Ed Bucknall and Malcolm Russell Oral History Transcript
Interviewee: Ed Bucknall and Malcolm Russell
Date: 26th July 2019
Interviewer: Jess White
Q1: This is an oral history interview with Malcolm and Ed, mudlarkers, by Jess White on the 26th of July 2019. Also present are ...
Q2: Eva Tausig from the Thames Festival Trust.
Q3: Denni Morrison
Q1: This interview is taking place in Walthamstow at one of our mudlarker’s houses, as part of the Thames Festival Trust’s Foragers of the Foreshore Heritage Project. So, first up, can you guys please state your names?
MR: Sure, Malcolm Russell.
EB: My name’s Ed Bucknall.
Q1: We should understand who’s who on the recording now. Could, maybe you first, say what your date of birth is?
MR: Yeah, 12th of the 12th, 1973, so what am I, 45.
EB: 10th of the 7th, 1975.
Q1: And whereabouts were you both born?
MR: I was born in south Staffordshire in Tamworth, near Birmingham.
EB: I was born in Chichester in West Sussex.
Q1: Did you both grow up in those areas?
EB: Yeah, or in Sussex.
Q1: So, at school what subjects were you interested in?
MR: I’ve alwa--, I mean, I guess I’ve always been interested in humanities, history especially. The journey that’s taken me to here probably started at a very early age. So, a couple of memories. I can remember going to Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire and being quite--, I must have expressed some sort of interest in history and historical objects. I remember my dad kicking in the soil and he said, “You see that bit of pottery down there, I bet that’s quite old,” and I was always a bit sceptical about whether it was old or not. And I went back to it, I’ve still got it, it’s in a cupboard upstairs, and it’s now what I realise was a bit of post-medieval redware, probably 1500s/1600s. And I thought that was like mind-blowing, that you could just find this like old thing at a site. And then when I was about eight or nine, you know, in the sort of industrial Midlands, you know, those--, you know, there was no--, there’s certainly no equivalent of mudlarking, but there’s a lot of old Victorian bottle dumps. So, most of those bottles on that shelf over there, they’re not from the Thames, I dug those up in the early eighties as an eight or nine-year-old kid. And it was like it’s really dangerous, you go dig these like ten, 15 foot holes in this sort of crumbly ash soil, get down there, pull these things out, I mean, it’s a miracle we didn’t die. These things would collapse quite often to be honest. And then I went to university, studied history, I was never going to do anything else, never seriously considered doing anything else, and then I moved to America. And then in my--, I remember in my late thirties, you know, you sort of stop going out boozing and clubbing and whatnot as much, I was like, I’ve got to get a hobby again. And there was a guy, he had a little card in an estate agent’s window, and it said, “Fireman Sam, privy, Fireman--,” it literally was Fireman Sam, “Fireman Sam, privy digger. I will come and dig out your old privy,” and that’s a toilet, right? And in New York all the old brownstones from the 19th century would always have an outside toilet and they were filled in around the turn of the century. And one of the equivalents of bottle digging, metal detecting or whatever in America is digging out the toilet pit. So, I tried to call this guy, I went, “I’ll dig the hole mate, I’m not expecting you to show me all of your secrets, or get me [permissions 0:03:31], right. I’ll dig the hole if I can just come along for the experience,” but he never called me back. And then when I got--, when I moved back to London, I saw a couple of people down on the foreshore--, I knew about mudlarking, but I’d never done it, I was like, oh, right, that’s it, so I can go and get my old history/discovery/ finding objects kick. And then I sort of suddenly got back into it again. That was probably a very long answer for did I grow up in that area, but there you go.
[Break in recording]
Q1: [Laughs]. That’s great, yeah. Ed, a similar story from a young age or--,
EB: Bizarrely, yes, a very similar story. And it’s actually brought back some memories that I’d completely forgotten about, so thanks Malcolm. As a kid, always interested in geology, like any kid picking things up. And it started with geology, fossil hunting, and gradually became more interested in history. So, my earliest experience was in the family back garden which was actually a rectory 'cos my dad was a vicar at the time, and it was a Victorian bottle dump. So, at the age of seven and eight, me and my sister were like digging broken bottles out. And the one I remember was a Chitty bottle, and I took it down the Chichester Museum and it had the crest of the City of Chichester on. And I remember being so excited, thinking it was super old and only finding out it’s Victorian, so I was a little bit disappointed with the age, but--, a later experience was after the great hurricane of 1987 and again, I was still a kid, we went up on the South Downs and there was this green copper item under the roots of a tree, and I pulled it out and it was obviously a coin, but the size of the coin I was like, wow, and I didn’t recognise the face on the coin. So, I took it to the local museum, and it was actually Emperor Trajan and it was a sestertius, and from then on that was my passion for archaeology. So, it was the fact that you could find objects that hadn’t been seen for 2,000 years, just filled me with like amazement that the last person that handled it was a Roman. So, as a kid I loved Romans, and then I did my GCSEs, studied history, always had a passion for archaeology. Design is also another of my passions and the arts, so the three are sort of intermingled and connected. My first experience in London, I came to London after a stint in Yorkshire after Sussex. My first voyage on the foreshore, I was lucky enough to find a Bellarmine head, which is a 16th century ceramic vessel that was imported from Germany, and they have lovely little heads, and this was a particularly good one, and I remember just being amazed that it literally just washed up. So, I was quite blasé about mudlarking and probably got down once a month for the next three or four years, and then gradually the more better stuff I was finding, the older stuff I was finding, it became more and more addictive. To the extent that I classify myself as a more or less full-time mudlarker when I have time, in between living and doing my day job and everything else.
Q1: Amazing. Well, it’s great to hear about your histories. So, you were saying that you like to do it full-time. What does a typical week, just in your life, look for both of you?
MR: Well, it depends on the time of the tide and how low it’s going to go in a particular week.
[Break in recording]
MR: I don’t plan it too far in advance, I would look at--, on a Monday or a Sunday whatever, look at the tides for the following week, think oh right, it’s early, so I’m going to get up at whatever, five-thirty, six, six-thirty, every day and go down there. If it’s lunchtime, I’ll just go from work.
[Break in recording]
MR: People say, “Why do you mudlark?” Well, I can’t stop to be honest.
MR: It’s like a dopamine hit, the buzz is too strong to be honest. So, a typical week is like, I don’t know, doing it as much as possible without--, you know, within reason, to be honest.
Q1: Are you down there every week as well, Ed?
EB: I do obviously work full-time, so as Malcolm’s mentioned the tides vary every day, every day of the month, and it tends to be weekends, but sometimes early morning before work I’ve been known to pop down which is always a little bit of a buzz. But you have to time it right, so you can get back, have a shower, get changed and go to work, and that means an early start. Or occasionally I do it after work, which obviously summertime, with daylight permitting. I’m unusual in the fact that I do not scrape, so I just like to pick things up that have been washed in, 'cos there’s enough erosion happening to the riverbank to be obviously digging holes or scraping. I mean, scraping’s slightly different, but for me, I like the fact that you can just pick things up as opposed to having to actually scrape for them.
