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Time to Take Up: Mudlarking

Where does one buy a metal detector?

By / June 11, 2018

What is it?

Sort of like treasure hunting, but less “argh, me hearties” and more “argh, me back is killing me with all this bending over”. Mudlarking involves combing the riverbank of the Thames for lost goodies. In the Victorian era mudlarking was an actual profession, with larkers prepared to slog through human waste in the hope of finding valuable goods washed up down the Thames, which they could then sell on for cash. Londoners have been throwing everything from bodies to coins into the Thames for thousands of years, making it one of the world’s richest archaeological sites. It’s a river full of secrets. You could find anything from an ancient human thighbone (FYI: if you do, it’s probably best to call the police) to a coin adorned with Queen Victoria’s protruding forehead.

Why now?

In a London where rent is rising and getting a table somewhere for lunch on a Saturday can feel like queuing for Nemesis at Alton Towers during half term, taking time out to do some mudlarking is surprisingly therapeutic and the closest you’ll get to taking in some sea air. Picking up an artefact via mudlarking can feel like a window into London’s past  it’s a good opportunity to strengthen your ties with the city’s history.

What equipment do I need?

If you’re really into it then you’ll come equipped with a metal detector, but if you’re just going for fun then you only really need some wellies, warm clothing and a bag to store your potential treasures. However, be warned that you will need a license from the Port of London Authority, even if you are searching by eye alone. Also, there are some parts of the Thames shoreline that are out of bounds, so you’ll need to do your research. 300 year old finds need to be reported to the Museum of London.

Tom Lee via Flickr

Who are the experts?

Known as the ‘mud god’, TV personality Steve Brooker is one of the capital’s most prolific mudlarkers having found a whole host of ancient coins and pieces of jewellery washed up on the Thames. He has even set up a mudlarking club called Thames and Field, which has celebrity fans including Russell Brand and Bill Bailey. There is also a Facebook community for London-based mudlarkers here. So stop larking about and go get the squad together.

How do I learn?

The best way to learn is to get out and get started. The beachy area around Gabriel’s Wharf is a good hunting spot as are the areas around Greenwich, Southwark Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. 

Who will I meet?

People with a keen interest in London history and also a love of hunting for artefacts. You can expect to find completely normal thirtysomething in need of some escapism from the 9-to-5 grind.

How do I become teacher’s pet?

Find gold. And lots of it.

By

Thomas Hobbs is a freelance journalist who writes about pop culture for places such as the Guardian, VICE, Pitchfork, The i, Time Out London, Dazed and Little White Lies. His favourite London hobbies include chilling in the rose garden at Greenwich Park, paying too much for gourmet fried chicken and digging in the crates at Soho’s many record shops.

More articles by Thomas Hobbs

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