When I first saw Zusterschap’s call for writers for this month’s theme, I felt it would be a wonderful opportunity to share what it is that inspires me. It may sound strange but I am greatly inspired by the River Thames in London and here’s why.
I grew up in Cornwall, England and spent many days beach-combing and walking along beautiful beaches there. When I moved to London for work fifteen years ago, the sandy beaches were replaced with the muddy banks of the River Thames. I found myself living in Greenwich, which is right next to the Thames and it was only a matter of time before I was drawn to the foreshore of the river. I now spend as much time there as possible and whenever I can. When the tide is low, my favourite thing to do is grab my wellington boots and go mudlarking.
What is mudlarking?
Well, the name itself derives from the Victorian term “mudlark”. Mudlarks were poor Victorian children / street urchins, who searched and scavenged in the thick Thames mud for anything that may have been lost or dropped so they could make a few pennies.
Today, a mudlark is somebody who searches for pieces of history in the Thames mud. As the Thames flows right through the heart of the bustling City, it is no surprise that (at low tide) there are treasures to be found in the mud. These items are often belongings and personal objects that people have somehow lost or that have ended up in the swirling currents of the River – sometimes hundreds of years ago.
When I first started to mudlark…
I mostly found little fragments of china and pottery and pieces of clay tobacco pipes. I gradually started finding old coins, the occasional button and tiny lead soldiers that would have been played with by children over 100 years ago. It is not the value of these items that interests me, it is the link to past lives and people long gone. Each item that I found was once owned by someone and these objects are evidence of their lives.
They are a tangible link between the past and the present…
I recently found a William III sixpence in the mud and it was so fascinating to think that the last person that held it lived in the 17th century. I have found various pieces of old jewellery before but one in particular was very special. A very old St Christopher’s medallion that I found engraved on one side with “Love Reg”. Who was Reg? Who did he give this medallion to and how did it end up in the river?
I also found a beautiful heart pendant which was probably Victorian. Why was it in the River? Did a girl throw it in? Was it lost? Were tears shed over this lost pendant or a lost love story?! Each object takes my imagination on a journey and provides inspiration for a myriad of stories that one day I hope to write!
It is not only old items which I find along the banks of the River Thames. I have also found over sixty messages in bottles, each bottle has a story: happy, sad, funny or rude – they are special in that they are a wonderful way of connecting with people. I have met some of the people that have written these messages and kept in touch with some of them too.
For me, mudlarking and searching the foreshore of the River Thames is a very spiritual and meditative experience. The nineteenth Century MP John Burns described the River Thames as “Liquid History”. Whilst searching for treasures (it really is like going on a treasure hunt!), you are completely in the moment. You are surrounded by mysteries swirling in the currents as well as stories from the past and the present.
It is a haven from the busy City and a real opportunity to replenish your energy after a busy week at work! I return home after an outing to the foreshore filled with a feeling of peacefulness and inspiration. I make art out of the glass and pottery that I find and love the fact that each piece of art is has its own secret history.
I recently put on a pop up museum of mudlarking finds in Greenwich and it was wonderful to share my finds from the mud with people. It was also great to see how others immediately became fascinated and inspired with the objects on show.
I do keep a record of my mudlarking finds and also my message in a bottle blog on my website – Tide Line Art.