Human settlements have been found along the Thames dating back 100's of 1000's of years.

In the old days before sanitation and refuse collection, everyone's garbage and waste was just thrown into the river.

Secondly countless items have been dropped, lost or deliberately placed in the river over the centuries.

From sacred artifacts dropped in to appease the river gods to the empty stumpy beer bottles of a German merchant men. The river is chock full of weird and wonderful stuff just waiting to be found.

Tower Bridge beach at Low Tide

Astonishingly the Tower of London has it's own  beach. © National Maritime Museum, London
Astonishingly the Tower of London has it's own beach. © National Maritime Museum, London | Source

Londinium. An ancient quayside appears at low tide

Ancient artifacts. Look carefully you will see the remnants of an earlier Roman Quayside by the waters edge.
Ancient artifacts. Look carefully you will see the remnants of an earlier Roman Quayside by the waters edge. | Source

Mudlarking is Archaeology

Archaeologists are always interested in where people throw their rubbish. These artifacts can give us an insight into their lives. There were also countless numbers of ships, that plied these waters, and lost cargo over the side.

You may find anything from ancient Roman relics, to 1000's of clay pipes, to more modern 500 kg parachute bombs from WWII.

You can Mudlark anywhere as long as you take precautions and get the right permissions. Obviously you will find more items in areas of high population densities, like adjacent to the centre of the City of London.

As a child growing up in London in the 50' and 60'. The Thames river and the canals leading off from it, was a playground for many of us kids.

The East End of London the scars of war are still visible

A Luftwaffe Bombers Eye View of my Local Fish & Chip Shop
A Luftwaffe Bombers Eye View of my Local Fish & Chip Shop | Source
Port of London.Ships had to queue up, the docks were so busy
Port of London.Ships had to queue up, the docks were so busy | Source
Let's Play? Where are we going to explore today. The bombed out buildings were great for adventures
Let's Play? Where are we going to explore today. The bombed out buildings were great for adventures | Source
Anyone for Cricket. Kids can ignore anything. Even the cComplete desolation around them didn't interfere with a good game of cricket
Anyone for Cricket. Kids can ignore anything. Even the cComplete desolation around them didn't interfere with a good game of cricket | Source

Walking the Thames: Safety First

During WWII the Germans bombed the living crap out of this part of London. (The docks). In an attempt to destroy the docks infrastructure, so that ships couldn't dock, and so starve the population of London.

At the beginning of the war. Britain was not self sufficient in foodstuff and imported huge amounts from overseas. These nightly raids by the Luftwaffe left there mark and quite a few artifacts. All of my friends, me included, had collections of spent bullet cartridges. Sometimes we would find unspent bullets.

These were great fun, for sticking in a fence post, lining up a nail on the firing cap and smacking the nail sharp with a hammer. The bang used to make us laugh and squeal, never a thought that this thing could kill or maim one of us, or someone else.

We never even looked at where the bullet was facing. Dumb kids I guess. To find these treasured items, we would wander down to the rivers foreshore and just aimlessly wander along, until the tide forced us to give up. We would spent hours finding all sorts of things.

From old horse harness's to old bits of broken china. I know now that the china was mostly the blue patterned stuff, actually from China. It was great for skimming across the river. The main thing that we tended to find though, were loads of these white china pipes.

We used to think, that they must have smoked line trains, back in those days, as they were everywhere. We would puff away in parody fashion. These pipes were sold everywhere in London, ready filled with tobacco. They were basically disposable smoking gear. The chuck away item of the period.

Safety Tips

Always make sure that you have that days Tides tables. The river can rise and fall 25 ft per tide and it is a very fast flowing river. You do not want to get caught on the foreshore with a rising tide.

Keep near the steps and in sight of your exit points to make sure you can exit safely. Weils disease or Leptospirosis, is found in the river but it is uncommon in terms of infection.

There is a vaccine, to treat the jaundice like symptoms, should you become infected.

