Larks in the mud (mudlarks!)

OK, so poking about in the mud on the banks of the Thames might not be everyone’s idea of a grand day out but the Carter family had a fascinating time doing this on Saturday.

The small bit of “beach” in front of the Tower Of London belongs to the Queen – 364 days of the year you’re trespassing if you go down there. On just one day of the year, for a couple of hours at low tide, the Queen graciously grants her subjects permission to…well, to poke about in the mud as part of the Totally Thames festival.

DATE 25_03_2004 PRODUCER Electronic Imaging Officer Andrew Holt CAPTUER DEVICE Creo (Scitex) Exersmart Supreme Scanner CAPTURE SOFTWARE DETAILS Software: oXYgen v1.2.1 Scanner Setup: MODE: B&W TYPE: REF MEDIA: POS DPI: 400 END POINTS: Custom GRADATION: Custom COLOUR TABLES: NA SHARPNESS: No_Sharp_STD ICC PROFILE input: NA output: NA Device Link: BW_Default CHANGE HISTORY Images were adjusted in PHOTOSHOP V 7 image editting software. COPYRIGHT © NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM, LONDON RESOLUTION JPEG: 1280 X 1024 pixels at 72 dpi THN: 180 X 180 pixels at 72 dpi COMPRESSION JPEG Quality:10 SOURCE Black and White image from book (Positive) COLOUR MODE GREYSCALE 8 BITS/CHANNEL COLOUR MANAGEMENT SYSTEM: POWERMAC G4 DUAL PROCESSOR 22 INCH LACIE COLOUR CALIBRATED MONITOR ICC ADOBE GAMMA PROFILE IS: Grey Gamma 1.8

This stretch of beach is a goldmine for mudlarks however, being off-limits 364 days of the year. So we visited these rather-less-than-golden sands, along with a few hundred others, to see what we could find.

Mudlarking these days is better organised than it used to be: you get gloves, a quick health and safety lecture and the help of some friendly volunteer experts to explain the things you might find.

I did wonder what the girls would make of it, neither of them is particularly “girlie” but…poking about in the river mud – it’s not exactly a trip to Alton Towers, is it?

As it turned out we all had a fascinating time, scanning the hundred metres of beach looking for “treasure”.

Clay pipe bowls

The eagle-eyed Lovely Melanie was quick off the mark, spotting the first of many tiny clay pipes – tobacco pipes, that is. These turned out to be two-a-penny, but then she spotted a bowl almost immediately, which was lucky – it was almost an hour before I found another.

Her bowl (the smaller white one in the picture) is probably Stuart or Tudor, so 400-odd years old. Mine, the larger, darker one, is most likely Victorian, so “only” 150 years old at best.

Millie was excited to find lots of pottery fragments, some of which were probably hundreds of years old, and quite a few bones and teeth – animals bones and teeth, that is – all stained black from their time in the water.

I was initially excited to find the metal wheel from a block and tackle, as well as some very rusty nails. Unfortunately, these were completely undateable because of all the corrosion (the Thames, being a tidal river, is quite salty, so things in it rust fast).

We spent about an hour on the beach, and then another 20 minutes showing our finds to the experts and chatting with them. I was disappointed not to find just one coin or similar item, but it was – somewhat unexpectedly – really good fun, and educational, too!

The Totally Thames festival continues for the rest of the month, but this was your only chance to hit the Tower beach this year…


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