Muldlark’d: hidden histories from the River Thames

Review by HB.

This lavishly produced volume offers an introduction to Thames ‘mudlarking’ – the practice of searching the river’s foreshore (with a permit!) for historical objects and other items of interest. The book is not so much a practical guide (though it does include a short ‘primer’ with advice on rules and equipment), but a globally minded artefact-led exploration of the lives of ‘forgotten people’ from Britain and beyond.

Russell uses mudlarked items to tell stories about Roman slaves, immigration, British colonialism, LGBTQ+ history, religious persecution, Black Georgians, medieval pilgrims, sex work, and more. The author’s discovery of a simple bone die dating to 1600-1800, for example, is used as the starting point for a short history of Georgian gamblers, illustrated with further mudlarked finds linked to gambling and gaming.

Five ‘in focus’ sections detail the evolution of prehistoric tools, buttons, clay pipes, pottery, and ammunition. The text is accompanied by maps, illustrations, endnotes, and a further reading section, as well as stunning foreshore photography by Matthew Williams-Ellis.

Muldlark’d: hidden histories from the River Thames, Malcolm Russell, Thames & Hudson, £25, ISBN 978-0500024225.