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Oral History Transcript
Interviewee: Jason Sandy
Date: 19 August 2019
Interviewer: Eva Tausig
Q: This is an oral history interview with Jason Sandy by Eva Tausig on the 19 August 2019. The interview is taking place at Jason’s house as part of Thames Festival Trust’s Foragers of the Foreshore Heritage project. Jason, can you please state your full name.
A: Jason Sandy.
Q: What’s your date of birth?
A: 24 July.
Q: Where were you born?
A: In Durham, North Carolina, USA.
Q: Is that where you went to school as well?
A: So I was raised in Virginia which is nearby, the next state north of North Carolina.
Q: When did you come to London?
A: So I moved away from the United States in the year 2000. I lived in Berlin for eight years and I came here in 2007, end of 2007.
Q: What brought you to London?
A: My wife, she didn’t like Germany so we actually moved here six weeks before my daughter was born.
Q: What does a typical week look like for you here?
A: I’m an architect and developer. I work in Mayfair and I’m currently working on several nice projects in London. One being the former US Embassy, so they’re on Grosvenor Square; we’re converting that into a luxury hotel. So it’s going to be five star plus and it’s quite an exclusive project in London.
Q: How long have you been mudlarking?
A: I’ve been mudlarking for seven years.
Q: Can you tell us about your first experiences of mudlarking.
A: So the reason why I got into mudlarking is, I’ve always been interested in archaeology. My dad got his PhD in classical studies, studied the ancient world, taught ancient Greek as a professor at university but he never took me on the trips that he took his students on. But he always showed me the slide show when he got back. So I’ve always been secretly interested in going on like an archaeological dig, but never had the opportunity. So in 2012 I was watching the National Geographic channel and Ian and Andy who you’ve met, they were focused--, there was a show called the Thames Treasure Hunters. That was on the tele on the National Geographic channel and I watched that and I was pretty much dumbfounded that people can actually go down and find these amazing artefacts at low tide in London. So I live only two minutes from the river and I never knew that you could actually find amazing historical artefacts as the river goes out. So the next weekend after watching the show is when I started officially mudlarking.
Q: What keeps you going back to the river?
A: You always find something new. It’s always the thrill of the hunt and every time you find something. It might not be the best find but you always find something.
Q: Have you always been into collecting?
A: I’ve always been into coin collecting. So as a young kid I always collected coins and as you can see in my display case here, I’ve found quite a few coins. So I’ve always been interested in coins but now I’m interested kind of in anything that comes up from the Thames.
Q: Does your eye tend to pick out a particular thing; is there something you’re particularly interested in finding? Or is it more broad than that?
A: Erm, so I must say that because my dad was always interested in the ancient world and I studied Latin in high school. I’ve always been interested in Rome and I’ve been to Rome five times and I proposed to my wife on a hill overlooking Rome. So I’ve always been interested in anything Roman. So that’s why I was fascinated when I first moved to London to find out that London was actually started by the Romans which I didn’t know. So now going down to the foreshore and finding Roman artefacts that are 2000 years old it just blows me away. That the last person to touch that lived in Roman London.
Q: So was that a draw for you coming to Europe in the first place? I know often Americans find the idea of this history very compelling.
A: Absolutely. Yeah, I’ve always been interested in history. In the eighth grade in the United States my nickname was history book because I really liked history and a lot of my friends were like, oh he’s such a nerd, he likes history. But I’ve always been fascinated in things of the past and United States, as you know, doesn’t have a long history in terms of European history. Native Americans have been there for millennia but they didn’t leave many things behind. We find a lot of flint arrowheads and things like that, but nothing like what you find here in Europe that’s still kind of just laying on the riverbed now washed up.
Q: So what’s that experience like? Can you describe the experience of being down by the river?
A: Absolutely. So when I first moved to London I didn’t realise that the Thames is tidal. And the tide goes up and down seven to ten meters twice a day and, like I said, I live only two minutes from the river and I never realised that. I just thought, wow the water level’s a bit low, maybe it’s drought or something like that. And so it’s just an amazing experience to go down on the riverbed at low tide. It’s a different experience altogether. London, you just kind of stop hearing London in the background. You just hear seagulls, waves and it’s just a very tranquil serene environment. And I just love going down there, even if I find nothing, it’s just a wonderful experience. And just experiencing nature. I grew up in the countryside; even though I love the city but I like to escape to the countryside and going down to the river is like being in the countryside. The city just kind of blends into the background.
Q: Is there a particular time of day or year that you prefer to mudlark?
