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Oral History Transcript
Interviewee: Lara Maiklem
Date: 20 August 2019
Interviewer: Henry Everett
Q: This is an oral history interview with Lara Maiklem, AKA, the London Mudlark by Henry Everett, on the 8 July 2019. Also present are...
Q1: Duncan Wood.
Q2: And Eva Tausig.
Q: The interview is taking place at Bloomsbury, 50, Bedford Square, as part of the Thames Festival Trust Forages of the Foreshore Heritage project. So could you place state your full name?
A: My name's Lara Maiklem
Q: And your date of birth?
A: 11 of the 5th 1971.
Q: Thank you. And whereabouts were you born and where did you grow up?
A: I was born in Surrey, 30 miles, as the crow flies, from London, on a farm, which makes it a bit unusual. So it's one of the largest farms closest to London, I think.
Q: And what does a typical week look like for you?
A: For me? At the moment, I've got 7 year old twins. So a typical week's a busy one. If they're at school, my typical week is, drop them off at school. I've been writing a book, so I've been starting writing very, very early. I usually start at about half five, six, and then I write until I can't write any more. Stop for lunch, pick up the kids and then it's looking after the kids after that. So my typical week--, that's been my typical week. I'd say at the moment my week's fairly atypical because I'm getting ready for the book to be published.
Q: And what was your introduction and what drew you initially to mudlarking?
A: Erm, it's a complicated one because it wasn't--, there wasn't a defining moment that I started mudlarking. I've always been interested in history. I grew up in a Tudor farmhouse, and it fascinated me that so many people had lived in its rooms and all the things that had happened. And outside the front door there was a midden in the garden where I could dig around in the soil and find all sort of thing things like bits of crockery and clay pipe stems. And I found a couple of coins. And I'd spend my summer holidays poking around in this bit of earth. And I was always a great collector as well. And when I graduated, all I wanted to do was move away from the farm and move away from the countryside and get to London. And I moved to London and instantly missed the countryside and the open spaces. And I spent a lot of time on my own growing up, and I missed my own company, just being on my own. And that's what led me down to the river, really, initially, was just finding a place where I could just walk peacefully. And then one day I found some river stairs, and it hadn't really occurred to me that you could go down. For some reason I thought it was out of bounds, you know, it was somewhere that people--, you weren't allowed to go. And sometimes the river was high and sometimes it was low, and I didn't really realise it was tidal. And one day the tide was out and I was by some river stairs and I went down and I found a clay pipe stem. And it just took me back, in that moment, to playing around on the farm in this rubbish dump in front of the house. And it occurred to me that there was bound to be stuff down here. And I came back and I found more, and I came back again. And I gradually got a bit obsessed with it. And I was coming back a lot and I was living in Greenwich so it was easy to get down there. And that's really how it started, and it sort of grew from there into a bit of an obsession [laughs].
Q: Can you describe the experience of being down by the river?
A: It really is a magical experience. It's like another world. All you have to do is go down some steps and you're away from all the crowds and you're away from modern London. And you can still hear it all going on around you. It's a bit muffled, but you're down there and it's another world. It's peaceful and it's quiet and there's nature, there's birds. You can hear the birds and you can hear the water lapping. And you just look down and everything is man-made, everything's history. And it's just a magical, quiet, almost a secret place in London.
Q: Can you describe your method of mudlarking?
A: Yes, I am a scavenger, I suppose. I look for things that are lying on the surface. So I don't use a trowel to scrape and I don't use a metal detector and I don't dig. I just look for whatever's lying on the surface that's been left for me by the tide, really. So I suppose I'm quite a gentle mudlark in that respect.
Q: Can you describe your relationship with the river?
A: The river, through the time that I've been--, I've been mudlarking for over 15 years now and it's been--, it's always been there when I've needed someone or something to talk to. So I have a very personal relationship with the river. It's my place I go if I want to work through my problems. Whenever I've had issues in my life, it's where I've gone just to be on my own. And I talk to it when I'm down there, you know, it might sound silly, but it's almost like, I suppose it's almost like a friend. It has personality and it's different on different days, depending on the weather, depending on the tide. And it really is, it's like visiting an old friend, yeah.
