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Oral History Transcript
Interviewee: Ian and Andy
Date: 12th August 2019
Interviewer: Claire Selby
Q: This is an oral history interview with Ian and Andy by Claire Selby on the 12th August 2019. Also present are:
Q1: Eva Tausig from Thames Festival Trust.
Q: The interview is taking place in Charlton, as part of Thames Festival Trust Foragers of the Foreshore Heritage Project. So could you please both state your full names.
IS: Ian John Smith.
AJ: Andrew Johanneson.
Q: And your dates of birth?
AJ: And the 2nd of 5th 1963.
Q: And whereabouts were you born?
IS: St. Thomas’ Hospital, London.
AJ: Queen Mary’s Hospital, Stratford.
Q: And whereabouts did you both grow up?
IS: Well I grew up in Battersea and then moved to Gravesend in 1997, and I don’t know about Andy.
AJ: I grew up in Beckton which is just across the water there, and then moved to Canning Town, then moved to Rotherhithe and here I am in Cheltenham, finally, in the sunny side of the town.
Q: And growing up, what kinds of subjects were you interested in at school?
AJ: I’ve always been interested in history as such. Yeah, that was a big passion, but I didn’t know anything about the Thames I must admit, it was--, because when I grew up in Beckton it was, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of The Gallions Hotel?
AJ: Well it’s all near Beckton gas works. As I was a kid that was shutting down, so that was our playground basically, the gas works. Gallions Hotel was an old hotel and that was shut as well so we could--, but it was--, it looked like an old manor house basically. So that--, finding things on the floor, bits of machinery and so I suppose that’s where the interest has come from. Wandering around picking up bits of crap.
IS: Yeah, I suppose I started, there was a programme on the BBC about a fella in Bristol and he used to go down into the Bristol Channel, looking for the clay pipes and he’d just wander down. And he had a--, in his shed he’d got a vast collection of all these pipes and mainly Victorian ones. And he’d got them all little complete bowls. And then the stems he’d made little collages and pictures out and he had his little shed down--, and because I lived in Battersea, it’s right on the Thames, so I thought I’d go down and have a go myself and my brother, and that’s 1973 I think that was.
AJ: That reminds me, that’s another, oh sorry. I was just going to say that reminds me because when I was at secondary school, I went to Langdon Secondary school which is in Barking, or in between Barking and East End. But the school itself backs onto the old dump basically. The city dump and when I used to--, when we used to have a lunch break or whatever, you could go, in the summer, there was a ditch that runs along the back of the school. You’d go down into that, because we were like having a fag or whatever. But the banks crumbled away because it was so dry the dirty, and there were all clay pipes in it. Like these--, the military ones, you know the Victorian military ones; loads of them, loads of different pipe bowls. Just, I suppose, dumped from when people chuck their stuff on the fire and then--, because it was like ashes and stuff. Yeah, but that’s another--, I used to collect them as well as a young teenager.
IS: I think most people--, most people started with the pipes because there’s so many of them you can go down there and, you know, almost guaranteed--,
AJ: Yeah but this weren’t on the Thames.
AJ: This was just in a ditch around the back of the school.
AJ: I always wondered, I always wanted to go back there, dig it up properly.
Q: Moving on from school and looking at your sort of lives now, what does a typical week look like for you both?
AJ: If you haven’t got any work that’s it. Sitting indoors working.
IS: Same really, yeah, I’m a sort of antiques dealer by trade, not the stuff you dig up. Like sort of Victorian stuff, and then weekends we only do the digging at weekends.
AJ: Yeah, when there’s a decent tide or…
IS: Yeah, the tides, yeah.
AJ: Or when we can, yeah. Because it’s not every week that the tide runs like clockwork.
IS: It’s normally every other week isn’t it?
AJ: Yeah, yeah, it varies throughout the year.
IS: Every day it moves on like an hour, so sometimes it’s in the middle of the night so we’re not that keen to go down in the middle of the night.
AJ: Yeah, no.
IS: Not anymore.
Q: How long have you both been mudlarking?
AJ: Well I started--, I got interested around ’95 and what it was, I was working in Lower Thames street, there’s a--, because I’m a decorator I get to work in any sort of building. But at that point in my career I was doing like new builds and there was a new--, there was a new building--, just gone on the corner of [name 00:05:06]. And working away, painting away, I see Ian and Tony digging a hole and of course lunch time I went down in my whites because the tide was out and that’s how it all started basically, for me.
Q: So you saw Ian?
AJ: Ian and Tony…
Q: Digging a hole?
AJ: Ian and Tony Pilton, they were digging outside the Samuel Pepys pub, so, yeah, I just climbed down, there was a set of stairs on the corner at [name 00:05:36] there, yeah, I just climbed down and went and asked them what they were doing basically. And that’s--, funnily enough, that’s where I found my first Jetton. One of their spoil weeks [all laughing], so they’d dug a hole the day before and, of course, the tide’s gone over it and…
IS: You very easily miss things, you can imagine it’s all muddy and, you know, you’re baling water out and, you know, it’s very easy to miss little things.
AJ: Tony was well impressed with me he said, why don’t you go look over there. [Laughing]. There’s better stuff over there.
Q: So you saw Ian digging a hole?
Q: Ian, what made you start?
IS: Well what happened, we gradually moved, me and my brother, we gradually looked further along from Battersea. We started going towards the city and then we’d go up to Blackfriars and there was--, we could see from the other side, because we were just on the south side. There was this little gang of people digging. There about six people all digging over there. So you go over and have a look because you do. And we had our little pipe collection, it was in one of those little plastic draw things, you know like fisherman’s drawers. We had a little set of drawers; we had all little pipes in this letter set of drawers. And we went over to where they--, because it--, it took a year, about a year to gather this little collection and where they’d been digging there were pipes everywhere. There were like hundreds of pipes, you know, because they were digging up the soil, you know it exposed more of them. So they clearly weren’t looking for pipes, but they were really secretive to start with. You know, they didn’t sort of say much and then gradually there was an older fella, Eric, he was a bookbinder by trade. He was a sort of nice fella and he had--, he was a typical Englishman he had the old knotted handkerchief on his head and he had like a white shirt, trousers, very--, he was down digging a hole like and he’d finished and he’d be spotless. So he started talking to us and showing us some of the bits and they finding a few coins and a few artefacts and things. Yeah, and it kind of started from there. So we started doing the same. There was no metal detecting then, it was just either eyes only, so if it was like clayey soil you just looked as you were digging and see if you could spot anything. Or if it was sandy you could sieve, with a sieve and sort of just sieve through it and that was how I got started. Then my first find funnily enough was a Jetton. strangely enough.