A: Erm, so my favourite time of year is actually in summer because the summer night times are insanely low, erm, it always depends on the moon’s position and the tidal pull. And always around this time of year, so July to September are some of the best night tides of the year. So we strap on our head torches and we go down very late at night and look for amazing artefacts that just wash up and we find some incredible stuff late at night.
Q: Wow. And is the moon just sort of reflecting on the water; I can imagine it’s very beautiful down there?
A: [Laughs]. It is but it’s a little bit of a party atmosphere, which you wouldn’t expect. Because on the river Thames in central London you have a lot of party boats. So they’re going up and down; they’re blaring the latest kind of radio hits from Beyoncé and the Bee Gees and other people from yesteryear. But it’s a bit of a party atmosphere. We have been known to take some beer down to the foreshore and just have fun together as we’re searching because it’s a bit insane. But we have a great time together. I never go alone. We always go with people. But we always have a fantastic time.
Q: So daytime is more the sort of natural idyll and then night time’s the party?
A: [Laughs]. Exactly. Exactly.
Q: Do you have a particularly memorable experience of mudlarking you can tell us about?
A: Let me think about that for a second.
Q: Any hair situations or any sort of unexpected moments?
A: I know that you want to talk about the five best finds, but one of them is like the--, one of my most memorable times on the foreshore. Can I mention it already?
A: Or is it too early?
Q: No, no, that’s fine, I mean you can tell us why it was memorable for you.
A: Okay. Okay. In answer to your question. So my dad came over from Chicago; my parents live in Chicago. He came over to visit and this was before you needed a mudlarking permit, just to search eyes-only. So I took him down there, because as I mentioned previously, the loved the ancient world and he thought it was amazing that you can actually find Roman things down on the foreshore. So I told him before we went down, don’t expect to find anything because it’s very rare for like Roman stuff to turn up. So we were just walking along the foreshore, it wasn’t even a good tide that day. And I was like, Dad, yeah it’s not going to be good, but we’ll see what we can find. And I found the most amazing Roman artefact and it’s a carved bone hairpin that was worn by a woman 2000 years ago. And it’s got a carved bust of a woman and the Museum of London dated it to the Flavian period and dated it between 43 and 100 AD. So almost exactly 2000 years old and that was just laying staring at us as we were walking along the foreshore. And to date that’s still my best ever find that I found with my dad on the worst tide ever and it actually ended up in the Museum of London and is on permanent display in the Museum of London. So both he and I were just kind of joking about, oh yeah, you don’t find anything Roman, and on that day I found the best Roman artefact ever.
Q: So did you know exactly what it was? Did you know that it was Roman when you found it?
A: So when I first saw it I thought it was medieval and I went to another mudlark that was a member of the Society of Thames Mudlarks, and he said, oh my goodness, this is amazing, it’s actually Roman. And I couldn’t believe him because I thought this is too good to be true, er, but it turns out he was correct and it was a Roman hairpin. And ever since then my dad has been coming back and we’ve only gone mudlarking twice together; once we found the Roman hairpin. And the next time we both found very good finds and, erm, he found something that I thought was a bit of rubbish and I said, Dad don’t even bother taking it home, and he said, no I’m sure it is something, it is something good. And I was like, no it’s just a bit of rubbish. So he made me take it to the Museum of London, I was embarrassed to show them this thing and it turns out it was a very rare artefact and the museum asked for a donation. So my dad, who doesn’t even have a mudlarking permit, which now it is required, erm, he actually has something, not on display, but in the Museum of London’s archive, that he found while he was mudlarking, in London, just on holiday.
Q: And what was that item?
A: So it’s a cloth seal mould which is very rare. So typically we find a lot of cloth seals down on the foreshore. And these cloth seals were always fixed to a garment to show that the tax had been paid on that. But nobody--, there’s only one in existence in London where it’s actually a complete mould where they cast the actual cloth seal. And my dad found the second one of those and that’s why the museum asked for the donation.
Q: Wow. I love how it’s gone full circle, you know, your dad getting you interested in history and then being able to share mudlarking with him.
A: Yeah, absolutely.
Q: So have you got into any hairy situations down on the foreshore?
A: I’ve seen three dead bodies, erm, so yes, there are some pretty gruesome sights down there. And it’s very sad, most all of those were suicide victims.
Q: And have you ever gotten into a situation where it’s been dangerous for yourself?
A: Erm, night larking is always a bit dangerous. You have a lot of drunk people that are walking along the Thames path. There’s a lot of pubs that are along the river. So you do have, especially late at night, a lot of drunk Brits that have had a few too many pints and start throwing things at you while you’re on the foreshore, like empty pint glasses, etc. And that’s quite daunting when you’re dodging glasses flying at you.
Q: Yeah, Brits are not the best at drinking pints.
