Sunday, 23 September 2012

A Good Days Mudlarking

To celebrate partial return to part time working,  Friday before last treated myself to a mudlark and a day out in “central” as the older teens call it. Whilst grey and 12 degrees surprised to see Londoners jumpered and coated, perhaps anticipating the autumn ahead.  Optimisticly I had pulled on jeans and a thin sleeveless top. As I travelled down on the bus, hoped it wasn’t me who’d made the wrong clothing choice. Not a particularly low tide today and at 7:30am a bit early for me. Confused by the buses diversion mistakenly got off too early. Wiggled my way down to the Thames through the ancient alleys and courtyards, passing the city workers noticing faces hung with work worry.

Very happy to scamper down the familiar steps to the exposed shore. The upper foreshore was covered in a slick of silky mud due to the absence of waves from tourist boats in the early morning. 

For an hour I was the only one down there.  After a four week gap I noticed I was full of determination  my eyes sharply and quickly interrogating  the rubble, hunting for those ancient fragments.  Aware my husband would probably have left to visit his mother by the time I returned I didn’t hold back on filling my bags.

Met a lovely guy from Cornwall who’s been mudlarking for 4 years. He’s particularly interested in stoneware and very generous with his knowledge. He pulled out  a couple of pieces he’d picked up today, one the remains of a tankard that would have held a gallon. 300+ years ago they were into big and sharing.  In the past he’d delighted in the same squiggy clay pieces littered with finger prints that we’d come across and had also concluded they’d been used to position pots in a kiln. When I scrabbled to find the small mother of pearl lovely I’d found, he asked if I’d noticed the large  chunks on the foreshore,  I hadn’t. He surmised there must have been a workshop nearby. A co-incidence as today I’d picked up a handful of mother of pearl slithers which had congregated in the same place. My friend Gerry had already guessed that a piece I’d recently given her had been worked. It is the detective work that surrounds these tantalising finds  that is so compelling. 

It was a great day for finds.  I guess find of the day has to be the 2 centimetre mother of pearl 'cross' with a tiny hole through the pointy bit at the top.

Mudlarking Find: Mother of Pearl 'bead' 
Now I look more closely at the mother of pearl pieces I picked up they do look as though they have been worked, their fairy tale sheen catapults me back to the magic of childhood beach stumble upons.
Mudlarking Finds: Mother of Pearl Slithers
An unexpectedly good day for potentially 400 year old delft ware, I’ve got it into my head that the white cylindrical object is a candlestick (pic of complete one from 1650 below). Very taken with the old looking snatch of tulip like flowers, the base of a large jar and the smaller slightly more refined hand painted shards.
Mudlarking Finds: Delftware
1650 London Delft Candelstick probably Southwark (Christies) 
Very pleased to find the handsome good as new salt glazed stoneware base, probably originating from a Bellamine jug, alternatively a plainer drinking jug. They weren't often decorated with rings around the base and I suspect this one is German.  It could be more than 400 years old. 

Mudlarking find: Salt glazed Stoneware Bellamine Base.

German Bartmann Jug 155101700 (Museum of London) 
The next set are very old, I don’t usually pick this stuff up any more, but today - well just did. The jug handle I'm pretty sure is medieval Surrey/Hampshire ware, the other more refined  buff piece with a thicker green glaze is possibly Tudor, the red pieces may be Tudor too, intrigued by the chunky green glazed corner piece.
Mudlarking Finds: Medieval and Tudor Shards. 
Moved by the three small pieces of hand painted ceramic, with their little dots, dashes, stars and imperfect lines, probably all Georgian
Mudlarking Finds: Hand painted Georgian shards
Was this tiny, tiny flower painting done by hand too?

Some nice illustrations captured in transfer ware, 

Beginning to get a bit more interested in the remains of very old glass bottles shown with a couple more clay pipe bowls, the smaller one from 1610.

Mudlarking Finds: Old bottle necks and clay pipes
Still very taken with the bold as brass transfer ware blooms 

Mudlarking Finds:Transferware blooms
The rest is a motley collection of  pearlware handles, bits of tea bowl, drainer, solid agateware (a handle of a carving knife?), embellished creamware, a cute bit of slipware handle and the usual stoneware,debased scratched blue, mocha and some banded ware, all of which somehow found their way into my bags too. 

The rest of the Mudlarking Finds
After I’d had my fill made my way over Millennium bridge and along the Southbank towards the Royal Festival Hall. London was so quiet, workmen dismantling after the Olympics and recent festivals and later erecting stalls and stages for yet more. The Southbank must be London’s best public spirited development of the last 20 years. It just gets better and better, I love the new riverside glass entrance to Blackfriars station and nearby colourful planting. The national theatre reaches out with its huge green outside armchairs, a colourful giant material baobab sculpture was rising out of  Queen Elizabeth Hall’s  grey concrete, the large world flags topping the Royal Festival Hall catching the wind. Crossed back over the Thames, the  Hungerford bridge depositing me at the Tube just in time to get to South Ken to meet Victoria at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  

Festival of the world Southbank Centre
I never fail to  enjoy coming up the  escalator at South Ken and diving straight into the 1885 white tiled tunnel leading to the museums, as a kid it seemed endless. So good to meet up again with Victoria, such a treat to sit in the V&A's central courtyard in the sunshine, backed by beds of orange dahlias and purple flowers, sharing our stories of summer. Felt like one of our long ago trips to  Paris. 

Later we ascend the grand stairwells lined with sheets of marble on the last mission of the day. As we reached the top,  a tower of glass rose from the floor and there they were, shelf upon packed shelf of the ceramics I’ve become so familiar with through my foreshore finds. I have to admit I was slightly over exciting , my heart racing just a little bit faster. It was just great seeing them ‘in the flesh’ together in one place, almost like old friends. Also very funny knowing that a year ago I wouldn’t have given the time of day to a load of old crocks – in fact I couldn’t have thought of many things that would have been more boring. 


  1. I really enjoy your blog, and am always happy to see your treasures!! I would *love* to see some photos of your finds as you find situ would be so interesting to me! Thank you for all of the time you devote to your research, and then in turn share with us! :) Paige from Florida

  2. I so much enjoy your blog. I started out looking for sea glass and have become addicted to the more plentiful local pottery shards. Thank you for sharing your I have been able to I.D. some of my finds from your blog.

  3. It's always great reading about your adventures! I have been to the V&A numerous times, but have never been to the 6th floor. After reading your blog, I went to view the ceramics collection on the 6th floor this past weekend. Wow! I was blown away by the endless rooms of ceramics. I especially enjoyed seeing the fine collection of Bellarmines, Westerwalds, Delftware, etc. which I especially enjoy finding on the foreshore. Thanks for the tip about the 6th floor at the V&A. Jason

  4. I've just started visiting the Thames foreshore and picking up a few little finds. Your blog is so informative - a real inspiration. Thanks. S

    1. Hi Shane, glad the blog has been of help, I wonder if it'll become a habit? Julia