Sunken hulks preserved by the river mud

Ships hulls can be preserved by the mud along the foreshore
Ships hulls can be preserved by the mud along the foreshore | Source

Codswallop bottles are a common find

Attributed to Hiram Codd, who invented a bottle for fizzy drinks (1875); the derivation remains unconfirmed. This bottle indeed has a glass ball inside the neck and a felt sealing ring. It is believe it to be much earlier than 1875.
Attributed to Hiram Codd, who invented a bottle for fizzy drinks (1875); the derivation remains unconfirmed. This bottle indeed has a glass ball inside the neck and a felt sealing ring. It is believe it to be much earlier than 1875. | Source

Treasures are Relative

You will find plenty of these pipes
You will find plenty of these pipes | Source
And a few of these
And a few of these | Source

Where is London exactly

In Southern England.
In Southern England. | Source
Map of the Thames the river runs from Southend on the east coast to Oxford the West Midlands
Map of the Thames the river runs from Southend on the east coast to Oxford the West Midlands | Source

The Museum of London

We would sometimes come across a sunken boat or old barge that was half submerged in the deep oozing alluvial mud. There have been some remarkable finds.

The mud is so thick and oxygen depleted that just about anything that is dropped in to it is preserved intact for centuries. We would come across old leather bags and shoes that looked like they had been dropped in yesterday.

We generally just threw them back in, as kids do.

The Old Roman Quayside in London.

There has been an active dock in this part of the river for 1000's of years. In the last 1000 years London has been the leading and busiest dock in the World. With ships from every corner of the Earth, items from those countries sometimes fell in, and have been preserved.

The North Bank of The River Thames.

The North bank, between Tower Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge, seems to be the most prolific place to find things, or maybe it's just the proximity of the city.

This part of London has been a centre of business, finance and all forms of commerce for hundreds of years. The ease of access has led to so many discoveries.

We tended to do our mudlarking, about a mile or so down river from Tower Bridge. We always found loads of odds and sods. For example the Codswallop bottle pictured here.

The Glorious Mud

The colours in the mud, is like looking at a rainbow on steroids, it is so full of pollution and chemicals. The oils and alchemical mix, produce the most amazing rainbow of colour effects.

It would put 60's pop art to shame.

The Professionals

Some people do this as a full time business/hobby. Some as a side job, to earn some extra money. They get geared up, with metal detectors and all sorts of paraphernalia.

They do find some amazing stuff. Their method is different. They will dig a 4 foot trench and search through these layers. Any gold treasures or antiquities must be notified to, the Museum of London.

Ideally the Museum of London, would like you to treat the foreshore as one big open archaeological site. So you should record where you find things.

The Museum of London will probably not be interested in old tyres and general contemporary rubbish.

In a 1000 years time, that worn out old tyre, may be fascinating to our descendants

Tips for London safety reminder

Remember to be Safe. Reminder

1 Always tell someone where you are going and get a tide timetable form the Port of London (PLA) website. The tides change daily, so you need to check the website; on the day that you go.

2 Also keep an eye on where the nearest exit is as you wander along. This is harder than it may seem. The dock wall ladders that you will see behind a boat, may not reach down to the foreshore ground level. Check them first.

3 You can get so engrossed along the foreshore, that you can forget time and miss the rising tide.

4 Try to record where you find something. Obviously this does not mean the millions of clay pipes and codswallop bottles, but something significant, like the crown jewels or similar.

So be careful, bring some gumboots [wellies], and have a great day.

Treasure but what is it?

Found on the Thames. Ancient artifact
Found on the Thames. Ancient artifact | Source

The Square Mile

This section of the Thames backs right on to the financial powerhouse that is the City of London. In fact the financial power of the City of London was founded on trade based along the Thames. The major financial and economic decisions of the whole country and commonwealth are still decided here at the Bank Of England. St Paul's Cathedral is also just a 100 yards from the waters edge and a 5 minute walk from the city along the river.

Metal Detectorists do it in the mud

They still find huge 500 kg bombs from WWII
They still find huge 500 kg bombs from WWII | Source

Metal Detectorists you will need a License

Today, there are some people that use metal detectors on the foreshore.

We can often see someone sweeping along looking for buried treasures. If you want to get into this full time you will need a license from the Port of London Authority (PLA).

As mentioned above, the tidal drop in the river can be 25 feet , leaving large areas of mud exposed each day. For many hours. If you were to go at it, with a mission.

I suppose you could spend 8 hours a day, doing it. Who knows you may find the next Roman Hoard of Gold. It does happen.