Q1: So, is it quite a seasonal thing for you both? Are you ever able to get out kind of in the darker months?
MR: No, I would--, in fact, bad weather is good because there’s fewer people around [laughs]. You know, I mean, you get a Gore-Tex jacket and go out in any weather, I mean, that’s--, that really doesn’t bother me. I’ll go out in the pouring rain, I’ve been mudlarking in the snow, on hot days, whatever, it doesn’t matter. You know, I’ve night-larked quite a bit, in fact I think the photograph that Hannah was taking of me is at night actually.
[Break in recording]
MR: Yeah, you know, you sort of put a headlight on and go and mudlark in the dark, and it’s actually--, it’s actually not that different to doing it in the day because if you think about it, you’re looking in a very small area and if you’ve got a light, you know, that far away from the foreshore, it’s really not that different. And in fact, there are some--, I mean, I’ve found there are some objects that show up in torchlight better than in--, and actually there’s some objects that show up--, it may be just me, but show up in rain when the foreshore’s wet, especially certain metal objects. So, the conditions in which you do it, the level of the light, whether it’s raining or not, how muddy it is, 'cos at the weekend, if you go early at the weekend you don’t get the Thames clippers washing the mud away. It sort of can lead to slightly different kinds of finds, or different ways of looking. And I actually quite like that because it keeps it fresh, and you sort of--, you know, you come away with a slightly different emphasis in what you’ve find or--, it just keeps it interesting.
Q1: Yeah. Ed, are you able to get out in winter?
EB: I do, and as Malcolm says, wintertime tends to be quieter on the foreshore, partly because of the weather. Obviously if it’s torrential rain, I’ll think again, but I’ve been known to go out when it has been raining, even in the snow. Because--, bizarrely, because of the salt in the Thames, the one place the snow doesn’t settle is the banks of the Thames. So, crazy though it sounds, it’s actually a nice--, and it’s--, one of the joys that I like mudlarking is just having time to yourself, having time to reflect, having time just out of the busy hustle and bustle of London, even though ironically you are still in London, being by the Thames.
Q1: So, for, you know, whenever you’re going, whatever time of year, day or night, do you have a kind of ritual of, you know, a certain pair of wellies you put on, or a process that you go through, or is it different every time?
MR: Yeah, I’ve got my kit. He’s a bit more--, he’ll do it in flipping his flip-flops or whatever.
EB: Ad-hoc [laughs].
MR: No, I’ve got my kit, I have to wear my kit. Always wear knee-pads, just 'cos I--, I sort of, I--, also, it’s quite physical, you know, actually--, I’ve lost loads of weight doing it. It’s quite a physical thing, you know, I like to crawl around on my knees, I can't do that--, you know, I’ve probably slightly more of an emphasis on small metal finds in terms of stuff that I tend to look for, but it depends. So, I always wear knee-pads, always wear waterproof trousers. I don’t want to worry about--, you know, I want to be able to, you know, crawl around in a load of mud without worrying about your clothing or anything like that. But no, no particular rituals apart from that. As I say, it’s one of the joys, it’s pretty simple really, and we don’t have to have any gear at all, to be honest. I mean, I don’t metal detect--, I’ve got a metal detector, I’ve got the one that everyone else uses on the Thames. It’s like a specific one, hot-wired or optimised for the Thames in some way, I’m not sure exactly what they’ve done from an electronic point of view to it, but I don’t use it to be honest.
[Break in recording]
MR: You know, I--, because I’m interested in ceramics and bone items, not just metal, I sort of can get that variety. Whereas if you’re metal detecting, you’re literally focussing I think more on a particular kind of find.
[Break in recording]
Q1: Do you have specific things you look for, Ed? A passion for a certain object or type of object period?
EB: Malcolm will know and I do--, my passion is obviously Romans and Roman history and the [inaudible 0:12:21] got on it, and my sort of--, and again, it goes back to my architectural training that I’m fascinated with buildings, I’m fascinated with the arts, and that was lost after the Romans left Britain. So, the Romans are just incredible with the design, their ceramics, fantastic, beautiful decoration. But in saying that, since I’ve been mudlarking my interest has widened. I’m now interested in medieval periods, I’m interested in Victorian and later dates, and that’s been brought about by finding objects, having to do the research to find out what they are, and again, it’s just--, it opens your eyes and your--, it broadens your knowledge on the architecture--, sorry, archaeological database, so. No, it’s very rewarding, and obviously the feedback from other friends and colleagues and the information you receive back from the Museum of London as well is all useful.
Q1: Is that--,
MR: Oh, one thing on gear there, I do have a--, I get upset if I forget my trowel.
MR: I do go to some spots where I’m allowed to scrape, I’m not--, there’s some on the licence that we’ve got, you’re not allowed to disturb the surface in any way in quite a few areas, but I do go to some areas where I can scrape. I do get very annoyed if I don’t have my trowel with me, 'cos then you have to pick up a sort of, I don’t know, an oyster shell, or rusty flipping nail, it’s not quite the same thing. But I lost it--, I left it in one particular spot which was--, which upset me greatly, but it was there two and a half months later. It’s like one of the mysteries of the Thames. You know, sometimes you can have a huge piece of stone that can move ten metres in a day seemingly, maybe, and then my trowel was just sitting, had moved five centimetres. I don’t know, maybe it went on a load of journeys in between, but--, I know, it’s strange, it’s strange how it moves things around. Some of those sort of questions you’re sort of always trying to unlock in your mind, the mysteries of how the River works, but I haven’t got an answer, I haven’t found it out yet.
Q1: So, what keeps both of you going back to the River?
MR: Yeah, that’s a good--, I mean, like why bother doing this in the first place?
MR: Erm, I mean, I think people do it for--, there’s probably some reasons that we’ve all got in common, you know, a sort of sense of discovery, a break from the hustle and bustle, just the broad dopamine buzz of finding something. But then I think everyone’s obviously got their own personal sort of layers on top of that as to why they do this. And I think for me--, I was sort of thinking about this before you guys came. I think for me, it’s like, you know, I’m sort of looking for the story more than I’m looking for the object. So, if I find a little fragment of something that just looks like a bit of rubbish to be honest, even to some other mudlarkers, that doesn’t bother me. What I’m interested in is the story that it unlocks. And the reason I’m interested in that is probably because, you know, I’ve studied history and you think like what is history? It’s not really the past, it’s creating a narrative basically, based on some evidence that survives, your own personal biases and interests. It’s about creating a narrative about the past, and I like that, and I’m interested in that. And the objects for me are stimulus really to embark on a different perspective, or finding a connection between two things that you didn’t know about. So, if you think about how history is typically taught at school, universities, how it’s served up in museums, how you see it on TV documentaries, you know, it’s typically compartmentalised. So, I’m a medieval specialist, or I’m going to buy a book on, I don’t know, marriage, 1600 to 1800--, so, it’s either compartmentalised--, it has dates around it or periods a lot of which are nonsense, divisions in many ways. Like, when did the medieval period end and when did the post-medieval begin? It doesn’t matter, it depends what you’re talking about, it depends on what kind of object or what area of popular culture--, so, it’s compartmentalised, it has dates around it. Archaeology and history are not very joined up. I mean, I know on Time Team they’ve got that dude with the bow-tie who’s the historian, rummages in some parish records, but generally they’re quite disconnected. Historians look at written records, archaeologists look at material culture, things, right, generally. They’re a bit more scientific and historians make it up a bit more. You know, and I don’t like that, right, I think that’s--, I think that limits our knowledge of the past. So, for me, why do I go--, to go back to your question, why do I go to the foreshore? 'Cos the foreshore disrupts all of that stuff, right, so--,
EB: It’s all mixed up, isn’t it.