AJ: Well there quite common aren’t they really? Well, back then they were.
Q: How long is back then?
IS: That was ’73 when I started, that’s what I said, so I was ten then. My brother was in his early 20s, he was quite a bit older than me.
Q: So what keeps you going back to the foreshore?
AJ: Erm, well other than finding stuff from the past.
IS: You never lose that thrill, when you get--, so when you…
AJ: It’s--, it’s…
IS: You get a little signal don’t you, and you’ve sort of got to see, and a lot of time it’s bits of iron, you know, so you chuck it in the bucket. You pick something out and it’s something like, you know, like that Jetton, you sort of wipe the mud off and you think, ooh is it going to--, what type’s it going to be, is it going to be one I’ve not seen before. Or is it going to be in good condition, you know, what is it, all those sorts of things. You’ll still get that little buzz like, you know, every time. You don’t lose that.
AJ: Yeah, there’s not--, the repetition--, there’s not much repetition is it? And--, well there is in some kinds obviously, the small change and all that, that people lost out their pockets. But with Jettons the chances are there’s going to be something different about it, because they were so poorly made.
IS: Different make isn’t it.
AJ: Or quickly made I suppose, that there’s a lot of variations in them, so, yeah, that’s what I like.
Q: What’s it like actually being on the foreshore, being down by the river?
AJ: Oh very nice, nice and calming. It’s a different world basically. You could say it’s the only quiet area. On a Sunday you go down on the foreshore, no one’s--, well there is nowadays, but when we first started.
IS: Yeah it was much more of a niche thing when we started wasn’t it?
IS: It’s like now there’s lots more people around.
AJ: It was--, it was totally silent, all you could hear church bells or whatever. You can’t hear much traffic because you’re not that close to the bridge, well I wasn’t because I was Rotherhithe, Bermondsey way. Searching now, initially on the--, when I first started and yeah it was lovely. On a nice sunny morning.
Q: You mentioned about the tide times and the fact that it’s quite hard to go every week. So is there a particular time that you like to go?
AJ: In the morning because…
IS: Generally, yeah, generally the tides are a bit lower in the morning as well. Spring and autumn you get lower tides.
IS: So I suppose those are the best times.
AJ: Because then you’ve still got the rest of your day left.
Q: How early would you go?
IS: Ooh I don’t meet before 7am any more.
AJ: Well Ian has to come--, he picks me up from Gravesend so there’s no really early start.
IS: Seven I suppose is the earliest.
AJ: Yeah, yeah.
Q: And do you have a favourite time of the year to mudlark?
AJ: Spring. Late--, late, yeah, late winter, spring. That’s when the best tides are.
IS: Because when it’s the highest tides it’s also the lower tides.
IS: It’s the same effect you know, so the spring tides are hopefully quite--, although they’ve not been going as low lately. I don’t know if it’s the effect of the Thames barrier or something but the tides don’t go.
AJ: Global warming.
IS: Or may--, yeah could be. They don’t seem to go out as low as they did ten, fifteen years ago.
AJ: No, they don’t do they? They really don’t. But there’s a lot more erosion now so I suppose that’s down to the amount of water in the Thames at low tide as well isn’t it? They all have an effect on each other.
IS: Because when we started all the barge beds, because the Victorians built up these nice flat barge beds for the boats to sit on the flat bottom barges. And that kind of retained all the soil in place, but because it’s not being used now, it’s not really used.
AJ: The front of the barge beds kind of crumble away.
IS: They just break away.
AJ: And then…
IS: And then the tide gets in there and erodes it away, which is a worry for the PLA because they’re worried about undermining walls and stuff like that.
AJ: It does happen as well.
AJ: The walls do get undermined.
IS: Yeah, and they have to rebuild them up but it’s quite good for us because if the tide’s washing the stuff away it sort of exposes older layers.
AJ: Exposing anything that was lost. Yeah.
Q: So what about your most memorable experience of mudlarking?
AJ: There’s lot of them. Everyone’s like a little victory really if you know what I mean. Ooh I found that or I found that, you know.
IS: There’s never really any big haul, it’s not like on the land where someone’s gone out and buried a pot of gold, because it’s a river isn’t it. So, you know, like a muddy river, so what you do get is lots of small individual losses, but you’re never going to get like some tremendous treasure trove.
AJ: Yeah. No, that’s right and there’s some things you find down there that you can’t really take away from the river, like wooden objects or something. They’re so waterlogged and soft and--, you’ve got to leave it or--, well as soon as you touch it you finger goes through it or something. Some things, yeah, there’s lots of different things you can find.
Q: And what about hairy situations that you’ve got into?
AJ: No. you just--, you don’t really put yourself at risk. You take--, you’d take it one step at a time basically. If you don’t know the area then just take it one step at a time. I remember I was working at Canary Wharf; I took some of the decorators down with me. I said, oh come, we’ll go down on the foreshore by, er, what’s that little inlet there? At Canary Wharf, erm, Lime House, Lime House.
IS: Oh yeah. Limekiln Dock.
AJ: Limekiln Dock yeah. So we went down there and one of the older decorators, he’s gone marching off [laughs], over the mud, in his white overalls and he just disappeared, his knees, like his feet just disappeared up to his knees [laughing]. So we had to drag him out the mud.
IS: There was a bloke in a suit, in the ‘70s, he came down from the office and he was like someone from Monty Python’s, he was flying along the foreshore and it was quite hard most of the foreshore, surprisingly.