Q: Do you have any routines or rituals as part of your mudlarking practice with the river?
A: Course I do. I think all mudlarks do, yeah. I prepare fastidiously the night before, because I'm always convinced I'm going to forget something. And I always take exactly the same things. I've got my wellies by the door, ready. I've got my bag to put my finds in. So I've got my kit, that I always have to have with me. And I meticulously plan my tides out and I know exactly how much time I've got before and after. I work out which part of the water I'm going to, and sometimes the tides can affect how long I've got there. And I have everything ready the night before. Then when I go, I talk to it, I say hello to it. If I find something I say thank you. I throw every bit of small change I find back into the river as a thanks. And, yeah, each spot I have a slightly different ritual depending what I pass and what I--, there's a little boat scratched into one of the paving stones in Greenwich that I always nod to as I walk past. I sound like a loony now, don't I? But, yeah, I have all sorts of strange rituals that I do. Some of them are private [laughs].
Q: [Laughs] Are there objects that you particularly look for or leave behind?
A: I think I was, like everybody else, when I first started mudlarking I picked up everything. And, you know, was a bit of a magpie. Nowadays, I only really collect things that I haven't already found. I don't look for anything specific. I'm just happy with something I've never found before. Something I can take away and research. And I don't take away pottery unless it's a really good bit of pottery or something I haven't got. And clay pipes, I only take them away if it's a really good one or a style I haven't got. So I'm really looking for stuff I haven't already got now. I take lots back, I give quite a lot away. I send stuff to smaller museums and re-enactors and people like that. So I like sharing what I've got, because I reckon that there's no point in just picking up everything and keeping it in a draw where nobody sees it.
Q: Has your relationship to mudlarking changed over the years?
A: I think it's probably got--, I think it's gone in dips and troughs really. It's been there when I've needed it. It's got more intense at certain points in my life when I've needed to spend more time on my own. And, yeah, I'd say it has. When I lived in Greenwich I could pop down there for 20 minutes. And I sometimes went on both tides and I'd do a quick sort of mudlark in one spot. Now, I've moved away from the river, I have to really plan to come up, and I spend five to six hours at a time looking. Because I would spend the whole day mudlarking as opposed to just a quick mudlark sort of in between doing other things. So, yeah, in that respect it's changed.
Q: So you have quite a journey to get to the river?
A: Yes, I live out on the Kent coast. So it's not too bad, but it's certainly a different kind of trip now. It's a lot more intense, I'd say, now, of a search. And because I’ve been doing it for longer, you know, I'm more practised at it and I know more about what I'm looking for and what I'm finding.
Q: Do you have a most memorable experience from the foreshore?
A: I've got lots of memorable experiences. Er, my most memorable experience was--, I wouldn't say I've had one defining memorable experience. I've had lots of different ones. I found a plastic box full of someone's ashes. That was a memorable experience in that it made me really stop and think. And it took me a good hour to decide what to do with them, whether to leave them there or put them back in or--, and it really made me--, it was quite a philosophical experience, I suppose. I have found--, the time when I found gold. I haven't found a lot of gold, but I found a gold Tudor lace end. And that was, you know, sort of quite a--, that's my first proper piece of gold, that's quite an experience. More recently, I found a human skull on the foreshore, which is an old human skull. Which was quite, that was quite, another philosophical experience. And just sort of, just seeing incredible things poking out of the foreshore, that's, erm, gosh. No defining memorable experience. I think it’s just every thing that I've found that I've never found before has been a memorable experience. I can remember where I found most of my main pieces. So finding the Tudor shoe was quite a memorable experience. At that moment when it came out complete, that was, yeah, that was probably one.
Q: And have you got any particularly hairy experiences down by the river?