MR: It’s all mixed up. So, you know, stratigraphy, you know, which is--, is that the right word, stratification? In archaeology it’s like the bedrock of archaeology right, I’ve got this thing on top of this thing and it allows me to date everything, we can scientifically analyse it. It doesn’t exist on the foreshore. I’ve got a McDonald’s straw [laughs], on top of a Roman coin and then I’ve got a bit of medieval pottery next to that. And then the next day I might come along and find a 1960’s Pepsi bottle, all in the same place. And why is that--, why that’s good is because it disrupts your own perceptions of the past, and you can think well, I only like modern history, but now and then you sort of find this other thin and it takes you off on this journey. And then what that enables you to do is, well for me anyway, it lets you see connections between things, right, that maybe you don’t normally see through classic ways of engaging with the past. So, you know, you could find a, I don’t know, a Roman hairpin and a modern hair pin, you actually see we’ve actually got incredibly similar relationships with like beauty and how we present ourselves 2,000 years ago to now. So, in some ways it makes the past less of a foreign place because you see these things juxtaposed, you see their commonality. But then it also--, in some ways if you can see two things that are in juxtaposition that are very different, and it actually reminds you how foreign the past is.
[Break in recording]
MR: The piece in the Tate Modern, Thames Dig by Mark Dion which anyone who goes to the Tate will see this. It’s a big cabinet full of finds that were dug up outside the Tate. I mean, I guess that’s a classic post-modern bit of art in that he’s challenging the way objects are classified within a museum or an institutional context. But the--, you know, that’s what mudlarking is. Every time you go down there, that’s what you’re doing, you’re messing around with the way the past is presented conventionally. And that’s really interesting to me.
[Break in recording]
Q1: And Ed, is that why you keep going back to the River? You know, how do you feel when you’re there?
EB: Yeah, the reason why I enjoy going back to the River is the fact that you will always find something, no matter how small, insignificant, or you might find something amazing, but you’ll never leave the foreshore without picking something up. Also, my passion for history and archaeology, it’s adding to the London record, so before it gets washed away or destroyed, or never to be seen again, it’s a moment in time. And I think the Thames is like a big washing machine that it’s--, literally there’s a lot of archaeology there and it is literally constantly being churned up. Historically it was just the tide, but now the Thames clippers sadly are doing more erosion on the Thames foreshore than ever been known before. So, you can go within a 24 hour period and bits have just gone, literally. And it’s--, I mean, even in the short span of mudlarking regularly, there’s areas which will disappear within weeks. That it’s a moment in time, so it’s almost saving things from further destruction. And it’s luck of the draw. You can be there ten minutes and find something amazing, you can be there three hours and not find much, but you’ll always find something, so yeah, that’s why I keep on going back. It’s the draw and the--, I see it as a great asset, that it’s really important to be recorded for London, especially old antiquities and priceless artefacts. I mean, historically the head of Hadrian was found near London Bridge, and that was dredged up in, I think it was about 1860. And interestingly, it was the south side of the River, so there you go, as I found in a book that was written in the last century, in 18 something or other.
Q1: Uh-huh. So, Ed, can you give us kind of a snapshot of what it’s like to stand there on the foreshore, you know, by the River. Tell us about the sound and the smells, and what you’re feeling.
EB: Yeah. Obviously dependent on location, but the general--, I mean, it is--, you do have fantastic experiences. There’s times if you do go down early evening, you’ll hear the hustle and bustle of people drinking by the River, looking down, talking to their friends saying, “I think he’s lost something,” and you get inquisitive youths saying, “Have you found gold yet?” And so--, but there was one particularly memorable evening when--, it was actually in Wapping and I was down on the foreshore and there was people just singing in a flat. And it was almost like I was taken almost back a hundred years, just imagining the River taverns and the sound of plain song and like people singing, and it was just--, because it was getting dark, it was just--, those sort of unique experiences you have. And then, there’s other times you’re there and you see the Royal Barge go past, or--, on Remembrance Sunday actually it was quite poignant 'cos I had all the sounds of all the boats going up the Thames and the bells of, I think it was Southwark Cathedral ringing across the Thames. So, as I say, it takes you back to different eras depending where you are. And for me, yeah, it’s the sounds of the water, the sound of being by the sea. That sort of childhood memory I guess of beachcombing.
Q1: Malcom, do you have any standout memorable experiences from mudlarking?
MR: There was a guy at one spot when I was doing a night--, when I was mudlarking at night, and I didn’t have my light on. And I was looking at the ground and I actually bumped into this guy who was having a smoke on the foreshore [laughs], and we frightened the life out of each other 'cos I was obviously--, I was holding this little garden tool with spikes on it that I was using to dig, and he thought I--, obviously I was going to do him in, and I--, you know, I didn’t notice him and we were like “Arghhh!” You know, sort of almost in each other’s faces. It took about two minutes for us to sort of calm down and realise we weren’t there to, you know, attack each other. So, there’s little things like that, you know, you sort of interact with people in a slightly different way. But, you know, most of the memories are the finds to be honest. You know, 'cos that’s what it’s all about really.
EB: I’ll say another nice thing about the foreshore is, it’s a very friendly place. A lot of mudlarkers are respectful to each other and occasionally--, two or three times I’ve had people coming up to me and saying, “Oh, you’re Ed,” and they kind of know me, which is a bit weird, even though I don’t know them. And then after that you have friendships for life, hence why myself and Malcolm know each.
EB: So, it’s been nice and again, it’s like a little community and it’s a rewarding experience.
Q1: So, it’s not always solitary activities that you’re on the foreshore for.
EB: I think it’s solitary in the fact that I wouldn’t plan to go mudlarking with someone, but you--, it’s rare you won’t bump into someone. So, it’s more that sort of activity. I have had friends that have come down just curious, and they always find better things than me--,
EB: Which is distinctly annoying. Especially when they’re on their phone and they look down and find something that I’ve been hunting for two hours for, but--, that’s happened a few times.
Q1: So, onto the things that we find. I was hoping you guys would tell us a bit about your objects.
Q1: So, maybe Ed you can go first and describe one of the objects you’ve chosen?