AJ: Yeah, and then all of a sudden.
IS: It’s where there’s a dock [trail 00:13:43] where they’ve dredged them out a little bit and it’s a bit muddy. And he’s hit this dock and he started going deeper and deeper but he’s kind of just trying to style it out, so he just kept striding manfully, across the dock like. And then straight and then off the other side, he walked off and went up the stairs. [Laughing].
IS: Didn’t break his pace just carried on.
AJ: [Laughing]. I can’t turn back now.
IS: Yeah, yeah, that was it, he just carried on.
AJ: He could feel the eyes on the back of his head. [Laughing].
IS: But it’s not really--, to be honest it’s not really that dangerous.
AJ: Other than--, other than funny things like that.
Q: So it’s more other people that you’ve seen getting into hairy situations rather than you, because you know what you’re doing?
IS: Well it’s not really…
AJ: Well, no, we’ve all slipped over and gone over into the mud and that. I can’t say you can’t not slip on--, it’s a wet area isn’t it? But yeah, it’s funny seeing someone go down [laughing] and they just think they can go striding down there like they’re walking--, because you have to watch your step basically.
IS: Don’t forget in the 30s, up at the Tower, they actually put sand on the beach there, it was like London’s little.
AJ: Yeah, yeah, my mother used to go down there.
IS: And we used to go down there.
AJ: Yeah, on the foreshore.
IS: On the beach there, that was their little bit of seaside.
AJ: Yeah, yeah.
Q: So we’re sat in Charlton, we’re not that far from the river but do you both travel far to go mudlarking?
IS: Well we always go to the city stretch really, it’s just--, that was where the most concentration of people--, there’s no sort of secrets with it, it’s just wherever there was the biggest concentration of people and activity and people lose more things. You know they’re getting on and off of little ferry boats or they’re repairing bigger boats with hammers and stuff and some nails, you know, and they drop it in the mud or people throwing rubbish out. You know clearing the floors, it was straw floors and things, so they’d shovel out the straw, chuck it in the Thames. So wherever--, the more people that were around…
AJ: So you can imagine the whole of London, every Wednesday clearing up the straw off their floors and then it all goes down onto the foreshore for the dockworkers. So they’re not standing in shit or mud or whatever, because it was a sewer as well back then wasn’t it? It’s was like everything went in there. So that’s what they used as a secure surface to work on the boats I suppose, and that’s how it built up over the years, didn’t it?
IS: And it’s full of bones and things.
IS: It was meals and the tanneries and stuff.
AJ: Potteries, yeah, there’s loads of pottery, broken pottery.
IS: Broken bits of pottery and stuff.
Q: Is there a particular preparation technique or method that you--, a sort of ritual that you have before you go down to the foreshore?
AJ: To find where to dig you mean?
Q: Do you take particular things with you?
AJ: Yeah, shovel, fork, detector, bucket.
IS: Over trousers.
AJ: Over--, yeah. Waterproofs. Gloves.
Q: And I think you described how you kind of met, you obviously go together most of the time?
IS: All the time.
AJ: All the time. Yeah, all the time, we--, it’s harder to dig on your own. I tried it a few times and without much success.
IS: When you dig as a pair, so you can have--, what you do is, one person digs--, the first thing you go down and you try and find a spot that’s not been dug. Because obviously over 50 years people have been turning it over and turning it over and turning--, so it’s quite hard to find an undug spot really in a lot of areas. So first we try and find somewhere that’s not been dug and then you just--, once you’ve got that spot, you just dig down, so one person will be digging, throwing the earth up and as he throws the earth up, the other fella searches over it with a metal detector. Then you have a change around.
AJ: Yeah, yeah.
IS: That’s what you do.
AJ: When you get kind of worn out the person detecting can sense that you’re…
IS: When you’re flagging a bit.
AJ: The soil’s not coming out as quickly as it was [laughs].
AJ: Oh do you fancy--, it’s either that or--, because Ian knows most the depths of--, or he can sniff when there’s something coming out so I do all the humping and then he’ll go oh I’ll have a dig now [laughs], then the coins start coming out, or bits of pottery will come out.
Q: So when you’re digging, is there a method to the digging? Are you digging down or across or zigzag?
IS: Well you try and do a squarish hole, and you need to sort of have it big enough for your shovel to go in.
AJ: Big enough for you to work in.
IS: Or you can’t--, so you need to have it at least sort of 3ft to 4ft square, ideally.
AJ: Yeah, yeah. But other than that it’s…
IS: Just like digging a hole in the road really, it’s the same isn’t it?
Q: And then once you’ve finished investigating it, do you then cover it back over?
AJ: You fill--, you have to fill things back in, yeah.
Q: So do you have a particular area, apart from the city, that you return to?
AJ: I suppose we’ve looked in other areas over the years haven’t we?
IS: Yeah, anywhere--, only on the Thames really. Anywhere on the Thames where there was…
AJ: The north side is, I suppose, the more interesting side, because the south side was more farmland and less populated earlier on if you know what I mean. But, yeah the north side is--, anywhere on the north side from Wapping up to, I don’t know, Richmond or--, if there’s a water gate or something, or an old ferry point as well.
IS: Yeah, you get little pockets don’t you? When you go for outside the city, so like in the 17th century Wapping was--, it was a little--, there were all sorts of orchards and things there, so the Londoners would get a boat trip, that’d be their little day out down to Wapping. And so that was a little popular destination. You get a little pocket of stuff by this set of steps where they’d gone down and got off the boat for their day out. It’s a bit like that all the way up. So anywhere where there’s a little town or a little village, a little set of steps and you’ve got little pockets of things.
Q: Is there a kind of object that you’re particularly interested in looking for?
AJ: Erm, well I haven’t done the Jettons.
IS: They would often specialise in little things, like Tony liked his toys, little Stuart toys. Andy likes his Jettons. There was another fella, years ago, he collected hammer heads.
AJ: Yeah these?
IS: Yeah, he had like 200 of them or something [laughs].
