Mudlark: In Search of London's Past Along the River Thames

Mudlark: In Search of London's Past Along the River Thames

Long heralded as a city treasure herself, expert “mudlarker” Lara Maiklem is uniquely trained in the art of seeking. Tirelessly trekking across miles of the Thames’ muddy shores, where others only see the detritus of city life, Maiklem unearths evidence of England’s captivating, if sometimes murky, history—with some objects dating back to 43 AD, when London was but an outp...

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Title:Mudlark: In Search of London's Past Along the River Thames
Author:Lara Maiklem
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Mudlark: In Search of London's Past Along the River Thames Reviews

  • Richard

    Review of whole book:

    Began 8th July 2019.

    Finished 5th August 2019.

    What a joy; a pure delight.

    This is a book of surprising value and lasting worth.

    So wonderfully crafted and written, it covers the range of this peculiar pastime along the Thames from West to East. That is from Tidal Head to Estuary.

    You immediately feel comfortable with this author in her hobby, obsession and delight for Mudlarking.

    With wit and an open writing style, she opens up her world in a way that you can feel her passion,

    Review of whole book:

    Began 8th July 2019.

    Finished 5th August 2019.

    What a joy; a pure delight.

    This is a book of surprising value and lasting worth.

    So wonderfully crafted and written, it covers the range of this peculiar pastime along the Thames from West to East. That is from Tidal Head to Estuary.

    You immediately feel comfortable with this author in her hobby, obsession and delight for Mudlarking.

    With wit and an open writing style, she opens up her world in a way that you can feel her passion, share her enthusiasm and marvel in her imaginations.

    Here without prompting yawns or repetition Lara speaks of each area of the river bank she visits. Her finds and the history of that location are detailed and shared. She is an honest commentator, a well researched historical narrator and a person who shares fully of herself.

    It is a real pleasure to read. In all these endeavours and historical asides she reveals more of herself and her journey into collecting things the river offers.

    I found myself feeling that although Mudlarking would perhaps not be for me, I recognised its charms and if I was to don a pair of wellies it would be to spend sometime watching Lara at work and sharing at firsthand the all consuming love she has for this activity.

    What makes this book so special is Lara’s writing and insights. She has that wonderful ability to let her mind wander, way beyond the present, and we follow in her imagination the provenance of her finds. Making up scenarios for how the objects came to be in the river; they have been preserved by the mud and spotted on the foreshore.

    I feel my knowledge of the history of London has been deepened and enlarged by her comments on these objects, the riverside locations and ultimately the Thames itself.

    I have always enjoyed spending time on the river and those journeys have enhanced my experience in visits to the capital. Now in this one book about a historical pastime I have received a fresh insight.

    This is one of the best non-fiction books I have read in a long time. I am amazed it is Lara’s first move to becoming a published author. I’m sure it was a hard slog and kept her from those hours of solitude and peace beside her beloved river. Her efforts are well received and she can be so proud of her disciplined writing and research. Her approach sustained my interest throughout the journey along the river and I would recommend this book without reservation to all.

    Previously: [please read my earlier review below. I stand by every word now that I have read the whole book].

    Sampler:

    I have only had the opportunity to read a taster - Chapter 7 - I believe London Bridge.

    It is a glimpse into an activity I have never really given much thought to before. I have never been into metal-detecting but since childhood who has not enjoyed beachcombing, rockpooling and pond dipping? Mudlarking is an adult version of this sense of treasure hunting ironically named after a mud lark - ‘A mudlark is someone who scavenges in river mud for items of value, a term used especially to describe those who scavenged this way in London during the late 18th and 19th centuries.’

    This is a wonderful idea since modern day scavenging isn’t for coal, food or items just washed into the river but a history lesson and more akin to river archaeology.

    This book has something of an advantage in that it is written by someone passionate about the practice of mudlarking and curious enough to dig deeper than the mud of the river Thames. By that I mean Lara Maiklem brings both the search and the objects alive through her descriptive language and interest in history. Add to that an active imagination she takes the reader back to Roman times, Frost Fairs on the frozen river or the flames of The Great Fire of London.

    Lara speaks also of moment of the find. The care and preservation of artefacts. The best light and intensity of the search and how without that moments scan, hesitation, acquired skills objects might forever remain undiscovered or be shattered by one’s next step.

    I still have little interest in metal-detecting but the sense of being so close to the soul of the river, teasing out its bounty by effort and a good eye and reconnecting the present with the past has a value beyond the items themselves.

