Mudlarking on the River Thames for inspiration

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mudlarking – here is short history by Alex McHallam

A Short history of Mudlarking

Dictionary definition of a Mudlark:’ a person who scavenges in river mud for objects of value’

To many people, the word ‘Mudlark’ conjures up the image of shady characters combing the shores of a river, drifting away with their loot as the tide rises.  The term became popular during the 18th and 19th Centuries when London was a major stopping point on the trade routes, bringing in cargo from all around the world.  As the city prospered, the number of people making a living from the Thames rose, and not just by working on the ships or for the trading companies.  Some of the poorest Londoners made their living by scouring the river looking for anything of value: cargo that had fallen overboard and come ashore; dead bodies they could loot, coins and bits and pieces of metal they found on the foreshore at low tide.  Anything they could find to sell on.  These were the Mudlarks.

In London today the tradition still exists but the treasure has changed.    What we find on the shore reflects the rich history of our city: shards of pottery from Roman times; Elizabethan glass, charred roof tiles from the time of the Great Fire, scraps of plates from Delft and China, coins from the Middle East, driftwood from old boats and, of course, clay pipes and oyster shells.

The pipes and oyster shells connect us to Londoners of years gone by who would sup on a few oysters and then round off the repast with a pinch of tobacco in a clay pipe, the forerunners to cigarettes.  These were then discarded in the river.

As artists, we are inspired by these small remnants of history.  We love the ramdomness of our finds and the beauty of the glass and pottery that has been rolled over and over by the ebb and flow of the river.  As the saying goes, ‘One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure’.


Example of Rusted Treasures



My painting ‘Rusted Treasure’ inspired by the photograph I took above and incorporating my finds…………….. great fun!


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