Q: Describe to me how you would prepare to go mudlarking.
A So typically I wear wellies and I wear knee pads because I like to crawl down on the foreshore, and I always wear gloves as I’m mudlarking just because I am hands and knees down there. A lot of times when I first started searching you just find clay pipes and colourful bits of pottery. It’s only when you kind of really zoom in and get down on hands and knees that you start to find the good stuff. So that’s why I’m literally crawling on my hands and knees along the foreshore. So those are my basic items that I take with me.
Q: And how long would you typically spend down there? And how often do you go?
A: So typically I go about three hours before low tide, and I stay about one hour after low tide. So in total it’s about four hours. I try to beat everyone else down there; so as they say, the early bird gets the worm. So I always try to be the first one down as soon as the water kind of comes off the back wall. And therefore I don’t stay long after low tide is past because I’ve already seen everything and have gobbled up all of the finds as quickly as possible. I do try to go about once a week on average, but it’s always dependent on the tides. So typically the best tides are every other week for some reason because of the lunar cycles, the odd weeks are not very good and so I tend to go every other week for about two times.
Q: Do you mudlark as part of a group?
A: So I’ve made quite a few friends over the years. So I tend to always go with a buddy and, erm, yeah I mixed it up, I don’t always go with the same person because you want to go different places. But yeah I always go with someone.
Q: And you’re a member of the Society of Mudlarks?
Q: Can you tell us what it means to be a member?
A: So I put my name on the waiting list as soon as I started mudlarking. Because I heard it’s a long waiting period and I waited about six years to actually become a member. Erm, and membership does have its privileges, and for the first six years I was only allowed to search by eye on the north bank of the river Thames, which is the, er, the most populated area of London historically. So the most things have been dropped on that side of the river and now with my new mudlarking permit, as part of being part of the Society of Thames Mudlarks, I’m allowed to use a metal detector or go with my trowel and scrape around on that side of the river. So it’s kind of increased the number of finds that I’m able to discover just because I have this special permit now.
Q: And what does it mean to be a member? Socially, do you meet up? Do you discuss your finds?
A: Yeah, so we meet up four times a year and it’s really great because everybody takes the best things that they’ve found over the past three months and they kind of collectively show them around. So it’s kind of a bit of show and tell, and everybody’s trying to beat the other person in terms of the best find. But they give a series of lectures, so pretty much every time we go there’s a different lecture by a different expert in the field. And it’s always very inspirational and insightful and we always learn a lot through this lecture series that’s put on by the group.
Q: Amazing. What do you do with the objects that you find?
A: So I think the best thing about mudlarking is the to find something that ultimately ends in a museum. So I try to donate as much as possible and I’ve donated now to five different museums. So the Museum of London, the King Richard III Visitor Attraction which is up in Leicester. To the V&A, so the Victoria and Albert Museum, to the Natural History Museum, and also to the Stone Museum. So I’ve got artefacts in all five of those museums now and I think that’s the essence of mudlarking. It’s not to kind of hoard it for yourself and have it kind of stowed away in a dusty cabinet, but make things accessible to everyone in the public.
Q: So it’s important for you to share the stories behind your finds?
A: Absolutely. Yes.
Q: And you have social media for that as well? How do you use social media?
A: So, erm, some mudlarks they just kind of post like, this is a handful of the objects that I found on the foreshore yesterday. I always kind of wait a couple of days and research each artefact that I find and try to post something inciteful on my Instagram site. So every time I kind of find the object on the foreshore and it takes me on a kind of a journey of discovery as I find out more about the artefact. And I try to discover the back story, the interesting bits, you know what it tells us about London at that time period. So I do much more research than I actually do of time on the foreshore.
Q: We’re in your office where you’ve got your beautiful finds, very beautifully presented. And you’ve got so many books. How do you research? Is it books? Internet?
A: Yeah, so a bit of everything. You’ve probably heard this from the other mudlarks, but there’s the Portable Antiquities Scheme which is an on-line database and everyone that’s recording their finds, the records are put on-line on the database. So that’s kind of my first port of call. I go to the archive and just research, type in a couple of search words and try to find more about the object just on the Portable Antiquities Scheme. But the Museum of London has written several books that are excellent reference books based on previous mudlark’s finds. For instance, Toys, Trifles and Trinkets is one of my favourite books which talks all about the different pewter toys that have been found on the foreshore. So I use these books as kind of a quick reference as well.
Q: And your finds are all looking so beautiful here. Do you clean them? Do you have a process of preserving them?