    A good cook book sends you to the supermarket and the kitchen. A rambling tale gets you lacing your boots and out in the countryside. Lara’s delightful book will do the same. Rekindle our childhood memories, reconnect us with a sense of place and time. See value in everyday things and detest the polluting waste of plastic. Over and above everything, this chapter has given me a desire to read this book and appreciate the history of London by the items lost, captured in silt and revealed at low tide. Lara’s enthusiasm has enable my creaking knees and stiff back to get down on all fours and take a worm eyed view of London’s rich mud, sand and shingle. I was with the author as she delved, deduced and discovered her priceless treasures.

    Reading is often about escape, entertainment and enlightenment Mudlarking brought me all three.

  • Catalina

    I am actually sad I've finished this book. I was under pressure as I wanted to finish it by publication date(22nd Aug) but life got in the way. Therefore I tried as much as possible to keep reading as to finish it as fast as possible, but I am unhappy I did... This is a book to savor, to read and re-read, to search for more details, to follow with a map, ideally(I know I would love to!!) to follow the author's steps yourself!

    I've only discovered mudlarking some months ago, when someone posted i

    I am actually sad I've finished this book. I was under pressure as I wanted to finish it by publication date(22nd Aug) but life got in the way. Therefore I tried as much as possible to keep reading as to finish it as fast as possible, but I am unhappy I did... This is a book to savor, to read and re-read, to search for more details, to follow with a map, ideally(I know I would love to!!) to follow the author's steps yourself!

    I've only discovered mudlarking some months ago, when someone posted in a nature group I'm part of a picture of a huge tooth they've found on the foreshore. I was unaware of this practice, of the potential of the Thames, of the amazing history of this tradition but mostly of the extraordinary things one can find. Since, I've watched tones of videos and I so wish to be able to mudlark myself one day.

    I really liked the idea of following the river from it's entry point to the Thames Estuary; each chapter talking about a particular area. All chapters are build pretty much on the same recipe and can be a tad monotone but it doesn't really dent the charm of the book, as the objects seem to be different, pieces of history are location related, therefore once again different etc. So while pretty much built on the same structure, each and every chapter is different and a little gem to be discovered.

    To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the only thing left to do is to get my hands on a signed copy(which doesn't seem to be that simple as I am nowhere near London :/)

    *Book from NetGalley for an honest review. With thanks to the publisher!

  • George1st

    What a little gem of a book this is. A wonderful discovery much like the artifacts and treasures of the past that can be found after being revealed and unmasked by nature at low tide on the foreshore of the tidal Thames. I remember many years ago when working not far from the site of the present Globe Theatre being fascinated by the sight of men (there were never any women) digging and scavenging away on the mud at the river's edge. Fast forward to a few weeks ago and near my present residence I

    What a little gem of a book this is. A wonderful discovery much like the artifacts and treasures of the past that can be found after being revealed and unmasked by nature at low tide on the foreshore of the tidal Thames. I remember many years ago when working not far from the site of the present Globe Theatre being fascinated by the sight of men (there were never any women) digging and scavenging away on the mud at the river's edge. Fast forward to a few weeks ago and near my present residence I encountered the same sight but this time it was on the banks of the Forth Estuary. Who are these people, what are their motivations and what finds can be made? Now Lara Maiklem has provided answers to these questions in a book that reads like a love letter not only to her beloved pastime but perhaps more importantly to The River Thames which is intrinsically linked to the development and pre-eminence of the UK's capital city.

    Divided into chapters devoted to various mudlarking locations from Teddington Lock to the isolated Kent Marshes of Magwitch fame we make a journey into the past through the objects of that time. Roman coins, pewter medieval toys and Georgian pipes provide an intimate portal to another time. These were mainly personal objects and each tells a story. Whether it be a Roman soldier far from his native land on guard near the City Walls or a convict about to be transported to the other side of the World.

    There are many captivating stories to be found here relating to the finds which incredibly included a Victoria Cross. The writing is clear and lucid and connects to the reader on an emotional level. If you have ever read Rachel Lichtenstein's Estuary or like the work of Iain Sinclair then I'm sure you will love this book as much as I did. A must for all London lovers whether residents or exiles.

  • David

    I loved reading this account of a little understood pastime, with its history of London and personal recollections told through objects found on the banks of the Thames.

    In 1929 the Member of Parliament John Burns famously described the river as: “ The St Lawrence is water, the Mississippi is muddy water, but the Thames is liquid history ”. With 2,000 years of human possessions being lost to the Thames there are plenty of artifacts to uncover each with its own story to tell.

    Here Lara Maiklem des

    I loved reading this account of a little understood pastime, with its history of London and personal recollections told through objects found on the banks of the Thames.