A: Oh, yes. I got cut off once and had to wade back up to my knees in the water. That wasn't very nice. I fell down some steps once, that was a painful experience. And going out on the estuary is probably quite--, is very, it's not very safe out there. And I always go with a friend, and the mud is really thick and there's nothing but mud. And you have to--, you get to a certain point and you have to work out whether you've got the energy to go on and get back, or whether you need to stop, to save your energy to get back. And, yeah, that's the hairiest. And then knowing that the tide's turned, and the tide can actually travel faster than you can walk when you're walking in mud like that, it's, yeah, that's quite hairy, I suppose [laughs].
Q: Do you have a particular stretch of the river that you prefer to return to? Or do you go along the whole river?
A: I go along the whole. I don't go west very often, just because I've never been. I'm just not--, I think you're either an East Londoner or a West Londoner. So most of my spots are Central London and East. So I've got several spots that I visit regularly, not just one. And it changes with the foreshore. The foreshore changes all the time. Some of my spots aren't so great at the moment, so I'll go to different ones. So it varies. But I've probably got about five spots that I visit regularly. And that's all I'm saying [laughs].
Q: [Laughs] How long do you spend, generally, down by the river?
A: These days, about three hours before the tide turns and three hours afterwards. So these days I spend a good five to six hours down there.
Q: How has the river changed over the years?
A: It's got busy. It's getting busier. The river itself, there's a lot more boats on it, which I think is great, that the river's being used again. It was ignored and deserted for too long. The river path is changing enormously, it's got so much busier, especially Bankside. When I first started mudlarking people didn't really go to Bankside, now it's a major tourist destination. And they're building all the way along, these luxury apartments, especially out sort of Greenwich way, they're just everywhere. And they've appeared since I've been mudlarking. And the foreshore itself is getting busier, especially in Central London. But that's because, partly because more people are going down to the river, and the river paths are getting busier. And London's getting busier, more people.
Q: And how long have you been mudlarking for?
A: Like I say, my journey down to the foreshore was a gradual one. So actual mudlarking, for kneeling in the mud and looking for stuff, just over 15 years now.
Q: And about the objects, can you describe the first object in a few words?
A: The first object I'm going to--, all my objects are non-metallic. Because I find things that metal detectorirsts don't find. So all the things I find are things that you wouldn't find with a metal detector. So I find metal things, but I like things that aren't made of metal. And the first one that I'm going to describe is a pleasure garden token from the 18th--, well, it's dated from the end of the 17th into the 18th century. And it's made of ivory or bone and it's been pressed. And it's got Lambeth Wells written on it. And that was one of the smaller pleasure gardens at Vauxhall. And they were places that people went to to get out of London, which was crowded and smelly. And they went along the river in a wherry and they got to the pleasure gardens, mainly at Vauxhall, but there were also pleasure gardens at other places. And they had lights and music and acting and people would promenade around these beautiful gardens. And they were also quite--, they were places where ladies of the night hung out, shall we put it this way? And people would go there to meet up for various activities that took place in the trees and the bushes and things like that. So they also had that reputation. And I love things that are made of bone because they've just go that lovely sort of feel to them. And I don't know what this token would have been used for. It could have been used as a drinks token. It could have been used to get in, it could be an entry token. I found it in Central London, not up at Vauxhall. So it would have been somebody, I like to imagine, somebody who'd been up in Vauxhall, got absolutely hammered, come back early in the morning, stumbling out of the wherry back at the city where they lived, stumbling out of the wherry and maybe just chucking away the token that they hadn't used that night. Or it dropped out of their pocket or their purse. And it's unusual. Nobody's ever found anything like that before. So, I like it because it's unusual and it's one of a kind, I don't think there is another one like it. So that's my first object.
Q: And is it a recent find?
A: I found it about three years ago. And it was just caught between a couple of bricks, just lying there, just been washed up. If I hadn't have gone on that tide it would have been washed away. So I like that about it as well. It's so small and flat and light, it would have definitely washed away on the next tide. So, yeah, it's a fairly recent, I suppose it's a fairly recent find.
Q: And did you know what it was when you first found it or was there a lot of research?