EB: Okay. It was very difficult first of all to narrow it down to five objects. So, as I say, I’ve tried to like spread the periods 'cos my passion is obviously Romans. So, probably the best object and the most important objects I recovered, which was just poking out of the gravel at the time, it’s actually an incomplete but almost complete Roman ceramic black-burnished ware vessel, dating from 160-250 AD. I realised it’s importance to the fact that it still had the contents in. So, I took it home, I put in the kitchen sink and I thought, there’s something in this, I’m going to be patient, I’m going to take it to the Museum of London, let them do it properly. My--, as I say, it paid off 'cos they X-rayed it and they actually found eighteen items within it. Just very quickly, the summary, there was two bits of worked Roman leather, part of a worked Roman bone, and loads of fragments of Roman wood, a few which showed signs of working. But what was even more interesting was the pot had been pierced three times at a later date, so the likelihood I think, it was probably hung up like a sort of hanging basket in Roman times. Probably used for scraps in maybe a little Roman workshop somewhere in London, and at a later date cast into the Thames only to be found--, and literally one more tide, that would have gone, 'cos it had just popped out. So, as I say, there’s one small bit of the top rim missing which is no doubt still in the Thames or in someone else’s collections, but it’s--, that’s probably my best find to date.
Q1: How long ago did you find that?
EB: I would say it was about a year and a half ago, so fairly recently in the big scheme of things.
MR: Jealous. Never found a complete pot.
MR: I never admit jealousy. Lots of mudlarkers do. I never--, I always try to--, I’ve never ever mentioned to him that I wish I’d found that, but I do wish I’d found that.
Q1: Do you remember the day that you found it and what the River was like?
EB: I do, I do, and ironically on the same night, or the same evening, I found an equally impressive Roman mortarium [spout 0:26:46] with a lion’s head. So, the two to find on the same evening, I--, blew my mind to be honest, I was--,
Q1: What sort of day was it? Was it a cold day? Hot day? Winter?
EB: It was getting dark, it was in the evening, and I was just about to turn back and as I say, I thought it was an animal bone. And I scooped it with my hands and a whole pot came up from it and it was like, wow. It was like that--, yeah, incredible. Your adrenalin goes and I was--, I think I cycled home faster than I’d ever cycled, I was so excited.
MR: How big is it? How tall is it?
EB: It’s really nice, it’s about that--,
MR: Yes, it’s nice, it’s lovely, isn’t it?
EB: I’ll put it in the exhibition so you can see.
Q1: So, Malcolm was saying that he thinks about the narrative around the object, so when you found that you’d clearly think about the story behind it as well.
EB: I do, yeah, yeah.
Q1: Do you do that after the Museum of London have--, when you’ve analysed objects, or do you kind of start creating that in your head immediately when you find it, now that you know more about objects in general?
EB: I think--, I mean, I’m quite good with recognising bits anyway, so I knew it was Roman, I knew it was black-burnished ware, but again, the--, for me, it’s the vision that is going back into the past. I’ve also been fortunate to find part of a Roman hobnail boot, that’s currently with the Museum. And again, the thought of that boot [claps] walking through the streets of London, visiting the temples, doing--, it’s just--, I think for me it’s like a time capsule, it’s almost like going back into that period. And probably similar for Malcolm, he finds objects and it just takes you back into another era. And maybe it’s an escapism from the real world, but--, so.
MR: Yeah, 'cos a lot of these objects--, you know, it’s like there’s an approach to history called history from below, you know, for most of our existence most people couldn’t read, they couldn’t write, you know, arts, poetry, it’s all created by elites, right, it’s their view of the world. And a lot of this stuff it’s rubb--, it’s literally rubbish, and it’s the rubbish of ordinary people. So, I think that’s it, it just gives you a--, it especially takes you back into the lives of people who aren’t necessarily represented in other presentations of the past, whether it’s books, telly or whatever. So, I think that’s another--, it’s just a sort of extra dimension that you get that this is the stuff from people whose stories haven’t necessarily been told in other--, you know, in other ways.
Q1: Could you tell us about one of your objects, Malcolm?
MR: Sure. What this is, it’s a signet ring. You can see here, it’s got a crown on it and it’s got the initials “RD” although they look back to front, but I’ll tell you why in a second. And this dates from around 1450-1550, so the end of the Middle Ages, beginning of the Tudor period. It’s made from copper alloy, and what this was used for, like all signet rings, is to press into hot wax in order to make your personal mark when a document was being sealed. And that’s why the initials look the wrong way round, because when pressed into wax--,
EB: They’re back to front.
MR: They would appear “RD”.
[Break in recording]
MR: You know, I think this is probably my favourite find of all time. And the sort of story that finding this sort of unlocked is, you know, first of all these rings became more popular around this period because, you know, you’re sort of coming out of the Middle Ages, you’re sort of--, Europe’s recovering from the ravages of the Black Death, you know, trade is starting to become more internationally connected. And you get the expansion in England and other parts of Europe of what was being called the sort of middling sort, this kind of middle-class if you will of like, merchants that are engaged in, you know, all manner of trade. And this created an increase in the amount of paperwork and contracts and stuff that was created, so--, and more sealing, and therefore, the growth of ownership of objects such as signet rings that enabled people to--, you know, that played a role in--, you know, in the completion of that kind of paperwork that existed around business. And, you know--, so first thing I discovered was, you know, well, why did this thing exist at that time? And then inevitably my mind sort of then wondered to, well, who was RD? And somebody said, “Oh, you’ll never find out, you’ll never find out who it was.” So, I sort of took that as a challenge, right? You know, I was like, I’m going to go and give it a shot, I’m going to see if I can find out who RD might have been. So, where that took me to is, I searched the Wills that were filed at what was called the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Now, although it’s called the Court of Canterbury, it actually sat in London. And what that Court did was administer the Wills in the early modern period across the whole of the south of England. And you can search their records really easily online, they’re in the National Archives. So, what I did is, I looked at all the Wills that had been in front of this Court between 1400 and 1600 that related to Southwark, Westminster and the City of London, so the three areas that were closest to the find spot, and obviously, names with the initials RD. And there was 1,400 documents [laughs] that I ended up looking through in total. Yeah, it took me ages. And I eventually got it down to--, how many have we got here? One, two, three, four, five, six individuals that might be the RD. So, they are [Race De La Mere 0:32:29] that’s my favourite name, of Southwark, and his Will was filed August 1491, Robert Drape, he was an alderman and draper, so nice connection between his job and his name, of Cornhill, October 1487. Robert Drayton who was again was a draper, of Poultry, March 1504. Richard [Druce 0:32:50 ] who was a grocer, Cornhill again, May 1512. Richard Dean who was a merchant, based in Calais and London, November 1519, and Richard [Daughton 0:33:01], mariner, St Dunstan’s parish, May 1539. Now, there’s no guarantee that one of those individuals is this specific RD, but what it does is, again like I said, it helps you sort of visualise or connect with the individual that might have owned this object, what they used it for and so on and so forth. So, you know, that’s the first one for me.
Q1: Is it heavy? Is it quite smooth?
MR: Try it on [pause].
Q1: It’s smoother than I thought it would be actually, and it’s heavier than I thought it would be as well.
[Break in recording]
Q1: It’s quite big as well, I mean, it’s not going to fit my fingers, unfortunately [laughs].
MR: Yeah, I mean, I did think whether it may be--, you know, maybe--,
EB: Like a merchant’s ring, isn’t it?
