Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem
Mudlark (/’mAdla;k/) noun A person who scavenges for usable debris in the mud of a river or harbour
Lara Maiklem has scoured the banks of the Thames for over fifteen years, in pursuit of the objects that the river unearths: from Neolithic flints to Roman hair pins, medieval buckles to Tudor buttons, Georgian clay pipes to Victorian toys. These objects tell her about London and its lost ways of life.
Moving from the river’s tidal origins in the west of the city to the point where it meets the sea in the east, Mudlarking is a search for urban solitude and history on the River Thames, which Lara calls the longest archaeological site in England.
As she has discovered, it is often the tiniest objects that tell the greatest stories.
Before I settled down to write this review I Googled ‘What is a mudlark’ and it say they are people who scavenge along river beds for items of value. But there is so much more to Mudlarking than just looking for items of value. The River Thames is tidal and is really an archaeological site all of its own. Just stop and think about the history of the Thames. Now Lara Maiklem in Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames (Bloomsbury) gives us an insight to the items she has found and that each one has a story.
As the tide recedes then history is just waiting to be discovered. the Thames is the main artery of London. Would London even exist if the Thames was not there? Where there is a main river then towns and cities are built and with it comes items that are discarded into the river all just waiting to be discovered by Lara Maiklem. For Maiklem she has been walking the Thames now for about fifteen years and every item she finds is of historical value. Each has a story back in years gone by. From the many clay pipes that are discovered daily to items of incredible value and even ordnance dropped by German aircraft in WWII as London went through the blitz.
Of course you just cannot turn up at the banks of the Thames and start searching for items, being a Mudlark is not that simple. You have to apply for a permit and you have to be a member of the Society of Mudlarks and even then you have then needed to have held a standard permit for over two years and then it is still not that simple. This is a society surrounded in mystery. There is so much history to the Thames. I lived in London for over thirteen years and was fascinated by the river.
There are those of course who see the river as a bit of a goldmine just waiting to discover the next item of value with their metal detectors, but not for Lara. Each item she finds is carefully examined and cleaned and then researched. From early man to the Romans through to the period of the Great Fire of London when people hurled their belongings into the river rather than seeing them being consumed by the fire that spread along the river bank.
There is so much history just beneath the mud on the banks of the Thames and each time Lara makes a visit as the tide drops she looks and finds. Just turn over that rock and there is another piece of history just waiting to be found.
What I loved about Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames was that it read so easily and Lara’s care and also interest in the items she has found. Lost items are just waiting to be found it may take a few hundred years but someone else will be find our lost items. Some years ago I tossed an engagement ring into the Thames from London Bridge after a relationship ended. I would like to think that in a few hundred years-time a Mudlark scouring the riverbank will find that very ring. That in itself is a romantic thought. A wonderful read and highly recommended.
Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem was published by Bloomsbury and was published on 18th August 2019 and is available to through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.