A: I had an idea of its age because of the style of writing. It looked like a token because it's the size and shape of a coin. And Lambeth Wells, I knew that there were pleasure gardens in Lambeth. So I had a suspicion that that's what it was. And then when I got home I did some research. And I discovered that there was a pleasure garden called Lambeth Wells. And there's a society, The Vauxhall Society, and they've done lots of research on the pleasure gardens there. And they've written up something about the pleasure gardens at Lambeth Wells. So it's quite--, let's see if I've got something here that--, er…, no, it says here the venue was everything from a spa, gardens, music hall, tea hall, religious meeting rooms. And even, in 1758, it was accused of being nothing more than a nuisance and a common brothel. So you can imagine what it was like.
Q: And do you remember what the river was like on the day that you found it?
A: I was mudlarking with two friends, and they hadn't found--, I don't remember what the river was like. But I know the river--, the tide had turned. And we were thinking about going, and I was mudlarking with two friends. And they hadn't found much. And then I found the token, and they were very jealous. So I remember that. I don't remember what it was like. I think it might have been raining.
Q: And how did you feel when you found the object?
A: Ooh, excited. Well, I thought it was a coin at first, and I don't get that excited by coins, I'm not a coin person. But then when I picked it up, it was much lighter and it obviously wasn't a coin. Then I got excited, because I get very excited when I find things that I've never found before. So I knew it was something different. So, yeah, that's what excited me about it, so, yeah.
Q: Nice. And the second object...?
A: The second object is the top part of a blown glass vessel. And it's got two little like handles, folded handles either side. And it's fairly thick. It's a sort of aqua, greeny sort of glass. And it's obviously been part of a larger vessel, you can see where it's been broken off. And it's the top part, so it's the lip. And I found it on a very hot day, again in Central London, and I just saw the little handle poking out of the foreshore. And so I sort of carefully wiggled it and pulled it out. And I instantly thought, this was probably a defining moment, it was Roman glass. So I got really excited because it looks just like the sort of Roman glass vessel that they used in bath houses to put oil in, that they'd oil people down and then scrape the oil off them in the bath houses. That's how the kept clean. And so I got very excited because I thought it was Roman glass. And it's beautiful and it's in perfect condition. Sometimes you find glass, particularly Georgian, Victorian glass, and it's just in the most awful condition and it's starting to flake away. Because the glass they made then was just terrible quality. But the glass that the Romans made was great quality, really good, and it doesn't fracture and break and fall apart like later glass does. And it's all a bit complicated, it's all to do with, I think, one of the King's stopped people from--, refused to let people use enough wood to fire the furnaces. So they couldn't get the glass to a high enough temperature and that's why the glass isn't so good. But the Romans made glass really well and it survives really well. And I was very excited because I thought I'd found the top of this vessel. And I showed it to my finds liaison officer, and he was really excited that it was part of a Roman vessel. And it was recorded as a Roman vessel for quite a while until a lady from the Museum of London came forward, and said, "No, it's not Roman. We've found a couple of others of these further into the City of London." It’s actually very rare for London, it's not rare, they find a lot of these, but it's very rare for London, it's medieval Islamic glass. And it probably comes from the Iberian Peninsula or the east Mediterranean. So I've had this sort of feeling of being kind of weirdly disappointed but very excited. Because it was not as rare as Roman glass, but it was rarer because it was found in London. So it's the top part of an Islamic glass vessel. And that is--, it's gone down as a find of significance, which is always nice. And that's what it is. So yes. I've probably answered all your questions in one go there, haven't I?
Q: Almost. How do you conjure, in your imagination, the last person who would have used this object?