A: Er, yes. So everything I find it kind of depends on the quality how it comes up. So sometimes if you find it in the black mud you don’t have to do any cleaning at all. But if it’s been on the surface for a little while it becomes encrusted in a layer of crud basically. And to remove that I use electrolysis, which is basically a kind of an electronic device which gently fizzes the object and then kind of releases all of the crud that’s assembled or kind of collected over the last several hundred years. So I carefully clean and preserve pretty much everything in order to display it.
Q: And you say if you find it in the black mud, that’s because it’s anaerobic, right?
A: That’s correct.
Q: So can you just explain how that works? It’s kind of like magic, right? [Laughs].
A: Yeah [laughs]. So the mud of the river Thames is anaerobic which means no oxygen so a lot of things that have been dropped in centuries ago, they come out shiny the same as they actually went into the mud, several hundred years earlier. And it’s just a magical way how the river carefully preserves these objects and is a wonderful repository of all these objects that it’s collected over the last two millennia of human occupation along the river.
Q: Has the river changed a lot since you’ve been mudlarking?
A: So things do shift around and some of my best spots where I found a lot of great things previously, are now covered under a layer of gravel. So it does shift quite a bit. There’s always good areas which produce constantly but you always have to kind of look for where the new areas are cropping up. And where other areas are now fully concealed and you can’t find anything else.
Q: Your relationship to mudlarking, how’s it changed over the years, or has it changed over the years?
A: Yeah, so, erm, obviously when you first start out, you’re just finding very basic things that are quite easy to spot. But over the years I’ve been able to focus my eyes on certain kind of shapes that are on the foreshore. So things that are kind of just very slightly poking out of the mud, I’m able to spot, like the rim of a coin or some of these other objects that are difficult to spot. But once you get your eye in as they say, they’re quite easy to spot. So the other thing I think is just the friendships that I’ve developed over the years. It’s just really nice the mudlarking community as you go down on the foreshore. Everybody just is very social, very friendly and I’ve just made so many good friends over the years. We meet up now in different bars, restaurants, jazz clubs, etc., nothing to do with mudlarking anymore, but we’re just good friends. So I think that’s kind of the discovery, discovering the objects as well as discovering some great friendships.
Q: If you had to describe mudlarking in one word, could you do it?
A: [Laughing]. I would say adventure.
Q: Adventure. Okay so we’re going to talk about a few of your favourite finds now. What’s the first find that you would like to talk to us about?
A: I’d actually like to show you something that I found yesterday.
A: Er, because yesterday was a very good day on the Thames foreshore. I didn’t expect to find anything but I found very nice finds and one of them is one of my favourite finds that I found this year so far. And, let me just get it out of my display case. It’s carefully tucked away. It’s actually--, I’ll let you hold it. [Pause].
Q: Wow, you found that yesterday?
A: Yeah. I found two yesterday. One of these is bent and do you have any idea why it’s actually bent?
Q: No, I have no idea.
A: Because it’s actually what they call a love token.
Q: Ah, wow.
A: So they would bend these coins in an S shape to kind of indicate their commitment to the other person, and it’s a very valuable coin. This coin is worth a weeks’ wages at that time period and you can see that it’s a complete coin. So it hasn’t been in circulation long and the date on it is 1580. So that’s Shakespearian times. So Tudor times in London. So the last person to touch that was living in Tudor London. And the most famous love story of all time is written by William Shakespeare between 1591 and 1595, so this love token was actually made eleven years before he started writing Romeo and Juliet and I found this in full view of Globe Theatre.
A: So just to have that connection with kind of love, Shakespeare and everything in Tudor England at that time, is just a great, great find.
Q: It’s so light, can you describe just what it looks like for people.
A: So this is a silver hammered sixpence from Elizabeth I and, like I said, it’s dated 1580, erm. so this was the height of Elizabeth I reign, so it’s the age of discover. So for instance in 1588, around that time period is when Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world, the first person to circumnavigate the world. And then also the Spanish Armada was around that same time period. So this is like the height of Tudor Britain at the moment, is that when that coin was actually formed.
Q: So do you have a picture in your head of the last person who would have touched this?
A: Actually it’s probably a very sad story because we find love tokens because a love token was actually thrown into the river, it was discarded. So you would retain that if you fancied the person that gave it to you, but you would discard it if you didn’t like the person or if you fell out of love. So the fact that we actually find these in the river is because it’s lost love, it’s love that didn’t happen, or ended in frustration. So we also find wedding rings, engagement rings, those posy rings, those types of things, in the river, because the love relationship has ended and they want to discard these things into the river.
Q: So you definitely it’s more of a case of people deliberately throwing them in, rather than losing them through passage?