IS: And there was another bloke collected--, I don’t know, have you heard of quants? You know what a boat hook is, well a quant is like a ‘v’ shape, like a large one of those and they can be quite big, like that. And he had, I think he had 80 of those.
IS: He had to reinforce his floor.
AJ: They can be quite small as well, but…
IS: Then when he moved, he moved to France and he managed to, after a lot of persuasion, he got the Docklands Museum, he donated them to the Docklands Museum.
AJ: Oh alright.
IS: It’s because a lot of the museums, it might sound a bit weird but a lot of items, they don’t really want because it’s just, you know, they’ve got it already and they’ve got the cost of--, someone’s got to acquisition it and then they’ve got to store it and all the rest of it. So quite a lot of the time, you know, you offer them and they don’t, sort of do you want this for the collection, ooh no I don’t want that, you know. And so he had to persuade them to take all these iron quants which he managed in the end.
Q: And what do you both do with the objects that you find, once you’ve got them, what happens next?
IS: Just have little collections of them really.
AJ: Yeah, yeah, you just find out what you can about them and then tuck them away somewhere basically.
IS: Occasionally the museum asks and we donate.
IS: Through the years there’s a few bits that we’ve donated.
AJ: Anything that’s interesting or unusual or--, anything like that, yeah. We’ll show it to the museum first. Say like this, this polished stone axe head come off of Customs House, but--, just because I found it at Customs House it’s worth recording with the museum. So yeah, anything like that.
IS: Over the years you kind of get to know the sort of things--, because they’re short of time as well, if you can imagine, just in the society you’ve got 60 people, so if they’re all out every other weekend, you know, finding stuff, then it’s quite a lot of things for them to…
AJ: Process isn’t it?
IS: Process, so they limit you, so they only really want to record--, when he comes to the meetings, the Finds Liaison fella, he sort of limits you to three items.
IS: So you find…
AJ: And even then some of them are rejected.
IS: Yeah. So you kind of know, like a standard Jetton he wouldn’t be interested in recording.
IS: Because they’ve seen hundreds of them. Where there’s something like that, like a flint axe, there’s obviously a bit more interest, so they’ll record that.
IS: And that all goes on a database, you can go on the database and people can research and look up stuff and sometimes it’s quite nice. You go round the museum and there’s something you found on display. Ooh I remember finding that, it’s quite nice.
AJ: Yeah they do ask you to donate things don’t they?
IS: Yeah. Sometimes.
AJ: On a regular basis. But that’s part and parcel of doing the hobby. It’s nice to donate stuff to the museum and if it helps then all well and good.
Q: So there’s a process to mudlarking which is applying to the Port of London for the permit, but you two are part of the Society of Mudlarks, can you explain a bit more about that, and how it works?
AJ: Yeah, Ian can.
IS: So anyone can apply for the surface licence, because it’s just a surface licence. Well originally there was no licence, back in the ‘70s there was no licence at all, so anyone could just go down basically and do what they wanted. But then there was hardly anyone going down there and so it wasn’t really an issue. And then--, I can’t remember the actual date, it must have been in the ‘80s sometime, they decided that they’re going to licence it. And that was when we formed the society, to sort of negotiate what sort of licence we’re going to get and all the rest of it. And then gradually through the years they kind of tweaked the licensing system a bit. So now, the situation at the moment is there’s a general licence, which anyone can apply for, which you can scratch about to three inches I think it is, on top. And anyone can apply for that and get that. And then the PLA as a sort of concession to us really, and with the museum’s cooperation, issue another licence but they limit that to basically 60 people which is the people in the society. And the idea of that is that people join the society and then--, to get into the society they’ve been seen on the foreshore and they had a track record of having their finds recorded and, you know, acting responsibly and all the rest of it. And then you can get the digging permit, so it’s not--, we don’t actually issue the permit. It’s the PLA that issues it, it’s just that they kind of use us to--, as a sort of filter I suppose.
AJ: Yeah, to keep--, instead of people digging holes and just--, and walking away from them without filling them in, at least we have a code of conduct that we have to backfill everything and, of course, if they--, if someone in the society doesn’t do it then they get an ear bashing.
Q: So do you think the river’s changed much over the years that you’ve been mudlarking?
AJ: I think it has.
IS: Ooh massively.
AJ: Yeah, yeah. Definitely.
IS: Just the erosion, I mean there’s been vast areas just eroded away, so anything that was in there’s just gone for good. And then there’s quite a lot of other areas where there’s been building development, like the Vintry’s come right out onto the foreshore so all that bit of foreshore’s gone. Billingsgate, all the new walls and things up by Blackfriars, so there’s quite of a lot of it’s gone. And the sort of people that come, like now, like I say back when we first started it was much more of a sort of bit of a niche kind of nerdy type of hobby.
IS: I mean because of social media and things really, it’s much more…
AJ: You used to get more oddballs.
IS: Yeah. There was definitely more oddballs, yeah.
AJ: There was more [laughing].
IS: People didn’t quite fit in sort of seemed to go down to the river [laughing].
AJ: Get out the way from everyone else basically, yeah.
IS: But nowadays you can go down now, I mean, last time, the weekend before last…
AJ: There’s a hell of a lot of people there.
IS: There were how many people down? 60 people? Tours of people that go down and people look on there because…
AJ: Well that’s another thing, because I suppose people--, some people are making money out of taking people to the foreshore.
IS: Tours and things, yeah.
AJ: So there’s all that sort of thing creeping into it because there’s an interest there and everyone can see, from TV programmes and whatever there is.
IS: Well [inaudible 00:25:52] people that are down there, quite often now we find something, like we had a thimble didn’t we?
IS: This fella, we’ll show this fella, we’ve got this sort of tube thing, and he said oh, err, can I take a picture of it and he had it sat on this [inaudible 00:26:05], he took pictures and uploaded it straight away onto Facebook or Instagram.
AJ: It’s all instant.
IS: And because of that, people can sort of like, I don’t know, it’s become much more sort of accessible I suppose. People can see…
AJ: That there’s stuff coming out and what it is.
