Thames Mudlarking: searching for London’s lost treasures

Searching the beaches of the River Thames for artefacts has grown enormously in popularity over the last decade or so, with hundreds of enthusiasts now engaged in this activity and a thriving online community using social media to share discoveries. At just under 100 pages – and beautifully illustrated with photographs by the authors and many others, and watercolours by Coral Pearce – this book provides an ideal introduction to the wide range of artefacts found on the foreshore in London. Its size also makes it a great on-site companion for helping to identify finds in the field.

The authors, Nick Stevens and Jason Sandy, are both Thames mudlarks, and the book reads at times like a who’s who (and who found what) of this community, with the artefacts attributed to their finder rather than to the specific locations of their discovery. This is rather lovely as an insight into the collections of individual mudlarkers and complements the information available via the Portable Antiquities Scheme website, where finds are recorded under the terms of the mandatory licences issued by the Port of London Authority.

The thematic chapters cover a broad chronological range, with everything from fossil finds, and artefacts from the prehistoric period to World War II, to more recent items, such as messages in bottles and evidence for modern religious activity on the foreshore. There is a particular focus on those tiny treasures which, had they not been spotted and collected, would have been lost forever, such as tokens, coins, cloth seals, dress accessories, gaming pieces, shoe buckles, beads, buttons, and jewellery. Significant antiquarian discoveries such as the Battersea Shield and the Waterloo Helmet are also included in the chronological chapters.

Appropriately for a book that begins with a quote from Ivor Noël Hume, a pioneer of Thames inter-tidal archaeology and advocate for the importance of local museums acting as repositories for river finds, the final chapter briefly outlines the proposal for a dedicated Thames Museum, where mudlarking collections could be displayed. This book clearly communicates the passion that so many have for the special place that is the Thames foreshore, and is highly recommended.

Thames Mudlarking: searching for London’s lost treasures, Jason Sandyand Nick Stevens, Shire Publications, £9.99, ISBN 978-1784424329.

Review by Nathalie Cohen.