A: Yes, it could be a casual loss but because this is such a valuable coin, erm, it’s very unlikely that somebody would, erm, be that reckless and lose such a valuable coin. Erm, so, also it doesn’t look like it’s been in circulation either. So it is something that somebody did treasure for a while and then probably discarded it in the Thames.
Q: It’s an amazing find, what did you feel when you found it?
A: So I found quite a few of these, but typically they’re always William III, so almost a hundred years later. That’s the sixpence of William III, it’s kind of the stereotypical love token. So this is highly unusual because it’s a hammered coin and also from Elizabethan times. And just that association, or potential association, with kind of William Shakespeare and that era, is just a great thing to have.
Q: So I can just about make out there’s this shield and there’s four sections, do you know what each of these symbols mean?
A: So that’s kind of from the royal coat of arms, and, er, element kind of represents a different part of the kingdom. So like the harp is the coat of arms for Ireland, and then it just talks about the four kingdoms pretty much.
Q: So being England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales?
A: Yeah. Yeah.
Q: Okay. Good geography. So you’ve got--, you’re showing me another one here. Did you find them together?
A: So I found these on the same day. This one has a different date on it. I’m not sure if you can read it but it says 1603. So this is also an interesting hammer coin because it’s from the first year of King James I, his reign. And this is a year that Elizabeth II died, and she died without an heir, so she didn’t have a son or a daughter that she could pass on the lineage to. So this was the end of the Tudor era and the beginning of the Stuart era. And two years later is when King James, there was an assassination attempts, so if you remember the gunpowder plot.
A: That was in 1605, this was, er, this coin was made two years before the gunpowder plot and that just shows how much he was disliked in Britain at that time. So he was a Scottish king that by default, became the King of England and Ireland because Elizabeth I had no heir.
Q: Wow. I can’t believe you found those the other day.
A: Exactly, yesterday.
A: So literally fresh from the Thames.
Q: Fresh from the Thames. Hands-on history.
A: The Thames is always, yeah, the Thames is always giving us new, interesting things and every day turns out something unusual and interesting. So coins obviously don’t tell us much about their person themselves, but because it has a date on them it’s quite helpful because you know exactly when that coin was made.
Q: Yeah. And about how long after the coin was made would the coin circulate?
A: Pretty much instantly. So a lot of these coins were actually produced in the Tower of London, because there was a mint within the Tower of London so they were in charge of all the money. So they would hammer these coins. So they would take a blank disc of silver, put it between two moulds, and then literally smack it with a hammer and that would imprint the design, the kind of positive design, onto both sides of the coin. And then they would just pop out the coin and then it would go into circulation very quickly thereafter. So some of these coins don’t make it very far, like I found this not too far from the Tower of London. But, yeah, others go to many other countries around the world because of the British Empire.
Q: So let’s talk about your next find.
A: So there’s obviously quite a few that I’d love to talk about because we’re limited on time. I’ll show you one that I found last year that has an interesting story as well. This is a garnet, so we find a lot of garnets in the Thames, red garnets. They’re not native to the Thames, they’ve obviously been brought to London and disposed of in the Thames. And we normally find just kind of rough uncut garnets.
Q: Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of these garnets, can you just explain a bit more what they are?
A: So garnets are a semi-precious stone and, erm, it’s a birthstone for many. And we find, you can hear [rattling garnets] this my little box here of different garnets. And they come in all different shapes and sizes and we find them in different spots along the Thames foreshore. So the thing that my daughter loves to find when she’s mudlarking, is these garnets and I think women are naturally attracted to these semi-precious gemstones. So I posted online some images of the garnets that I was finding and a jewellery designer from Texas contacted me and said that he would be willing to make something for free for me, if I would send him some garnets. So I sent him 25 garnets, he’s based in Texas, but he’s an interesting guy. His name is Kit [Kazadi 00:32:17] and he’s worked with many Hollywood stars as well making different pieces of jewellery that’s appeared in many different films in Hollywood. So it was a thrill that he actually contacted me and was willing to do something for free. So as you can see in my hand here, he’s taken eight garnets that my daughter has found and he created this beautiful pendant made of silver and he’s designed it so that the garnets, that the light passes through the garnets. So if you hold that up to the light you’re able to see some of the garnet glow and the name for garnets comes from pomegranate because in the sunlight they look like pomegranate seeds, kind of glowing, because as the light hits them. But as you put that up a bit closer to the light you can start to see the light passing through. And to show what a cut garnet looks like the guy actually cut one of the garnets, included that in this pendant for my daughter. So my daughter now wears this with pride. Erm, so last year I found this massive garnet, which is a cut garnet.