MR: It belonged to a woman because, you know, the sort of archetype of a Tudor merchant is that he’s male, but there were women involved in business. If you read these--, you know, these Court records, you know, sometimes the husband would die and the wife would, you know, take over the business operations. But I think the size of it probably means it belonged to a man.
Q1: So, why did you choose this object to talk about and to [inaudible 0:34:10]?
MR: A number of reasons. I think one, it’s rarity, you know, they’re not uncommon, but they don’t turn up very often on the foreshore. I think I’ve seen one other found over the past few years that I know about. But I think mainly it’s the personal connection, you know, it’s an individual’s initials, you know, an object that would have been important to him that was used every--, you know, every day.
Q1: Ed, can you tell us about another one of your objects?
EB: I will. So, this object I found--, there was a nice little patch which has now been infilled, partly because of the erosion, and it’s a beautiful hand-carved--, I think it’s Reigate green sandstone, animal head. When I found it I was blown away, partly because of the beauty and crudeness of the carving, and the fact it’s got loads of little claws and it’s asymmetrical. I thought when I found it, it’s probably Medieval and possibly a small corbel from a window or something similar. It has been with the Museum of London, I’m still awaiting the details for it. It possibly could be older, only on the fact that it’s--, well, I think it’s a lion. Is it a lion or is it a pig?
MR: Animals are really hard to identify--,
EB: Animals [laughs].
MR: I genuinely find--,
Q1: It looks like a hippo to me [laughs].
MR: In Medieval, Roman and more recent objects.
EB: So, I’m just passing it to the archaeologist to see if she can shed some more light on it.
Q1: I think this is one that can be interpreted any way you want it [laughs].
EB: Yes [laughs].
Q1: Which I think is great about the foreshore too.
EB: Yeah, but the beauty of it, it’s unique and the fact it’s handmade, and someone once upon a time, spent time and effort creating something from a piece of stone that fortunately for me, I happened to stumble across that day.
Q1: So, what do you both do with your finds once you’ve got them? Do you, you know, put them on a shelf, do you put them in a box? How do you kind of manage them?
MR: So, I started off trying to be--, being really rigorous. I put everything in a little bag, write all the details on it, what it is, where it was found. I was trying to be like quite serious about it. But then I thought, well, you know, the stuff that the Museum are interested in has been recorded, it’s all--, you know, it’s on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, I thought why leave it in a load of little bags? So, that display cabinet there, there’s a--, I mean, I can show you guys later, there’s another one of those upstairs with like half my collection in it, so I can just show it to people now. And then I’ll put the other half in that one when I get round to it.
Q1: And yourself, Ed?
MR: Extremely similar manner. When I first started obviously I had less stuff. I’ve got a purpose-made, that I made as a teenager, display cabinet. So, that houses the majority of the finds, but it’s now--, I have to be honest, it’s completely overflowed, but it is kind of nice 'cos it’s a whole stack of objects that have come out of the Thames, and again, because of my history and different periods I try and categorise them, so I’ve found everything from Stone Age all the way through to as I say, modern rubbish. So, the stuff that I accumulate that obviously--, rather than throw it away which I think would be criminal, I do remember where I find it, so I do deposit stuff back to the place that I find it, rather than as I say, destroy.
MR: Yeah, I think--,
EB: Which is nice 'cos it means it gives other people the opportunity to find objects, and also it means that we’re not taking everything away.
MR: I actually found one of his cast-off finds as well. He didn’t notice--,
EB: [Laughs] I didn’t notice.
MR: That it had this little maker’s mark thing or excise mark on it [laughs].
EB: Yeah, I had a chat about it with Malcolm afterwards, I said, “Malcolm, did you find it in a certain place?” He was like, “Yes,” I was like, “I hadn’t noticed--,” it was the smallest little stamp--, but there you go [laughs].
MR: It wasn’t a great--, it wasn’t amazing. So, he didn’t throw anything amazing away, but it was really funny that I just noticed something in it that he didn’t, or didn’t--, wasn’t interested in or whatever. But the find--, the display of finds though, I think that’s another--, that has a huge impact I think on the sort of enjoyment and the value you can take out of it. So, you know, in the sort of--, you may know this story already I’m not sure, but in the Renaissance period, you know, it was sort of popular for sort of nobility to have a, you know, a wunderkammer, like a cabinet of curiosities, so a room or a--, literally a piece of furniture that had a bunch of different--, you know, stuff in it. Could be natural finds, fossils, antiquities, all this sort of stuff. And, you know, you sort of jumble it all up and, you know, supposedly it allowed people to see the sort of connections between the natural world, manmade stuff, between different eras and so on and so forth. And, you know, I think that’s the way I sort of think about my display cabinet, full of all this stuff. Again, it allows you to just see these sort of different connections between different objects and different periods that, you know, as I said earlier, you know, tend to be compartmentalised and divided up and categorised in a certain way within the past as it’s typically presented to us. And it just sort of breaks it down, you can reorder it and tell a different story with your finds. Maybe you want to do chronology, maybe you want to do things with holes in, maybe you want to do domestic objects, where they were used, how they were used, when they were used, what they were used for. So, you can constantly--, by constantly reordering it to give you--, give myself a slightly different perspective depending on what I’m interested in at any one point in time. So, I think that’s really interesting. I get a lot of value out of that. I’m glad I took them all out of the little plastic bags.
MR: 'Cos it’s a bit boring really--,
EB: Yeah. I think as well the danger is, you can find things and they go in a box and we all know what it’s like--,
EB: Once they’re in a box, you don’t see them and you forget about them, and you lose the enjoyment. So, again, my flat in London is very small, but it’s very very Thamesie, but in a good way. So, the shelves have got Bellarmine heads on, and there’s kind of--, and people that come in to visit are just probably surprised by the amount of stuff I’ve accumulated. But, there you go, I’m a bit of a hoarder.
Q1: I was going to say, do you--, I know you both have social media profiles to do with mudlarking, is that one of your ways to stop your hoarding, or is the purpose to share it with a wider audience? Why are you using social media with your finds?
EB: I think for me, it’s to share the beauty, the knowledge, the personal excitement. I know--, I have friends that mock me saying, “Oh, it’s old broken ceramics, throw it away, throw it away,” like jesting, but for me, I think it’s really important. And I think the good thing--, I mean, going back to museums, it’s the way to display it to a wider audience. So, for me, just to take it home and hide it in a cupboard I think is a shame because obviously as you’ve seen from Malcolm’s finds today, they are objects of beauty and should be shared. And obviously the museum collections are full, so it’s nice--, through social media it’s kind of sharing it on another platform.
MR: Yeah, it’s similar to--, similar reasons for me. I mean--, but what I like to do is, I like--, because as I say, I like to tell the story of the finds, it’s a place where I can do that, 'cos I can put together text with, you know, an image of the object itself. And then I can also bring in like documents, so a lot of the time I’ll try and join up a--, you know, the story I tell on social media, the object with--, it could be a painting, it could be a Will, it could be any historical document because that’s--, again, it’s getting that connectivity between, you know, documentary evidence and the find, and then putting that together to kind of, you know, develop a little story or perspective on the--, you know, on the past. So, recently I found a trade bead, so it was a bead manufactured for trading with indigenous people in North America for furs, like beaver pelts. And, you know, there’s a lot of stories in popular history about indigenous people selling Manhattan for $24 or giving away vast tracts of land for a bag of beads. And that’s not actually true, it actually does those people a disservice, because if you actually look at the records of what they were actually trading for beaver pelts, beads are only actually quite a small proportion. A lot of it is stuff that they were using strategically to, you know, improve their quality of life, you know, whether that’s cloth or tools, or guns and powder, and beads are only a tiny proportion actually, I think it’s 5% on the particular records I looked at from Canada.