    In 1929 the Member of Parliament John Burns famously described the river as: “ The St Lawrence is water, the Mississippi is muddy water, but the Thames is liquid history ”. With 2,000 years of human possessions being lost to the Thames there are plenty of artifacts to uncover each with its own story to tell.

    Here Lara Maiklem describes releasing bottles, pins, knives and even a deceased's ashes, from their liquid incarceration; each piece treated with dignity and many with a story to tell.

    Part memoir; part mudlarking manual; weaving the history and personal insights of the river which has shaped the world's greatest city, this book is destined to become the seminal book on one aspect of the Thames, its foreshore.

  • Lou

    In terms of archaeological digs or even just searching for random items the Thames is probably a very neglected area due to its inaccessibility, but the items mudlark Lara Maiklem has uncovered within the muddy deposits are nothing less than fascinating and the tales they tell even more so. A mudlark is defined as a person who scavenges in the muddy riverbeds at low tide. From fairly modern items discarded or lost by Londoners or tourists to pieces that hark back to the days of old, this is a co

    In terms of archaeological digs or even just searching for random items the Thames is probably a very neglected area due to its inaccessibility, but the items mudlark Lara Maiklem has uncovered within the muddy deposits are nothing less than fascinating and the tales they tell even more so. A mudlark is defined as a person who scavenges in the muddy riverbeds at low tide. From fairly modern items discarded or lost by Londoners or tourists to pieces that hark back to the days of old, this is a compelling and highly interesting read.

    I haven't ever seen a book such as this before and that makes this all the more of a unique experience. I must admit that despite having been to London a few times and enjoyed myself I find big cities rather exhausting given I am a country girl at heart. That said, they offer a prime hunting ground for items that could give valuable insight into the social and urban history of an area populated for centuries and founded by the Romans in 43 AD.

    Overall, it's a well written and constructed work of non-fiction and through it's many varied layers never fails to hold your interest. I tend to have a big appreciation for books that manage to be both informative and entertaining, but sadly they are few and far between; Mudlarking is one of those rare and special gifts. The author has extensive knowledge of the geography of London over the centuries and the Thames tides and her enthusiasm for her subject matter is infectious.

    I won't spoil it, but some of her finds were truly momentous and no doubt hastened her return to the dirty, muddy river beds she scans so patiently. Organised into chapters based on location, readers take a steady meander through items that date back to the Roman fortification of Londinium as it was then known. A truly captivating and majestic read. Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for an ARC.

  • Lisa

    Maiklem never lost her childlike curiousity of discovering other people's lost junk. Throughout the book she talks about her experiences digging around in the river bed with contagious joy. Every lost treasure she finds from the Thames creates a gem in her memory. Some of the treasure she finds has monetary value and some of that treasure is rich in historical value.

    Maiklem consults experts as she explores the history of her treasures. Each item has a unique history. There is the story of the ty

    Maiklem never lost her childlike curiousity of discovering other people's lost junk. Throughout the book she talks about her experiences digging around in the river bed with contagious joy. Every lost treasure she finds from the Thames creates a gem in her memory. Some of the treasure she finds has monetary value and some of that treasure is rich in historical value.

    Maiklem consults experts as she explores the history of her treasures. Each item has a unique history. There is the story of the type face that was tossed in to the river by the creator who was trying to stop his business partner from getting his hands on it. The title of the book is written using those very font tiles on the front cover of the book. Lost rings with personal engravings. Soldier’s lost belongings from different eras of military service. So many shoes. All of the treasures found by the careful searching eyes of Lara Maiklem and her mysterious Mudlarking colleagues.

    Maiklem wraps up the city’s history in her own personal history. This gives the book a gentle relatability that makes you want to don a pair of sturdy boots and climb down an algae covered set of step to begin to scour a silt covered river bank.

    I really did love this book. I grew up in London not far from the Thames and as I read I began to feel greedy pangs for more and more glimpses of the past.

    Mudlarking is perfect for anyone with an interest in the history of London. It would be a great gift for anyone who, like me, spent their childhood dreaming of becoming an archaeologist. I would wrap it up as Christmas gift for everyone I know.