A: And this I took to the Victoria and Albert museum. Again I posted this online and a curator and gemmologist from the Victoria and Albert museum, contacted me and said she would be willing to look at this and see if it’s real or not. So during my lunch break I slipped away from work and ran over to the Victoria and Albert museum and she was able to look at it underneath, erm, a microscope and confirm that it’s a hessonite garnet from Sri Lanka. So it was cut in Sri Lanka, harvested in Sri Lanka and then shipped to London and we don’t know why it was lost in the Thames, but it was a loose stone. So I posted this again on-line and a jewellery designer from Scotland, her name is Ruth, contacted me and said that she was willing to make something with the garnet, erm, if I would just give her that opportunity. So she made this beautiful pendant for my wife, again for free. And provided--, this is all gold now that she’s set it in and again it shows that the internet is not this horrible place. It’s a beautiful place where people really do share amazing finds and they’re willing to do incredible things for each other. So I’ve had two pendants made; one for my daughter, one for my wife and they’re both made from garnets from the Thames.
Q: So why do they think so many garnets can be found on the Thames? Why are they there if they’re not native to London?
A: So there’s many different theories about that. Some people say that they were intended for the jewellery trade, other people said that they were used for industrial purposes. So on the MOHS scale these garnets have roughly a seven-point rating on the MOHS scale in terms of hardness. So they use this almost like a blasting material, so for like sandblasting, glass cutting, different uses like that. But I’ve actually had some tests done, so my friend Kit [Kazadi 00:35:38] in Texas actually took some of the Thames garnets and polished them and cut them and was able to make some jewellery out of the cut garnets. So they are not necessarily jewellery grade, they’re not top jewellery grade but they could have been intended for jewellery use. And historically garnets were always a treasured gemstone in many cultures in the past. So Anglo Saxons have used them in many of their kind of jewellery items, even sword pommels at the end of a sword, they would inlay that with beautifully cut slivers of garnet. So it has been used over the centuries for many different kinds of jewellery.
Q: So are they all from a particular time period, or are they just from many different time periods, the ones that turn up on the foreshore?
A: So the garnets that we normally find, erm, as you saw in that small container, those are all just uncut garnets, so those are very old because it’s a geological, erm, yeah phenomenon. So it’s of basically a rock, a gemstone, so those are ancient. But we don’t know exactly when they were dropped into the Thames but one theory that I personally like, because it sounds cool. Is that the East India Company was trading a lot, obviously, erm, with India and Sri Lanka and all of those colonies in south east Asia. And the theory is that they brought these back in, erm, kind of bags and that the bags were dropped or lost overboard as they were unloading the ships. And then over time the bags have just kind of disintegrated and only the garnets are left on the foreshore and that’s why we find so many clusters of garnets in certain areas. And then other mudlarks think that they were purposely dropped overboard and then when the tide went back out they would go and salvage them and get the sack. And then these are some of the sacks that were never found again and again have slowly disintegrated and that’s why we find these clusters.
Q: So where are they indigenous to, the garnet?
A: So there have been some tests done on them and a lot of them come from like the south east Asia region. So like India and Sri Lanka, those areas where they occur naturally.
Q: Amazing. If you could picture in your head the last person who used those garnets that are now this beautiful jewellery for your family, would they have been a sailor perhaps or something like that?
A: Yeah, yeah, so it could have been a dock worker that was unloading the ship and being a bit, erm, dubious in character, gently just tossed this into the river at high tide. The sack sank quickly to the bottom of the river and then they went back at night to collect it and this one just went undiscovered. But that’s just theory.
Q: [Laughs]. Can we have a look at your next item, or describe your next item to us.
A: [Laughs]. So one of the most quintessential dates in London’s history is 1666, the Great Fire of London, and I fortunately found a token from that time period, a trade token, that actually has that date stamped into the surface of it. And it’s got a packhorse shown on the coin or on the token right underneath the date and I’ve taken it to the Museum of London who reported that, and they said that they have never seen a token like that one before. And that it’s not actually from London, it was actually from Devon. And they think that it probably wasn’t associated with the Great Fire of London, even though it has the date on there, it was probably for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. So obviously a lot of the buildings were destroyed during the Great Fire. So there was a huge rebuilding programme after the Great Fire. And a lot of raw materials were brought into London because there aren’t too many natural materials, or raw materials, in the local area around London. So a lot of the materials came from Devon and, er, it’s a very rough terrain in Devon. So you can’t even have carts and wagons coming from some of these areas. So they used packhorses, so pretty much like a donkey which they would laden with these big packs on both sides to balance out the horse. And then the horse would pretty much march or walk all the way to London to deliver these materials. So on the token it actually says the guy’s name: Henry [Hoppingham 00:40:26], that’s the name of the business owner and he owned this kind of carrier trade that would transport materials back and forth between Devon and other destinations. So it’s a great bit of history and gives us a little insight into the rebuilding of London and where these raw materials were coming from.