IS: That there’s interesting things down there.
AJ: And obviously that lures people down as well, which isn’t a problem. It’s just…
IS: It’s just different that’s all.
AJ: It’s just--, yeah, yeah. It’s not as--, not as niche as it was.
Q: And has your relationship to mudlarking changes over the years you’ve been doing it?
AJ: No, well, I started off as a novice and got more used to it, so, yeah, erm, in that sense, yeah.
IS: Everyone starts the same, everyone starts off with the small things like the pipes and the pottery because you can go down--, especially the pipes, because they kind of--, you can imagine the very first pipes were really tiny because tobacco was so expensive. And so they develop in size and shape, so it’s quite a good thing to start off with. You can collect the pipes all the way through the years, you know, changing shapes. So people often start off with that and the pottery fragment is always popular. Then gradually the longer people come down they sort of find a few buttons and once you sort of get in on it and they might find a coin and you sort of--, you sort of gradually, I don’t know, you sort of progress I suppose don’t you?
AJ: Yeah, and then you just kind of get used to what you’re finding basically because there is certain things that you’ve always got to find. Like small change, like small coins, there’s not really any big coins to be found. The odd one here and there and like jewellery I suppose, but it’s all more modern stuff. But, yeah, yeah, it’s--, there is a lot of stuff that you find that is more common. And you get used to finding it basically.
IS: But the museums quite like that anyway because a lot of the things that have been handed down to museums, the things that people kept, were things like chalices and, you know, fantastic jewellery and stuff and all the sort of common people stuff, like the little pewter rings, little lead tokens and things like that, and the badges, Pilgrim badges.
AJ: Pilgrim badges, yeah.
IS: People just didn’t keep them because they were just cheap trinkets, you know, and they just, they’re disposable so it’s only really with the mudlarking that it’s kind of built up the collection for the museum.
IS: Really, for these little things.
AJ: And that’s yeah, that’s how they find out about these things as well, because like I said, because they were so disposable back in the day. They’ve only kind of survived in the ground because it was lost off a jumper or something or off a hat or something, and then stayed there forever until someone dug it up or found it washing out the foreshore.
IS: And in the ‘80s you were even--, a similar sort of thing, the--, because there’s a lot of development along the city, and all the riverside sites, the building sites, all the warehouses were getting knocked down and they put up offices, and all that’s reclaimed land. So back in medieval times there was a river there, so you can imagine all these big heavy earth-moving things digging out these basements. So back then the museum got us involved to sort of search through the earth to find all the stuff.
AJ: We were talking about this the other week weren’t we? About the illegal dumping sites.
IS: Fly tipping.
AJ: Fly tipping, yeah.
IS: There’s lot of it, so you could sort of drive round the back streets of East London and you’ll find a pile of earth that some lorry had fly tipped there, you know, and you sort of search through it and you’d be getting all these medieval bits and pieces in it. And even they actually arranged on some of the landfill sites to get us on there to search through the soil as it was coming in, just to recover.
AJ: Yeah before the archaeologists started using metal detectors.
AJ: Which they commonly use nowadays, but back in…
IS: Yeah they didn’t really--, they didn’t really use them back then.
AJ: No. It was frowned upon basically. [Laughing].
Q: Can you describe mudlarking in one word?
IS: Mudlarking, one word.
AJ: One word? Wet and cold and smelly, oh that’s three words isn’t it?
IS: Exciting I think, exciting I think is the word.
AJ: Exciting yeah, there is excitement, yeah. Compulsive.
IS: Yeah, that’s a good word, compulsive.
Q: We’re going to move onto the objects that you want to talk about. Can you describe the first one to us?
AJ: Polished stone axe head, I’ve already mentioned it I think. It’s quite--,
Q: You’ve not put it down.
AJ: I know.
AJ: It’s nice.
IS: It’s nice isn’t it, you can see why, when you sort of hold it, it’s got that…
AJ: It’s quite nice to imagine that someone back in the days has spent a lot of time grinding that down, not with any machinery, just by…
IS: Sand I suppose.
AJ: Sand I suppose, yeah, whatever, how would you grind a granite axe head down?
IS: And polished with sand.
AJ: I don’t know, I really don’t know, I’ve never tried.
Q: So how long ago did you find this?
AJ: I would say, I would say that’s 10 years, when I was digging…
IS: It might be more than that.
AJ: Maybe more. I was digging with, erm, Steve Booker on Customs House foreshore and basically I was--, I’d only just started digging the hole and then--, as I lifted the shovel just to chuck the spoil away that was sitting on the top of the shovel--, on the top of the spoil, in the shovel. Yeah, obviously it must have come out, come out of the city somewhere and then when they were building up the foreshore, the [inaudible 00:31:45] like we said earlier, they got probably dumped in it then.
IS: Yeah because they just thought what they’d do, they’d put the wood up and then fill in with all just gravel that they’d dredged out, just to fill up the level, so sometimes you get older things that have been thrown up in Victorian times.
AJ: Yeah, yeah.
Q: So you knew exactly what that was when you found it?
AJ: Well it’s hard to not know really isn’t it? A pointy end and a blade on one bit [laughing]. No I know what you mean but, yeah, I did recognise it [laughing].
Q: So who do you think the last person was that used that?
AJ: Some old cave man I suppose, I don’t know.
Q: So have you dated it?
AJ: Erm, well it’s--, they always give the 1,500 BC type date don’t they?
IS: They go quite broad.
AJ: Yeah, it’s Stone Age I suppose, Stone, yes, Stone Age. But yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know, other than that. I’ve got the paperwork somewhere, but [laughing] for the life of me I don’t know. It’s probably in the shed [laughing].
Q: So what made you choose that one out of everything else that you’ve found?
AJ: Just because it’s so tactile, I like playing with it.
AJ: And it’s been in the display case all this time, I only took it out today. So I found it all again.
Q: Okay, shall we move onto the second one. [Laughing].
AJ: [Laughing]. It’s your turn, Ian.
IS: Oh me, okay.
Q: The first one of Ian’s.