[Break in recording]
EB: A nice story as well, I found a virtually complete 13th century pantile and I posted it on Instagram, and within a week someone in America had actually made a replica copy. So, he’s actually used the image that I uploaded onto Instagram, and he sent me a link. And he goes, “I’ve just fired this,” and he’s made it in the same traditional way. So, it just shows that it’s across the globe that people are very interested, obviously the countries that don’t have the rich history that London and the UK have.
MR: You get a lot of people in America, Canada, Australia, you know, who obviously have got this--, that their heritage is from the UK, so they’re interested at that sort of personal level. And obviously, there’s a lot of commonality between the objects that are found in like colonial America, but we have a greater quantity of them here. So, yeah, you--, I’ve got a lot of people I interact with in North America and Australia. And obviously, the other thing I’ve learnt, there’s an expert for everything, there really is--,
MR: An expert for everything. So, Ed’s got--, I mean, we’ve--, Ed’s got loads of these things, I’ve got a few of them, but tiles with animal prints in them, Roman or medieval, where they were laid out to dry and a--, could be an otter, a cat, a dog, a rodent, ran across these things when they were drying and leaves a print behind. And, you know, you sort of find one of these things, ah, that’s really cool. But I found one and it didn’t look like it was obviously a cat or a dog, and I eventually sort of just came across by chance a woman who’s basically Britain’s leading expert in identifying animal prints in archaeological [claps] contexts in tiles. And, you know, she’s amazing, she‘s created all these incredible studies based on thousands of Roman tiles. She’s done these incredible--, she’s an archaeological illustrator, so she’s done these amazing drawings to match up the print with the animal, and she’s like, “That one’s an otter, that one’s a hare,” it’s incredible. You know, just to be able to like, connect with these people who previously would have been--,
MR: In an academic department or a backroom of a museum somewhere, and suddenly, you know, we’re sort of creating all this knowledge for everybody and sharing it. So, yeah, that’s really cool.
EB: On a similar note, I found a Stone Age bead which I thought was Mesolithic, it had been perforated. I posted it on Instagram and the--, one of the main archaeologists from Star Carr which is a famous Mesolithic site in North Yorkshire, actually emailed me and contacted me and said, “That’s really interesting because we’ve only located one in Reading which is on the Thames, and all the ones are either known in Wales or in, obviously Yorkshire.” So, again, that’s been--, in the process of being recorded with the Museum of London, but it could be showing a unique trading route that is going back to Mesolithic times. And again, just the sharing of information I think, is so useful and so important, and the positive side of social media is you get that everyone can offer comments and use their knowledge and expertise.
[Break in recording]
MR: What this is, is the lower section of an 18th century whistle--,
EB: It’s beautiful.
MR: Or flute. So, you can see the holes that you would cover your fingers with to make a tune. It would have then extended up this way. And it’s made from pewter, and it’s very unusual that instruments weren’t normally made from pewter at the time. They were sort of made from tin, wood occasionally, occasionally bone, and this would have even been used--, you know, I mean, there’s a number of contexts it could have been used in. It could have been used just simply, you know, folk music, traditional songs being played in a tavern, it could be a sailor just pootling around on--, you know, on a--, passing the time on a boat, there’s a lot of mentions in Samuel Pepys’ diary of that, or it could have been used in a military context.
[Break in recording]
Q1: How big would it have been as a whole instrument?
MR: About that.
EB: Recorder size.
Q1: Almost a foot?
MR: Yeah. Recorder size or whistle, tin whistle size basically. And what’s interesting about that is that, you know, think about the 18th century, you know, sailors, colonists, you know, going from Britain to America, you know, taking songs with them, whether its jigs, folk songs, you know, and what have you. You know, that then got sort of fused with the, you know, music that slaves brought with them from Africa and, you know, you think about the American music tradition, the various genres you’ve got over there, you know, rock ‘n roll, that’s how all this stuff came together. It’s a sort of interesting fusion of music from Africa, music from Europe. And, you know, that’s the kind of object that first introduced some of those sounds to America, along with the fiddle and what have you.
[Song played on a flute/whistle].
MR: Next one. This is a piece of ammunition from the Soviet Union. Now, there’s a lot of ammunition gets found in the Thames. Most of it is British, but occasionally you find ammunition from, you know, other armies, German, Soviets, American, French, you know, from the First World War and the Second World War. This is from the Second World War. And what interests me about this object is how it might have ended up in the Thames. And from the research that I’ve done, soldiers used to bring home--, British soldiers used to bring home ammunition as souvenirs from, you know, tours of duty. And the reason it ended up in the Thames was because it was contraband, they weren’t allowed to have ammunition when they’re on the troop ships and, you know, officers would say, “Right, if you’ve got any souvenirs that are not allowed, throw them overboard now.” And, you know, that’s how it ended up in the Thames, but in terms of how a British soldier might have acquired this, you know, the sort of--, this took me to research where did the two armies meet in the Second World War? Where did the British Army and the Red Army meet up? And potentially, you know, exchange a few gifts and pick up some souvenirs. And that was in--, there’s only really a couple of possibilities and the most likely scenario was it was in northern Germany. So, you had the British Army under Montgomery advancing west, you had the Red Army advancing from the east at the end of the Second World War, they met up in northern Germany just to the west of where Hamburg is now, 'cos there wasn’t really a great deal of interaction at any other point between the Soviets and the British, you know, and here we have it. It’s ended up in the Thames, you know, it’s probably a soldier’s souvenir of, you know--, I mean, imagine how amazing it felt to see, you know--,
EB: Is it actually marked then, Russian?
EB: How do you know it’s Russian?
MR: The head stamp on the bottom is Soviet--,
MR: And you can get it right down to the exact factory that it was made, and these numbers tell you where it was made, which factory, where in the Soviet Union and when it was made. So, it’s from an ammo factory in Siberia, made in the middle of the Second World War. And I mean--, I mean, I know it’s a bullet which we associate with bad things, killing and whatever, but if you imagine the guy that, you know, you see, “Oh, the Red Army, I can see--,” the war’s over, right, we’ve defeated Nazi Germany at great expense, you know, when the two armies meet. You know, so although, you know, you look at a bullet and you think, you know--, you know, it’s a sort of object made for killing, I think there’s probably a great deal of hope and jubilation that’s probably associated with the acquisition of that, you know, that particular find. So, kind of like--, I mean, a lot of people hate ammo. I’m really interested in ammo, I pick it all up, as long as it’s legal.
EB: I chuck it back.