Q: Amazing. So when did you find that? Do you remember what the river was like? Do you remember the day?
A: Yes, it was a cold, rainy morning and I was pretty unlucky that day and was about to go home and I was just searching a part of the foreshore that I normally don’t search. And it was laying on top, but the date was facing down. So I picked it up just thinking it was a normal coin and when I turned it over and washed it off I saw the date, 1666, and I was just leaping and dancing on the foreshore. And there were only a few people left on the foreshore, but I had to show everyone what I’d just found because that’s kind of something that I’ve been looking for, for years.
Q: Do you have other things that are on your bucket list like that?
A: Er, yes, yeah, quite a few still. That’s the great thing about mudlarking, there’s still so many things that are still on my bucket list, and that’s what I’m still searching for and that’s kind of what gets you out of bed at five in the morning, to go mudlarking on a Saturday when you could have a lie in.
Q: What are your top three things on your bucket list?
A: I really like Roman artefacts, so I’d love to find one of these brooches. So they have what’s called a dolphin brooch or a fantail brooch. I’d love to find one of those brooches. I’d love to find something Viking from that era. So not just a coin but maybe an axe head or something of that nature, so those types of things, the kind of unique, one-off things that you normally don’t find.
Q: So going back to your trade token, what was the process of research to find out who the name was, who that person was?
A: So the great thing about trade tokens is they list their name and typically even the location, where their business is. So normally it even tells you which street they were located on. But in--, during the Great Fire of London a lot of these businesses were destroyed. So sometimes the only reference to the existence of those shops, businesses, taverns, inns, is just these trade tokens that we find, that’s the only last memory of those actual locals. So that’s why it’s quite exciting to research these things, but it makes it pretty easy because they literally write their name and their address on the token.
Q: So in this case you just put it into the Google and something came up?
A: Er, yes, fortunately it was already recorded by somebody else so I was able to find it quite quickly. But like I said the Museum of London doesn’t have in their archives, so they were quite happy to see something new that had never been found in London before, because that gives them insight into what’s going on at that time period in London’s history.
Q: Definitely. Let’s talk about your fourth object.
A: So this one is quite interesting. It took me a long time to figure out what it was. I actually couldn’t identify it myself, so it’s a pointy thing that I thought was the spur on the back of your boot. So it has two holes on both sides and I thought it was attached to something and it looks like a spike that would come out from like the back of your boot. So a lot of people did wear spurs back then because they all rode horses and that was the main way--, means of transportation. So to kind of get the horse going you would kind of kick it gently I should hope, with the spur in order to kind of get the horse moving. So I thought it was that and I posted it on Facebook and I labelled it as, erm, a spur and somebody came back and said, no that’s something much more interesting. It’s actually a gauntlet or a gadling as they call it, so a knuckleduster, from a medieval knight’s gauntlet. So that was the glove that they would wear as part of their armour. So they would wear a leather glove and that was covered with these kind of plates that would protect their hand from injury. And this is--, what I found was an actual knuckleduster that was perched on top of its knuckle. And I’ve had this researched by the Wallace Collection who has a great collection of armoury and also the, erm, Armouries Museum in Leeds and they’ve both written to me and said that this is highly unusual because it’s been crafted so well. And also it’s made of brass, and it’s very similar to the Black Prince’s knuckle guards that are in the Canterbury Cathedral. So I’ve actually taken this knuckle guard to the Canterbury Cathedral, just in order to kind of check the similarity between what’s on effigy and what’s actually the gadling that I found. And it’s quite uncanny, I’ll show you a photo now of when I was actually at the Canterbury Cathedral. So this is the pointy object that I found.
A: Which I thought was a spur but it fits perfectly on my finger and when I went to the cathedral you can see in this image that it’s almost identical to what the Black Prince is wearing. The Black Prince is the son of Edward III, the King of England at that time period. So this is about, yeah 14th century that this dates from. And it’s definitely from a wealthy knight which could have been a nobleman at that time period.
Q: You definitely wouldn’t want to get punched by that hand [laughs].
Q: With that pointy hand.
A: That would definitely knock out some teeth [laughs].
Q: So how do you picture the person, the last person who had that on their hand?
A: So it’s quite interesting because there are two holes on both sides of this knuckle guard and one of the holes has a slight tear. So my thinking is that, er, this was actually accidentally ripped off of the knight’s gauntlet as he was getting out of a boat potentially. And that’s why it dropped into the Thames and I found it. But this is punched out of a single sheet of brass and that’s why it’s unusual to have such a sharp point because typically it was quite hard to do that without piercing the material. So it had to be done with precision.