  • Alyson Rhodes

    My thanks to net galley and the publishers Bloomsbury for an e-arc of Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem. As a history grad and former history teacher the role of mudlarking through the ages has been one of interests and this title grabbed my attention. Unsurprisingly to me it's become a radio 4 book of the week- here is the definition of Mudlark :Mudlark (/'mAdla;k/) noun A person who scavenges for usable debris in the mud of a river or harbour (which we can see as being each and everyone of us and the

    My thanks to net galley and the publishers Bloomsbury for an e-arc of Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem. As a history grad and former history teacher the role of mudlarking through the ages has been one of interests and this title grabbed my attention. Unsurprisingly to me it's become a radio 4 book of the week- here is the definition of Mudlark :Mudlark (/'mAdla;k/) noun A person who scavenges for usable debris in the mud of a river or harbour (which we can see as being each and everyone of us and therefore a metaphor for life, the universe and all the stuff). Fascinated as I am by social history, the objects and detritus of people's lives left behind - this book called to me. Lara Maiklem is an entertaining, educated and educating, fluent and passionate tour guide of the tidal mud beds of the Thames. Someone whose company you can enjoy through this book. It inspired me to write a poem :- Down the wooden steps/lured by the smell of the river, /coppery and green/the modern day mudlarker/excavating liquid history/forensic fingertip search/amid the detritus -

    the ordinary laid bare. A horde of clay pipes buried/beneath the inn’s windows,/bone buttons and china chips,/blue glass bottles, iron hair grips,/gold rings and the steel pins/of unseen lives and their sins. END Highly recommended.

  • Eve (Between The Bookends)

    So apparently I was just given and chapter sample to review, so there really isn't much to say about it. I liked it, and will probably read the entire book at some point.

  • Sam

    Mudlarking is not a topic I know anything about and my knowledge of the geography and history of the Thames is patchy at best. Fortunately, prior knowledge isn't necessary to enjoy this book.

    This isn't forensic study of the art of mudlarking nor is it a dry historical non-fiction. The focus on the daily lives of the people who have lived & worked on or near the Thames for centuries and the changes to the river & life over that time make it feel like a biography of the Thames - a living

    Mudlarking is not a topic I know anything about and my knowledge of the geography and history of the Thames is patchy at best. Fortunately, prior knowledge isn't necessary to enjoy this book.

    This isn't forensic study of the art of mudlarking nor is it a dry historical non-fiction. The focus on the daily lives of the people who have lived & worked on or near the Thames for centuries and the changes to the river & life over that time make it feel like a biography of the Thames - a living thing with an enormous supporting cast from throughout the ages. It is also partly a memoir with events in the author's life connecting to her time spent with the river is just as interesting and engaging as the more historical aspects.

    It is an easy, enjoyable read with lyrical, evocative language. You can feel the wind, hear the water and the boats and the people, taste seaweed and hints of salt from the North Sea, and smell the scents of the river (both good and bad).

    With thanks to netgalley and Bloomsbury for the early copy.

  • Carolyn

    "I have seen the Mississippi. That is muddy water. I have seen the Saint Lawrence. That is crystal water. But the Thames is liquid history. John Burns, Liberal MP 1892– 1918"

    I am fascinated by anything archeological, but mainly how ordinary people lived as opposed to royalty, so mudlarking has always interested me as it appears that many of the items unearthed are those used by ordinary people at various stages of history. Until reading this book, however, I knew very little about it.

    Mudlarking

    "I have seen the Mississippi. That is muddy water. I have seen the Saint Lawrence. That is crystal water. But the Thames is liquid history. John Burns, Liberal MP 1892– 1918"

    I am fascinated by anything archeological, but mainly how ordinary people lived as opposed to royalty, so mudlarking has always interested me as it appears that many of the items unearthed are those used by ordinary people at various stages of history. Until reading this book, however, I knew very little about it.

    Mudlarking is the act of scavenging in the mud for items mislaid or discarded by previous generations - in this books Lara talks about her mudlarking adventures along the many miles of the banks of the Thames.

    I was fascinated by stories of the other mudlarkers she shared with us

    and how Lara finds the hunting the most enjoyable part of mudlarking, as opposed to others who search for items to take home, and of course, hope for something of monetary value. She talks about items she has found, including rings, the fossilised remains of ancient creatures, a box containing someone's ashes (which she returned to the river to continue its journey), ear wax removing spoons, tooth scrapers, buttons, bones and so many other things . She also talks of mudlarking legends such as the thousand bits of printers type thrown into the Thames by T J Cobden Sanderdon, a 19th century going under.

    "The word treasure must surely be one of the most provocative in the English language, for there can be few of us who have not at some time in our lives dreamed of finding buried treasure. Ivor Noël Hume, Treasure in the Thames (1956)".

    I really enjoy the quotes Lara introduces each chapter with, which remind you of the attraction of treasure hunting in all its forms. Sadly there are no pictures in my digital eArc but hopefully there will be in the finished book as that would really enhance it.

    This is an absolutely fascinating book for anyone interested in history, archaeology, or London, it is engagingly written, never boring and I highly recommend it.

    This book is released on 22 August. I received an eArc from the publisher via Netgalley, but this review is entirely unbiased and the words are my own.

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