[Recording of British soldiers meeting Soviet soldiers, May 1945 ]
[Break in recording]
Q1: Do you just pick the ones you’re really interested in, to research in this much depth?
MR: No, I’ll search everything--,
MR: Everything I bring home gets researched. But the thing is you find the same objects time and time again sometimes, you don’t--, it’s not like you’re doing this every single find.
[Break in recording]
MR: What that is is a tuning peg from a medieval harp. So, the string would have gone through that little hole there, been wound around it, and then you’d have put a little key and turned that in order to tighten or loosen the string and tune the harp. And, you know, why do I like this? Well, they’re exceptionally rare, I think there’s been two others found on the Thames in the past seven years, and there have been some found in an excavation in York that were dated 1200-1500, so it’s very rare. And also, it’s--, you know, it’s--, 'cos again 'cos it’s musical, it just sort of gives you another sort of sensory perception on the past. You know, it prompted me--, I’ve never really listened to any medieval music, harp music before, but it prompted you to go and I’ll go and check that out, and that’s what I’ve been doing, out of my headphones all day. And it just--, again, it enriches your sort of connection with the past 'cos you--, I’d have sort of previously ignored the sound of that era. And also, it’s bone, I really like bone objects because, you know, you can see how it’s--, you know, it’s not uniform, you can see how that’s been whittled down by hand. You know, metal detectorists walking around in fields aren’t going to find that, they’re not going to pick it up, so it’s a very--, I see bone stuff as a very Thames find, it’s a mudlarking find. You only really--, the amateur--, you know, I’m not an archaeologist, the amateur is only going to find something like that on the Thames, so I love that.
MR: Don’t put yourself down [both laugh].
Q1: Did you have any inkling of what it was when you found it?
MR: I did know what it was because I did some research on every musical find that had ever been found in the Thames, and there’s only a few, there’s only like four things that have been recorded on the Portable Antiquities database. I just had a look, so--, but I would have known it was a thing, 'cos you can tell it’s not just any old bit of bone. But yeah, it was just luck really.
MR: Alright, last one. Oh, no, last two. That’s a bottle seal, so it’s basically a blob of glass that would have been attached to a 17th century bottle like the one that Ed showed you earlier. They’re kind of globular, they’re called onion bottles. And this specific seal was attached to the side of a bottle to signify--,
EB: It’s stunning.
MR: Who the owner was. And they’re not uncommon, you know, most people have found one or two, but this one is particularly ornate. And what we’ve got here is, that’s the monogram of the landlady and the landlord of The Crown Tavern in Oxford. And people would go to The Crown Tavern who were studying at Oxford University, they’d basically go and get some takeout. “I’ll get a couple of bottles of wine, take back to my college to get drunk with my student friends,” just like students do today. And this seal reminded them that, “Oh, I got this from The Crown Tavern, I’ve got to take my bottles back to get the deposit.” And it’s dated 1675 at the bottom--,
MR: And it says “Oxon” at the top, so the county. So, again it’s not--, bottle seals aren’t super-rare, but I love the specificity in terms of the use, how it was used, the names of the people, and I’ve got a very specific date. And it just looks great.
Q1: Isn’t it sharp around the edges or has the River kind of worn it down?
MR: No, the River’s sort of taken that down. But I’ve actually treated this. I mean, you sort of become a bit of an amateur conservation expert as well, so your finds don’t basically fall to pieces. I mean, I’ve got leather stuff in the fridge, I’ve got a thing in the freezer freeze-drying. This has had--,
EB: It’s beautiful [inaudible 0:55:24].
MR: B72 Paraloid put on it which is what museums put on glass finds to stop them falling to pieces. Right, last one. Roman hairpin. And, you know, why do I like these? I mean, they’re not super-rare, you know, on any Roman--, as I understand, any Roman archaeological excavation will typically throw up some of these things. But again for, you know, a sort of amateur pottering around on the Thames to just be able to find something like this, just sort of blows my mind and, you know, this is one of those objects where you really--, where, you know, it really got me thinking about who might have been the last person to hold it. And Roman women of some wealth would typically have one or more slaves in their household specifically devoted to hairstyling, called Ornatrices. And, you know, the kind of hairstyling that they performed--, there’s a few things that I found interesting about it. One, these sort of pins were sometimes used to attach what was called “captured” hair, so this is basically hair taken as a spoil of war. And Germany--, blonde hair from Germany and black hair, very black hair from India, were apparently, according to Ovid the Roman poet who wrote about this stuff, were the two most popular forms of captured hair. And that would be pinned into a Roman woman’s hair as a sort of, what we’d call a hair extension, or hair piece now. So, that’s one scenario it could have been used in. Or it could have been used simply to create like super-elaborate hairstyles that Roman women had. I mean, again before I started mudlarking I never thought I’d get into the history of hairdressing. Roman women had awesome hairstyles, they were incredibly intricate and, you know, I’ve just become really interested in that and, you know, you’d have never gone on that journey without picking this thing up. So, that’s my last one.
[Break in recording]
Q1: Ed, onto your objects.
EB: Thank you. So, again similar to Malcolm, bone items quite frequently turn up in the Thames which again metal detectorists can’t find, so it’s one little advantage we have over them. This I found about five months ago, and it’s the most beautiful decorated bone Roman gaming counter. I have been fortunate to find about six or seven in the years I’ve been mudlarking, and as you can see from the detail, it’s absolutely exquisite with a central circle with a decoration of numerous circles with the classic ring and dot decoration which is--, was used also in later times, but it was predominantly invented and used by the Romans. What’s interesting as well with that is, quite close to it I actually was fortunate enough to find a Roman die as well, which unlike contemporary die, this is actually slightly rectangular. And again, it’s got the classic ring and dot decoration, which brings me to the fact that whether it was Romans in the bath houses in Londinium, or whether it was just in the taverns, but the Romans actually--, their main pastimes was actually board games, so they played games similar to backgammon and draughts that we know today. So, again apparently one of the most popular games was called, and I can’t pronounce it 'cos it’s Latin, was Ludus Latrunculorum, which means game of the brigands, or game of thieves. So, again there’s--, at Lullingstone Roman Villa in Kent, they were fortunate enough to find a complete set of Roman gaming counters and that was--, 15 on each set, so a classic game would have had 30 counters apparently, and that was found in the excavations on Lullingstone Roman Villa. And again, a more recent find, I found a matching counter with a similar design as the ones from Lullingstone, so again, that’s currently with the Museum of London being recorded, which is quite rare to find a glass counter on the Thames.
Q1: These are all, you know, the size of your fingertips, so you are really on your hands and knees, or are you--,
EB: No, no, not at all, I’ve--, I think because as I said, I used to search as a kid, I used to do a bit of field walking, so I think you get attuned to--,
Q1: You’ve got an eye.
EB: Getting the eye.
MR: Yeah, I mean, what you’re looking for generally are things that are rounder or straighter than anything natural. You know, and sometimes you just capture--, you just see the corner of something--,
EB: And the light as well, isn’t it?
MR: You know, or the light or something, and you’re like, that’s a thing. You don’t quite know what it is, and then once you get your eye--, it took me ages, I couldn’t, you know, find anything decent for like the first seven or eight months [laughs], I was just picking up rubbish. You know, but it comes with time, it just comes, you know, you develop a slightly different way of looking at stuff, don’t you?
