TED SANDLING. MUDLARK. AUTHOR
I feel like it is something that every Londoner should experience. Author of London in Fragments: A Mudlark’s Treasures.
What is your connection to the river?
I am the author of London in Fragments: A Mudlark’s Treasures. I like to mudlark all over the river from east to west. I typically take public transport down to the river with my wellies in a bag. It’s great to just be able to travel around and just choose and explore different locations.
I discovered mudlarking in early 2000. When I moved to London, mudlarking was something I would do very, very occasionally. It was something I would do almost entirely solo. You know, I’d go when the tide was out. I would just hop over the wall and go into the foreshore and just walk. Not even look for things. It’s amazing by the river. It’s so incredibly different to being in London. It’s suddenly very quiet, empty and you can feel a sense of loneliness or at least of being alone.
As a hobby, mudlarking took a fairly long gestation period. Even as much as a decade where it would be purely chance that would bring me to the river. Eventually I found the excitelyment of discovering historic objects down there really stayed with me. So the remarkable thing about mudlarking is that the history of London is so extraordinary and so intimate. You get down to the foreshore and you know, lying at your feet, you suddenly spy something that no one has held apart from you and the person who dropped it. That’s a really powerful feeling. Reaching, reaching through history; reaching through time.
I have found some wonderful, wonderful things. They’re interesting in different ways. Sometimes it’s just finding a very small object and using detective work to find out what it is; what sort of story it can tell. A little bit of glass can take you back to a nineteenth century pickle factory or bits of pottery that tell you about London’s industry but I think one of my favourite finds is a pearl that I found just outside of the Tate Modern. So right in the centre of the city and not hidden in any way. It was just exposed on the gravel and it was quite a large pearl of a type called baroque, as in it’s not perfectly circular. It was actually shaped like a pear. I had it mounted with a sort of little gold mount that gave it a tiny single pear leaf and a little stem and I gave it to my wife when the book was published as a kind of thank you for putting up with me while I was doing all the research and everything. It was a very treasured find.
The book does have a really good chapter about how to mudlark. First, you need to secure a license from the Port of London Authority because without one, you simply cannot mudlark. With a license in hand, go down to the river when the tide is out which you can find out from online tidal tables. Go down to the river at low tide. Find a spot where you can access the foreshore and there are lots and lots of these where you will see some stairs going down or a gate that will open up. Then just walk down and experience being on the foreshore. It’s always restorative to walk next to the water anyway, and you will experience that sense of being outside of time. Just look at your feet as you’re walking alone. It’s like beachcombing in some ways. You’re looking for things that don’t match that ground; that sort of don’t match the grave, sand and the mud that you’re walking on. You might find Victorian clay pipes or you might find beads and jewellery. People find incredible Roman fragments. The River Thames has all of London’s history on the foreshore.
I wrote the book because I really wanted to share this genuine excitement and access.
I should probably caution that if you find anything that dates back prior to 1650, you need to report it to the Find Liaison Officer, or FLO, at the Port of London Authority.