Britons have always been more eager to swallow mud in the River Thames
THE PEOPLE is everywhere. A Roman coin is disguised as a bottle top; a Tudor shoe is decorated like a game of wet soot. For Jason Sandy, sorting the trash from the treasure is an easy task. Scouring the shore at high tide, his recent wealth has included a knight’s knapsack and a Victorian dog tag.
Increasing numbers of Britons are taking hold of the historical myths that the River Thames spits out. Twice a day, the shore will be open as the longest archaeological site in the country. About 200 mud larks were allowed to nest there four years ago; today around 5,000 do. Port of London Authority (PLA), a public trust, has stopped issuing licenses. Hundreds take their chance without one.
Mudlarking is nothing new: Victorian scavengers scoured the seashore for a living. In the last century it was a special activity – a “Wild West” tide, says Lara Maiklem, another mud eel. In the late 1970s the PLA they gave their first shore permits to 50 larks who were told to keep their findings private. No longer. Many post videos of their discoveries on social media: Mr Sandy has over 90,000 Instagram followers. Ms. Maiklem’s “Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames” reads like a fascinating detective story. A TV show, “Digging for Treasure”, follows the beard. Old-timers mourn the publicity.
One change, says Tim Miller, Chairman of the Thames Mudlarks Association, is that women now make up around half of all larks, compared to just 5% two decades ago. The youth also get involved. Jane Sidell, Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic England, points that out but worries that some larks are careless: “The beach is being torn away in places.” Archaeologists are also frustrated. Ms Maiklem was criticized for enjoying the hobby.
Theft is a concern. Treasures must be reported, but 80% of emigrants do not do so according to a study by the PLA. “We’re finding shops popping up on Etsy, dumping things from the shore,” said Dr. Sidell. Some people use detectors to find valuables such as Roman coins. Digging also causes damage. “I don’t dig, scrape or use a metal detector,” Ms Maiklem said. “I’m just waiting to see what the river throws at me.” For now, the Thames delivering plenty of selection Your correspondent pointed to a Victorian clay pipe, his delicate bowl unmarried 150 years ago in the tide.■
For more expert analysis of Britain’s biggest stories, sign up to Blighty, our weekly subscription-only newsletter.