EB: You do indeed. My next find is--, and again, I found it probably about six years ago now, and it was a low-tide and I was quite blasé when I found it. And there was a little bit of glass sticking out of the mud and I tried to pull it and it didn’t move, so I scraped the mud around each side and as I pulled it up, it made like a pop noise as it came out of the mud. I thought quite naively it was probably a couple of hundred years old and shoved it in a bag full of other finds, only to find later on when I was doing due diligent research--, and now I know all about glass bottles, that it is actually a particularly rare transformation English onion-shaped wine bottle, and it’s been closely dated between 1690 and 1700. And this particular type doesn’t conform to the normalities of the published types. The Museum of London have actually recorded it. It’s--, as I say, it’s very unique to find a complete bottle because obviously the ravages of time, tides and everything else. You find loads of fragments of onion bottles and like Malcolm’s beautiful crest, it’s extremely rare to find a whole bottle, so as I say, I was blasé when I found it expecting--, and I’ve been back to see if there’s anymore, but lo and behold, no. And then, my next find, my final one, is I’ve been fortunate enough--, and again, I think it’s because I particularly like ceramics and tiles being an architect by trade, I’ve managed to find between 25 to 30 footprints in tiles and--, the majority are dogs and cats. Actually, the majority are actually dogs. But I found one just two weeks ago which was particularly sweet 'cos it’s a--, it’s actually a medieval brick which is slightly more unusual to find tile prints in, but the two prints are different sizes. So, it’s either mother and kitten, or a male and female cat. And again, this expert that Malcolm has mentioned has given her more expert comments on it. I’ve also been fortunate enough to find about five Roman prints as well, including a hobnail boot print which got recorded by the Museum of London. So, again it’s fragmentary, but the fact it’s some Roman walked on it back in--, 1,800 years ago, is amazing. And what they used to do apparently is to test whether it had set before they put it in the kiln, so they actually would have physically trod on it. Another thing you commonly find again related to tiles on the foreshore, is signature marks on Roman tiles, so I’ve found numerous ones. And it’s a semi-circle, a swipe, and some of them have a cross-line. And again, yesterday lunchtime I just popped down in my lunch hour and I actually found another one, so. It just goes to show, you can pop down for half an hour and you can find something that was on a roof of London 1,800 years--, and it’s that uniqueness and moment in time that kind of makes it so addictive.
Q1: You carry your tools on you at all times, ready for mudlarking whenever it strikes you?
A: I was--, no, I don’t. As--, Malcolm has his full kit, I just have a change of shoes and maybe a t-shirt.
Q1: Have you managed to tie up your kind of architecture passion with mudlarking?
A: Interesting you say that, I have. And again, it started off I think it was about five years ago. I found a lovely piece of Victorian marble and it--, and I took it home, popped it in the flat and at the time I was doing loads of canvases and paintings and commissions, and I thought oh, that would lend itself really well to a painting. So, I looked at it for two or three weeks and I thought--, and then I did actually a scene of St Paul’s and it’s probably one of the best pictures I’ve ever done, and it was exhibited in a show two years ago and I actually sold it. But since then, I’ve had a success of about three exhibitions in London, and doing--, because it’s unique, it’s--, it’s not ancient marble, it’s Victorian slabs that I think were brought to the UK as ship’s ballast. So, some of it would have been for building material, some of it would probably have been used for memorials for gravestones, but the majority would have been weighed down as ship’s ballast. So, what’s actually quite interesting as well on the banks of Thames, you find bits and chunks that would have come, and some of it’s Italian marble, some of it’s from all over Europe, but again for me as an architect, that--, my artist, architect and archaeology are all sort of linked together. So, I’ve got a particular passion with doing images of London and again, I use the natural patina on the stone, so rather than painting bits in and out, it’s actually using--, there might be a rusty nail that’s fused onto the marble, and that will actually form part of the picture. So, again everything’s unique and it’s kind of quite an interesting approach, and it’s created quite a lot of interest actually.
MR: On the ballast front, that’s a knobbed whelk shell which is a large predatory sea-snail, I’m told, but it’s not native to British or European waters, it’s native to the south-east seaboard of the US. And, you know, there’s probably two reasons why this ended up in the Thames. I mean, it could have been, you know, brought because shell was used for inlay in furniture, boxes or buttons, something like that. Or, it could have just been scooped up from the seabed basically, along with stones and rocks and whatnot as ballast, and then, you know, that was kept in the hold of, you know, it’s probably a 17th or 18th century sailing ship. And then, when those ships ended up in the Thames, had come across the Atlantic, the ballast was then dumped on the--, into the Thames which maybe how it ended up here. And then, the same thing happened in reverse. So, in Georgia there’s a--, in the States, there’s a couple of towns that have got streets made from Thames cobbles basically, which were brought over in the opposite direction as ballast from London and--,
EB: That’s amazing.
MR: You know, you kind of think about that shell, I mean, it’s--, you know, it’s a natural object, it’s not even man-made, you know, and I think that’s interesting as well because, you know, I’ve kind of got a completely natural object that, you know, ended up 3,000 miles away through the actions of people, you know. And you think about that’s how the West--, you know, the fact that the West managed to take over North America and its resources, I mean, that’s why we live in a world now that’s dominated by Western society. So, it might only be a shell but, you know, it’s those sort of trade patterns that have created the world we’ve been in for the past two or three hundred years. So, again it’s like pretty mundane, you know, objects but, you know, there’s a big story with a big impact behind it.
Q1: I mean, you guys have chosen very different objects. Can you kind of sum up--, you know, because you’ve obviously got individual interests, but can you sum up why you’ve chosen these objects to talk about today?
MR: It’s three things. It’s a combination of their sort of rarity, and--, for me, the feeling that I’m adding to the record with some of them, the rarer ones. Innate beauty. You know, the visual appeal, you know, there’s a--, they’re enjoyable to look at. But then, as I say, for me it’s the story they unlock and just a fresh perspective on the past.
EB: For me, at least two of the objects I’ve chosen is they’re completeness 'cos it still amazes me that you can still find objects that haven’t been broken, bearing in mind it’s the most tidal river in the UK and it has varying tides of up to six to seven metres every day. And the fact that through the Wars, through the ravages of time, the Great Fire of London, especially the Roman objects, they’ve survived. And that kind of blows my mind, the fact that you have complete objects still being found is pretty awesome. And the other ones are just as I say, the beauty on the objects, the little Roman gaming counter. Again, the design of that, the fact that someone took time to make that and design it, and it’s survived all these years, just is fantastic.
Q1: And it all starts with the River [laughs].
EB: It does [laughs].
Q1: Because our hour’s nearly up, I’m hoping you guys can do a summary for me and describe firstly the River in one word.
Q1: And can you describe mudlarking in one word. You can have three max, I’ll be nice.
EB: Unique pastime. A unique pastime.
Q1: I think that’s a beautiful place to leave it, so thank you very much to Ed and Malcolm for your time. This will be available in the archive.
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