Q: So the rest of the outfit this knight was wearing would have been pretty elaborate we can imagine?
A: Definitely, definitely. So to have a gauntlet made of brass was quite unusual. Most of them were kind of made with a different material, kind of the grey metallic material. I’m not sure exactly what they call that, but this was quite extraordinary this find.
Q: And did you know exactly--, no you didn’t know what it was when you found it, but did you think this is something special when you found it?
A: No, I showed it to a couple of members of the Society of Thames Mudlarks that were with me at the time, they both said ah, yeah, that’s probably, yeah a spur, something like that. But it was only through Facebook that somebody recognised what it actually was and told me. And then when I started Googling exactly what they told me what it was, that’s when I found out that it was something quite unique and spectacular.
Q: And that’s what took you to Canterbury?
A: Yeah. So I’ve been on quite a few journeys with my different finds and I always love when it takes you onto a different location. So recently I went to Corsica and I took a coin that I found with their national emblem on it. And it was from medieval period. And I’ve been to Turkey as we were mentioning previously, and I took one of the coins from Istanbul that I found in the River Thames. So it’s amazing that this Roman coin that I found last year, it’s been dated to around 300 AD and it was minted in the Roman world, but at that time they were kind of extending further east and as you know Constantinople became the capital of the Roman Empire very late in the, er, in the Roman Empire Estates. But it was quite amazing to actually take that coin back to the country that it originally came from. And as you can imagine that coin has travelled from port to port around the Mediterranean before it made its way to London only to be dropped into the Thames. So to actually fly back to Turkey. I cheated.
Q: On an aeroplane?
A: On an aeroplane, 2000 years later, well 1,700 years later, was quite extraordinary to take that back to its homeland.
Q: Reminds you of just what a global city London is.
A: Even back then.
Q: And always has been for thousands of years.
A: Yeah, absolutely.
Q: So let’s move onto your last find then.
A: Okay, so the last find is also something that was quite unusual. So I found it between two rocks and it looked like a rat to me. A small little metallic item but it had like the nose of a rat, it had ears sticking out and it had a tail on it, and I was like, what is this. And I again showed some other mudlarks and they weren’t quite sure what it was. So I posted a photo to the Museum of London and they said, oh it looks like a boar and I was like, oh that’s interesting. And they said well the boar was the emblem of King Richard III. So back in 1483 is when he was coronated as king and they said that many of these boar badges were hastily made because originally he was not down to be king. If you remember the two princes in the tower that mysteriously disappeared and Richard III became king. They were supposed to become the next king of England, not Richard III. So they hastily made these boar badges to kind of distribute them within the crowd so people could wear them and show their allegiance to the new king. And somehow this one was lost in the Thames and I found this again 500 years later and it’s quite extraordinary because there’s only two that have ever been found in London and I’m the second one to have found one. And mine is interesting because it’s made of pewter and it was made for the common people. The second one that was found was much larger and that was found in a very high-profile place which links it directly to the house or the court of Richard III. So it was probably worn by one of the gentlemen or noblemen of that time period or potentially even Richard III himself. But the one that I found was definitely mass produced and made for the general population. So you can just imagine being at his coronation, this hastily made king and, er, showing your support as people, as Richard III paraded through London on his way to Westminster to become king.
Q: So did you find it pretty near to Westminster? So it might actually have been from that very procession?
A: So originally the procession started in the Tower of London and made its way to West Minster and I found it about halfway in between those two places. But the procession route went kind of along the Thames because the Thames was the main artery back then. And even now if you remember for the Queen’s Jubilee, Elizabeth II, she had a pageant on the Thames. So the Thames has always been very important for Monarchs to show their kind of, erm, importance and power. So I did find it along the procession route that Richard III did take. So when I found it and it was recorded by the Museum of London, I offered to donate it to the King Richard III Visitor Centre in Leicester. So the same year is when they announced that they had found the body of Richard III. If you remember they found him in the car park in Leicester. I think that was in 2012 is when they discovered the bones and then it took a while to analyse all of that. So I was invited up to the museum, made the donation and they gave me a kind of behind-the-scenes tour of the museum there in Leicester. And they took us over to the Cathedral and we were there two weeks before his body was re-interred so we were able to see actually the grave site where they’ve now buried Richard III.
A: So again I just love how these small little artefacts, this thing that was just this grey rate that I found, turned out to be a boar badge from Richard III, from the 15th century and took me to Leicester to his grave site.
Q: Well I think that’s a great place to round off. Thank you so much for talking to us and for sharing your incredible stories and incredible finds.
A: Yeah, thank you for the opportunity.
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