IS: Okay so I think I’m probably going to go with this toy watch. That dates to about 1740’s. I found that in the Limekiln Dock. It says made of pewter and even the back…
AJ: He got a go on it as well.
IS: Yeah, even back then children sort of wanted to copy the adults and so they’d have a little cheap pewter toy watch, and it’s got the maker’s name, says Hux on there, London, just like a normal watch, on the top there.
AJ: It wasn’t just children that used that.
IS: No, adults, but, I mean you know. And it’s hollow and the story of that was, because it’s hollow, a lot of--, when it’s hollow things get quite crushed, but we used to know--, this is quite--, the Chief Conservator at the British Museum, we got to know him and he used to do private work for straightening things out. He quite liked the challenge of doing it and he made special tools, little wedges and stuff. So he straightened it all out, put the top back on and he even, if you look, he’s even put a little--, he’s put a little bit of, erm, bamboo inside so that when you turn it, it makes a [pause], like a clicking, you hear that little bit of clicking.
AJ: So it sounds like a--, you’re winding the watch.
IS: Yeah and all it is, it’s a little bit of bamboo inside, some ridges. So as it turns round--, but he was really good, he loved doing our stuff, old Ian McIntyre.
AJ: Yeah, yeah.
IS: He was just--, and you go there, you go into this--, this is the British Museum because you’d just see him after work and he had like the Coppergate helmet he was working on, you know that thing from York, that big Viking thing, you know. But he was, yeah.
Q: This is quite a dull object and knowing what the mud is like on the foreshore, how on earth did you spot that?
IS: Oh, metal detector.
Q: Aah. And can you remember what the river was like that day?
AJ: Fast flowing [laughing].
IS: Yeah [laughing].
AJ: A bit murky.
AJ: Yeah, yeah [laughing].
IS: That’s just a modern key that, the key--, it wasn’t really that, it’s just one that, you know. But yeah, so, just the idea of someone all mucking about down there, with their little watch. Because it would have been shiny originally, because pewter was, you know, you know what pewter’s like, it’s kind of--, if you polish it up it’s quite silvery looking isn’t it? So it would have been like that and it probably even had a little glass on the top there, under that little ridge. Just to make it look even more authentic. But, yeah, so that was sort of interesting, interesting thing.
Q: And how long ago did you find that one?
IS: It’s got to be 20 years maybe more now, 25 years. Long time.
Q: And can you imagine what the child was like who had that?
AJ: Well it could have been an adult.
IS: Yeah, because it could have [talking over 00:36:06].
AJ: They couldn’t afford a proper watch.
IS: Yeah. But you know what it’s like, water always draws kids doesn’t it, so it’s not surprising the number of little toys you get down on the Thames. Because it kind of draws you down, you know, when you’ve got a bit of a foreshore and they can get down, you know, and they’re down on the walk.
AJ: Other than learning to tell the time, it’d be a boring toy wouldn’t it really? Well, for a kid.
IS: Well you say that.
AJ: He can’t throw it, it won’t bounce off of something.
IS: Well you say that but with the clicking and everything, you know.
AJ: Yeah, I suppose.
IS: It’s like having a little kid’s mobile phone isn’t it? Like a plastic one that doesn’t work, isn’t it?
IS: They can still hold it up and pretend can’t they. Get it out their pocket, make out they’re telling the time. Because they only had one hand originally.
AJ: He’s obviously done this before.
AJ: Me with my axe head and Ian with his watch, oh yes what’s the time.
IS: But even those you can date them, you get slightly earlier ones that are less sophisticated, they’re just like--, really just like a watch face and they soldered the two faces together, back-to-back so that you’ve got like a watch. But they don’t have moving hands, they just have the hands carved into the pewter.
AJ: And there’s like a serrated edge all the way round for that bamboo.
IS: To click on inside, yeah.
AJ: To click on isn’t it? This is quite interesting.
Q: How about your second object?
AJ: Erm, Jetton. Yeah, a Jetton amongst many. This one is medieval around 1350 to 1450 I should say. Looking by it, it’s probably local countries or something like that, French, erm, but yeah, yeah, it’s--, on the one side is the Virgin Mary holding Jesus and then a shield for the area which it was made in I should imagine. At this point they didn’t have any writing round the edge but as they get later they did.
IS: So originally they started off--, so back in medieval times what they were originally used for was like an abacus, so you’d have a great big counter--, you know like exchequer? Well that is where exchequer comes from, because it was like a big chequer board. And they did all their calculations on these big--, enormous great chequer boards and you used the Jettons to mark your columns, you know, to do your calculations. So that’s what they started off being used for, but then by the time you get to 1600s, 1500s, there’s so many of them. There’s literally like…
AJ: Yeah, everywhere.
IS: Yeah, they’re everywhere.
AJ: They--, we think, they might have been using them as small change before.
IS: Yeah, a token like, you know.
AJ: Before small change was invented.
IS: Yeah. Half a Farthing or something.
Q: So was that another find with the metal detector?
IS: Yeah, pretty much all of the things were with a metal detector.
AJ: Yeah, this one I dug up with Ian.
IS: That’s brass, do you see how shiny it is?
AJ: See it’s brass.
IS: That’s because it’s--, well it’s been sealed in--, the air hasn’t got to it, that’s not been cleaned, that’s just how they pop out, because the air’s not got to it. It’s been sealed in the mud. So it just stays shiny.
Q: And what makes you choose that one in particular?
AJ: Well I’ve got a big pile of them here, do you want to have another one?
Q: [Laughing]. But is that your favourite?
AJ: No, the first one I found which is here, but it’s a bit smaller and a bit more darker so it’s harder to see. But it’s that one there.
IS: That’s got an unusually good picture on it.
AJ: That’s got an unusually--, that’s why I pulled it out, because it was a better example of a Jetton.
IS: Normally they just have like a little flowers, or a little orb or something, that’s the common.
AJ: But yeah, there’s the--, as you can see there, there’s all sorts of different ones.
Q: So can you remember finding that one?