If you are visiting or live in London and were wondering where to go on a day out. Then mudlarking will definitely be something different and memorable.

You will have a great day out, some fun and get a great view of London, that is both unique and beautiful.

What Did You Know About Mudlarks?

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Comments 38 comments

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 2 years ago from New York

What an interesting "sport". You must've had some real fun as a kid! So many amazing treasures to find, some real treasures and some just treasures to kids.

This was very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


molometer profile image

molometer 2 years ago Author

Hi Bobbi,

It's never to late to wander along the river, any river.

Sounds like you had a fun time when you where a kid.

I spent most of my childhood in the Thames in one way or another.

I had no idea it was dangerous at that age. No one does.


molometer profile image

molometer 2 years ago Author

Hi Nell, I think it is a belt buckle but possible worn across the chest to hold a sword sheath.

You should pop down to the river and have a wander along.

It is great fun but be just aware of the tides and a fast exit.


PurvisBobbi44 profile image

PurvisBobbi44 2 years ago from Florida

Hi,

I would like to visit London and go Mudlarking. it sounds so exciting and I love adventures---my cousin I--- in the past went diving for whatever we would find below the surface of rivers; where people first settled in the southern states. Just for fun---then we had to grow up---darn, darn and double darn.

Bobbi Purvis


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

Hi Michael, I came back for another read, this is really fascinating. Its not something I have done, but I would love to try to find old things there, that definitely looks like a belt buckle in one of your photos, probably 17th century, not sure, great read, voted up +


molometer profile image

molometer 3 years ago Author

Hi Randy & Alastar,

It sure was a great playground for us kids. Who knows what we threw back into the river. Dooh! we had no clue what we were picking up half the time.


molometer profile image

molometer 3 years ago Author

Hello Theresa,

It is a London thing. We have so much history in this old Thames River that new things are found daily.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Michael - This is fascinating and I never heard of Mudlarking before. Funny, in my teens, I would have been down there grubbing around in the mud, searching for treasures. But as a grandparent, now I am thinking about foolish children and teens who might get caught by the tides. Funny how forty years changes your perspective. :) Sharing. Theresa


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia

I would been right there in the mud with you, Molo! I sometimes snorkel in a local river looking for prehistoric fossils, native American artifacts, and ancient coral. This river is at least 150 miles from the coast now.

Interesting hub and rated up, of course.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 3 years ago from North Carolina

And what a playground, wow. This story is my kind of meat cause I do love those artifacts and the mud of the Thames Riverbanks, well, it just doesn't get much better. And your so right about not getting caught by a rising tide; that happened once here as a lad and it ain't no fun lol! Super-glad to share this gem with the followers my friend.


molometer profile image

molometer 3 years ago Author

Hello chicagoron,

Glad you had the chance to do a bit of mudlarking, down on the Thames foreshore. Your video is excellent. Very well done.

From what I could see, you were on the south bank of the river?

Good to see that you got 'initiated', with the mud pools.

Thank you for your warm comments.


chicagoron 3 years ago

Great write-up. I did a 1 hour Nat Geo special last year with the mudlarks. It is on you tube titled Thames Treasure Hunters. Check it out it got great reviews.


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago Author

Thanks prasetio. I am suffering from connection issues so will come back to these comments when it is more stable.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

I have a friend from Indonesia who live in London now. He often share about this city. I can't wait to visit London. Thanks for writing and share about this. Rated up and have a nice day!

Prasetio


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago Author

Hi Cindy,

It is a great thing to spend an afternoon splashing around in the mud and finding stuff from a bygone age.

I spent many happy hours on the foreshore mudlarking before I even knew it had a name. lol


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago Author

Hi Angie and thanks for dropping in. i am sure I have thrown away at least a few dozen Ming vases in my time. lol

They are always finding stuff along the foreshore. Who knows what next?


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas

This sounds like a really fun thing to do. I think being able to treasure hunt for relics and other fun stuff would be great. SOCIALLY SHARING!


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

Super hub, molometer ...

Just think, all that crockery you once played 'Ducks and Drakes' with is actually extremely valuable dating evidence! You must have watched Time Team? They did a dig on the Thames foreshore and found evidence of an ancient wharf ... just timbers, no brooches ... lol!


