What defines the modern mudlark? A love of the river – its tidal tug a powerful place and space to be yourself, while in search of something ‘other’. The individuals featured here share a common passion – recovering, preserving and collecting fragments of London’s rich history.
Since its birth on the banks of the Thames, London has inevitably been defined by the river that runs through it. An accumulation of centuries of detritus erodes daily to reveal the city’s past.
The mudlarks’ search for the river’s manifold historic narratives can make sense of our wider existence and of time itself, while being a reminder of our future legacy through what we leave behind us.
The mudlarking community as we find it today is an ever-growing group of history hunters. Their practice owes more to The Society of Thames Mudlarks, formed in the late 1970s, than to the destitute scavengers described by the Victorian journalist, Henry Mayhew in 1861.The present idea of searching for artifacts by sieving, metal detecting, scraping and digging only seriously began with the Society, of whom some of its founding members are still active today, and featured here. This was before the Portable Antiquities Scheme and even before a permit was required, but a rapport was soon established with the Museum of London (then situated in Kensington Gardens), and a regular supply of finds made their way to the museum.
The objects our mudlarkers have chosen to share are visceral portals into the past, fragments of lives and histories long forgotten, cherished and given life again by their finders. The extraordinary range of artifacts revealed with the turning of each tide, and the diversity of the individual mudlarks who work so hard to retrieve them, are a testament to London’s own historic diversity. The personal tales of forgotten Londoners find voice through today’s mudlarks, creating new stories in the process.