AJ: Yeah, yeah, this was only four, five years ago I suppose. London, in the London area.
IS: But that’s the excitement isn’t it though?
AJ: Yeah, yeah.
IS: When you get--, you get a Jetton so you know it’s a Jetton because it’s brass, so you know it’s going to be a Jetton and then you wipe it off, is it--, what one’s it going to--, is it going to be the common one, or is it going to be one you haven’t got or, you know, one that’s a bit different.
AJ: If it’s a Krauwinckel one.
IS: There’s always a maker, so Hans Krauwinckel is the commonest one.
IS: But then there’s other sort of more unusual ones.
AJ: Yeah, yeah [name inaudible 00:40:12] and--, so there’s loads of different makers.
IS: There’s one has quite interesting--, because the later ones were made in Nuremberg so they’re in German, that why Hans Krauwinckel was the German. But there’s one of them, in German, it’s got, red today, dead tomorrow, from the plague, you know, written around the edge. So they were kind of--, a lot of them were religious things, like you know, praise be to God and all that sort of thing. But sometimes they put on those, so they’re quite interesting.
Q: How about your second object?
IS: I’m going to go with the badge, Pilgrim badge. I suppose these are my favourite things really, but you don’t--, you rarely get them to be honest with you. Because they’re so--, especially now it’s eroding, they’re so fragile, as soon as any air gets to them, because you can see how thin it is, they just start crumbling away. So what used to happen is, it’s just like today really, you go on pilgrimage, when you go to the particular shrine, you’d buy a little souvenir. And depending on where you went, they depended on what the design was. So that particular--, or you get Thomas Becket, it’s like a very common one, Virgin Mary. But that particular one, it’s got such an interesting story. It’s John Shorne who was like a rector in North Marston in Lincolnshire and his claim to fame that he was very good at exorcisms. So if you look you can just about see; he’s standing up in the middle in his pulpit and then in front of him’s a boot, and his claim to fame was that he managed to conjure the devil into this long jack boot. So you always get him in the pulpit, he’s always got that cape on and he holds his boot out in front of him, to say, look this is what I do. So you went to his shrine, paid it a visit and you bought your little badge to show that you had been there. And the little plant pot, there’s a little plant on one side, that’s his other claim to fame…
AJ: Maybe you should take it out the bag.
IS: Yeah, take it out the bag. He’s other claim to fame was he managed to find--, there was a bit of a drought, he managed to find a spring, miraculously find a spring, so they’ve got this flowering plant; all these plants from this spring.
AJ: Oh right, yeah.
IS: It would have had a pin on the back but they’re quite often missing the pin because, you know, it’s bendy and they fall off.
Q: What’s that made from?
IS: That’s pewter again, so that’s like a lead-based alloy with a bit of tin in it.
Q: And can you remember finding that one?
IS: Yeah, yeah. That was in the ‘70s that was.
Q: You were saying that those are quite hard to come by now?
IS: Yeah, they are really just because a lot of the areas have eroded away.
Q: So your next object?
AJ: My next object is a key and the reason I’ve picked the key out is because it’s one of these objects that near enough everyone will find, whoever goes on the foreshore and spends a bit of time there. This one is I suppose late 17th, 18th century. Iron key.
IS: Definitely 17th.
AJ: It’s 17 I think, yeah, yeah. I found this Concordia Wharf which is south London, Bermondsey.
IS: Mmm. [Laughing].
AJ: [Laughing]. There might be a bit of soot on it, you darken it down sometimes. It’s not as polished as the stone you see, I don’t rub that as much [laughing].
IS: Even those have a little chronology that goes, like the earlier ones, like the medieval ones and the Tudor ones, they had the top bit there, the loop, it’s like a--, they call it kidney-shaped.
AJ: Goes into a kidney.
IS: It’s more--, it doesn’t have this bumpy bit, it’s just as the outer shape, like a kidney, and then in the 17th century they start getting this little kick up in the middle here, this pointy bit. And then by the 18th century that’s gone again and it’s just a much more oval type key. So even--, everything you find, over the course of time, if you find enough, you can build up a little pattern of dating them and, you know.
Q: Do you know what it unlocked?
AJ: The key to the river [laughing]. I don’t know, padlock or door or wherever, it could have been--, it’s a large key so probably a door or a padlock. Who can say? I wasn’t around at the time. But it is--, my interest in it is the fact that it’s one of those most common things to be found on the river. Which suggests to me that they--, getting the hump with this, oh this bleeding lock don’t work anymore, so the key goes flying in the river and the lock goes--, because you do find a lot of padlocks as well don’t you?
IS: Yeah, sometimes that’s people have broken into things.
AJ: And broken into places, yeah.
IS: Yeah, they forced the lock off, they just tossed the lock away and it goes in the river and then we get it.
AJ: Yeah, yeah.
IS: Even though it’s a little bit clouded, it’s still--, considering that’s still sort of…
AJ: I was quite happy to find it on the day I must admit.
IS: Yeah, 400 years old or something.
AJ: Yeah, just washing out the mud, it’s nice--, I’ve always thought it was a nice thing to find.
Q: And your third one?
IS: Okay. What this is…
AJ: The big reveal.
IS: Yeah. It’s almost a type of watch base thing again. So when they first started making pocket watches in the 17th century, they were really expensive. I mean they were expensive in the 18th century, so if you couldn’t afford a pocket watch you had a pocket sundial. So what you’d do--, so it’s brass again.
AJ: To tell me the time.
IS: Yeah. So you see around the edge there you’ve got--, these are the months of the year. So there’s line up this bit here, this moves, let’s say you go to say September, there’s a tiny little hole in there and so you hold that up by that thing there so that the opposite side’s in shadow. And you get a little tiny pinprick of light will fall onto the numbers inside. So you can get a rough idea of the time. So yeah, just a--, and good condition again, the fact it’s all moving.
AJ: I’ve never found one I must admit.
Q: So that would have been for someone who couldn’t afford a watch?
IS: Yeah, yeah.
Q: So what kind of person would they be?
