Mudlarking on the Thames

So many of my ancestors were wedded to the Thames. They lived in river-side town, migrated along its length towards London or worked on the river as mariners, watermen, fishermen, fishmongers and fish porters. If the Bay of Bengal was Captain Thomas Bowrey’s environment during his years in the East Indies, the Thames was his home before he went and after his return. He lived at Greenwich and Wapping on its banks, fitted out  his ships on its waters and sailed on the river and its estuary for relaxation.

I feel a great affinity for the personal objects of the past. Earlier this week I wrote of the seventeenth century needlework I purchased at auction. I also collect vernacular finger rings, both antiquities or antiques – personal possessions of ordinary people from the past – items that have little intrinsic value but great sentimental value to their original owner. One of my prized rings is a seventeenth century bronze posy ring discovered at Wapping Dock inscribed I Love U Lucy.

Despite my aversion to mud, I have long been fascinated by mudlarking so some time ago I was delighted learn about the imminent publication of Lara Maiklem’s Mudlarking – Lost and Found on the River Thames. If you are as avid a Radio 4 listener as me, you may have had an early sneak preview when it was the station’s Book of the Week a few weeks back. If so, I can highly recommend still reading the full version. It is so much more than a book about mudlarking.

Lara follows the Thames from it tidal origins in the west of London to where it meets the sea in the east. As she journeys along its length, she describes its history through the items discovered from Neolithic flints to twenty-first century plastic cotton-bud sticks. She explains how her mother taught her to observe the smallest details and this enables her to write evocative descriptions of each stage of the river.

It is a magical book and one of the few that I know I will read more than once.

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