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago Author

Hello stugod,

Thanks for the link by the way I will put it in. It is potentially dangerous what with the tides and all. That is why I suggest getting a tide table on the day. That way you know that it is accurate. There are places that are controlled by the PLA if serious excavations are planned but for the casual visitor on a day trip they will not have any issues.

People need to be sensible and sensitive to this unique environment. It is fascinating what you can find.


stugod profile image

stugod 4 years ago from Bradford

Just came back to vote up. Awesome.. Do tune in to mud men pretty amazing finds.. I also meant to mention you have to be licensed by the city of London for the Thames stuff, I believe. Also can be very dangerous. Sorry if that spoils the fun. Always some killjoy at work..Jobs worths


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago Author

Hi Genna East,

I am glad you learned something new and discovered the origins of codswallop.

This fizzy drink predates coke and all the other cola's. It was made in The Angel, Islington in NE London and was very popular.

That is why they are so common on the foreshore.

Mudlarking is fun and interesting and if you are looking for a 'different' day out in London. This is a great one.

Thanks


Alyessamoore 4 years ago

I like the pics and post in this hub. Nice art.!


Genna East profile image

Genna East 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

I had never heard of Mud larking before, and can easily see how this would become a hobby to some and a sideline to others. I was surprised to learn about the 25’ tide…wow! And I never knew there was something actually called a “codswallop bottle.” Fascinating hub…thank you!


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago Author

Hi AE,

It must have been very bad indeed. I came along after the war and the bomb damaged areas were our playgrounds.

We had no clue really, as kids we were not that aware until we got much older. Then it sinks in how horrific the blitz had been.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is very interesting. To be a child during the bombing, how horrible. I have always wanted to see England, so much history, so much to see. Thank you..


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago Author

@Lady_E Thanks for reading.

@Stugod I heard about this show from my someone but haven't seen it. By the sounds of it I will give it a view and see what he is doing?

I like Vaughnie too but he hasn't done much lately.Thanks for the input.


stugod profile image

stugod 4 years ago from Bradford

There is of course Johnny Vaughan on mud men. I love the program but he seems to have turned it into a sort of children's program. I am not saying it maliciously because I idolised him in the past with some very innovative early television. Pretty miffed I had to say it. Just don't like the format. Still watch it though.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 4 years ago from London, UK

Interesting read. I hope to visit when I find my wellies.

Cheers.


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago Author

More like the Ping! Dynasty, that was the sound it made, skimming across the water. lol


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Is that where it came from? and I thought it was Ming Dynasty! haha!


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago Author

Hi Nell Rose,

I look forward to seeing you on antiques roadshow with said broach.

You never know what you may find down on old Father Thames.

I am sure I have skimmed hundreds of pounds worth of fine bone china across the river.lol


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago Author

Thank you thumbi7, That is the great thing about hubpages. You get to read things from people that live all over the world. They are the best placed to tell us about their countries too.

Thanks for sharing too


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi, I have often wanted to do that, I do it in mini version along the river thames! lol! up through the park is something called Sandy bay, and as a child we used to find all sorts of things washed up or just sitting under the sandy small beaches jutting out into the river, in fact we have a broach at home still with the pin in it, one of these days we are going to get it valued or checked! if I lived in london I would definitely be down there furraging away!


thumbi7 profile image

thumbi7 4 years ago from India

Awesome hub! It is very fascinating to read about life of people in other countries.

I have only seen the picture of London city and Thames.

Voting up and Sharing.


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago Author

Hi L.L. Woodard,

Sounds like you had some fun. We have had a few 1000 years to accumulate all this stuff. It is mostly the rubbish of past generations but gives us an interesting glimpse into their lives.


L.L. Woodard profile image

L.L. Woodard 4 years ago from Oklahoma City

As a kid, I spent many summer hours exploring the creek that ran nearby. The most exciting thing I ever found were some pieces of old crock. Mudlarks can find so many interesting things!

Voted up and SHARED.


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago Author

Thanks buddy glad you liked it Thanks for SHAREING.

London has so much to offer. Give me a call I'll give you the dime tour lol!


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Sounds like a fun thing to try when I'm in London next. Voting this Up and Useful. Thanks for SHARING.

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