IS: I don’t know, could just be a workman type person, I mean, it’s very cheaply made, it’s only made of brass again so there’s no--, it’s that novelty factor isn’t it?
AJ: It’s accurate as well, well as accurate as you can be.
IS: Don’t forget time wasn’t such an issue back then.
IS: You know, it wasn’t really--, it didn’t really matter if it was ten to ten or half past nine.
IS: So you know [laughing], you sort of got there when the sun was rising, you know.
AJ: Yeah, yeah everyone kind of worked by the sun up and sun down.
Q: And when did you find that one?
IS: Ooh, I don’t know, might be--, it’s probably 30 years ago that, in the ‘90s I think, early ‘90s.
AJ: It’s a rare thing to find isn’t it?
AJ: They’re not two-a-penny, even…
IS: I remember the very first one I saw it’d been broken and it was flattened. It had come out and we were looking thinking ooh it’s some sort of funny ruler, because it didn’t have the turny bit, it just looked like this long straight bit of brass.
IS: And then we took it up the museum and he said, oh no, it’s like a pocket sundial. Because this is way before we--, it was way before--, it was way before you had to record things, when you just loved going up there. We’d sort of go into the museum with a little box and he’s like ooh what have you got, and you’d sort of get your box out. It was much better then because you used to actually see the curators and things rather than just the FLO’s.
AJ: Yeah, yeah, it was a bit more of a day out.
IS: Yeah. Because you got more information I think. Because the early FLO’s do a really good job obviously they’re not the curators, you know, they’ve not had years of experience of writing papers and so they sort of do the, you know, the photographing and recording. But back in the day you could see the--, and they had sort of [talking together 00:48:14].
AJ: Yeah, you’d go up to the museum and get taken up to the early department or wherever and chat with the people there and, yeah, it was quite nice. Now it’s more, standoffish really or whatever.
IS: Yeah, you don’t really get to see the museum people so much now. They’re so busy as well.
AJ: Yeah, well yeah, they’re busy.
IS: It’s the same sort of thing, they don’t have the time to see a load of--, especially as more and more people are doing it now. It would just be too much of a drain on their time.
AJ: Endless clay pipes and what have.
IS: Yeah, yeah.
AJ: Bits of Roman pottery or whatever, yeah.
IS: It’s quite hard because I must admit sometimes when you--, it must be hard for the FLO’s, you know the Finds Liaison Officers, when they’re…
AJ: Because they start off all keen and then the amount of finds just wear them down [laughing].
IS: Well no one comes out the same.
AJ: You can see the sparkle going down the road.
IS: someone comes up and they’re really excited, so you come up and you’ve got this piece of pottery that you’ve found, right on the Thames, you’re really excited that you’ve found this piece of pottery and you go up to the museum and you sort of say, I was down the river], I found this piece of pottery and you can see he’s looking and he’s thinking hmm. How do you let them down, it’s just a bit of Victorian teapot or something. So it’s kind of--, it’s a bit of a tricky sort of job, you know.
AJ: They’ve got to…
IS: They don’t want to discourage people, you know.
AJ: No, that’s right.
Q: So I think there’s one more item that you’ve got there?
AJ: Another common find as you would imagine from the Thames. I do like my common finds. A hammerhead, again early 17th?
AJ: Erm, and basically any ship worker or carpenter working with wood would have had one of these, back in the day and of course once you’ve lost it, the weight of it drags it into the Thames and it’s gone forever. And because it’s not such a valuable item they’re not going to go looking for it, hence we find them.
Q: Or could it have been used for something else?
AJ: Ooh, it could be a murder, murder, yeah.
Q: Have you thought about…?
AJ: I did find--, I did come across a skeleton back in--, on Bermondsey foreshore didn’t I?
AJ: I brought it--, Shell will tell you if you ask her. I brought home a leg bone and a few other bits of bones that was washing out the foreshore and I phoned the police and so they said oh right we’ll send someone round, like a doctor or whatever. And he’s come round and he’s look at it and he’s gone yeah, that’s definitely dead.
AJ: Because it was brown, it was like a mahogany brown colour. But yeah the museum come up and dug the rest of the body out. Like the skeleton. They could only date it to the like, the 1660s, like round the Great Fire of London. But I’m sure it was earlier than that.
IS: Yeah, yeah.
AJ: Because of all the related finds around it. I had a bronze spearhead and an iron dagger and many bits of Neolithic pottery come out around this skeleton. But they, just by carbon dating and dating from the bones, they couldn’t go any earlier than the 17th century.
IS: I bet the police hates that though don’t they?
IS: Because, they have to go through the same procedures if it was like a modern bone.
AJ: Yeah, I bet they loved me, yeah.
IS: So it’s like a--, it’s a real sort of pain in the neck for them, you know, hassle. They have it forensic examined, like you say and the coroner comes round.
IS: But look that’s what happens--, you were saying about the wood.
AJ: Oh yeah.
IS: If it’s not conserved, it’s not worth conserving a little tiny splinter like that, it goes--, feel how light it is.
AJ: It goes for nothing and that would have been part of the wooden handle.
IS: Yeah, that would have been very thick, chunky, you know. But it’s only really survived because it’s been sandwiched between the iron.
AJ: It’s been sandwiched between the bits of iron here, yeah.
Q: Can you remember the day that you found that?
AJ: No I must admit, I can’t.
AJ: [Laughing]. It’s just one of those things. Some of them you do remember, like--, but a hammerhead--, the reason I’m showing it is because it’s a common--, it’s a common find and I like common finds.
Q: And that’s your favourite hammerhead?
AJ: Well it’s the only one I’ve got in the drawer I must admit, the rest are more in the shed, come and have a look [laughing] if you want. They’re a bit rusty.
IS: People have got lost in that shed.
AJ: Yeah [laughing].
AJ: Well [laughing].
Q: [Laughing]. I think we’re going to end the interview there. Thank you very much Ian and Andy. Thanks for sharing all your treasures.
IS: That’s my pleasure.
Q: It’s been fantastic.
[END OF RECORDING – 00:53:07]