A: Well, you see, two people sprang to mind. First of all I was imagining this sort of person, this poor person. And their whole life was spent in a steaming sort of bathroom in one of those sort of nappies that they used to wear, holding a strigil, scraping off horrible fat of Roman governers. And that was their life. Awful. And I was just thinking, oh, imagine, this was probably hanging round their waist full of oil. And that's all they did, was scrape down fat Romans. And what a dreadful life that must have been. And they were probably hot all the time and probably a bit wrinkled, like you get, you know, if you spend too much time in a sauna. So, yeah, so I was imagining this sort of young man, actually, in my mind, who had--, who was quite a fit young man, actually, in my mind, who'd had this sort of bottle. And then, obviously, and then it all changed. And I was imagining an Islamic merchant or, you know, a merchant who would sail all the way round, perhaps with bottles of olive oil, again in the sort of, in their ships. And they'd come to London and maybe they had also brought these beautiful glass vessels. And maybe it was part--, maybe it had been brought with the ones that had have been found in the City of London and somehow had been split up from them. And ended up--, maybe it had been broken and ended up in a rubbish dump that had then been dumped into the river. Or maybe somebody--, that one had lasted longer and somebody had used it for longer and it got thrown into a different pile in the 17th century or the 16th century or whenever. And so, yeah, it went from one kind of vision to a very different vision all of a sudden.
Q: Amazing. And the physical sort of reality of the object. Is it heavy? What kind of noise does it make?
A: Well, it doesn't make any noise because it's just a piece of glass. It's nice. It fits perfectly in my hand. And it's a beautiful colour. It's just the colour of the Mediterranean sea, I suppose, which is quite nice. Yeah, it's really the colour that struck me about it, it's a lovely colour. If you hold it up to the sun, it's really nice. You can see the little bubbles, anything that's hand, free blown has got little bubbles in it. So, yeah, it's nice.
Q: Beautiful, thank you. And [pause] right, let's go to the third object.
A: The third object is also glass. It is a tiny little bead called a chevron bead. And the one I have is a very early one. And I found it, again, in Central London. It was on top of a spoil heap from somebody who had been digging great big holes on the foreshore. And, because when they dig the holes they are mainly looking for metallic objects, they often miss things that aren't metallic. And they'd missed this and, actually, this little bead is worth more than it would be worth if it was made of gold. There's a lot of collectors of them. I'd never sell it. But it's quite rare because it's so old, and it's blue and red and white. And, if you look at it in cross section, it's got this star pattern. So they were made with a special star shaped mould. And it was probably made in Venice, which is where they made a lot of beads around then. They made them in Venice and they made them in Czechoslovakia, Bohemian glass. And it would have been made as a trade bead. So it had come from Venice or Czechoslovakia to London for somebody to then take and trade, possibly in West Africa, for gold and palm oil and slaves. And so it would have been part of, possibly a triangular trade of--, they would have take these beads, along with other guns and metal objects and fabric and things like that, and traded it with the locals in West Africa for human lives. And they then took the slaves across the sea to the Caribbean and the slaves were sold and used to work the great big sugar plantations and tobacco plantations. And the sugar was then brought back to London in this big triangular trade. So this little tiny--, I think what I find fascinating about this is that this little tiny object, which is just beautifully made, is part of such a defining moment in history and such a horrific moment in history. The fact that you could trade a human life for a piece of glass is really quite horrifying. And I can just imagine this bead being part of a sack of beads that was destined for West Africa and perhaps the sack had a hole in it, and it trickled out and fell down through a gap in the jetty, o, as it was being loaded on to the ship, and never made it out to Africa. And then I found it in the mud, that rather--, I don't know, I can't even remember, I can't remember the day, what it was like. It was probably overcast, it's usually overcast when I'm down on the foreshore. But, yeah, so it dates from the 16th century. So it's really quite an old one. And it's got--, you can date them from the number of layers that are in there. So, when you count the layers you can--, the later ones have less layers [inaudible 0:26:18] so mine’s got quite a few. And it is a miniature work of art. But a sort of--, it's sad and also quite an unpleasant piece, in a way. So it's got that sort of beauty and unpleasantness about it.
Q: Can you describe what happens after you find something on the foreshore to kind of--, the researching process of finding out about your objects?
A: Yeah, well, if I find something, I don't what it is, I mean, I've got my Facebook page, which is fabulous. There's loads of people who are experts in all sorts of weird and wonderful things across the world that follow my page. So, if I put something on I get loads of help from people, for a start. And the Portable Antiquities Scheme is the best place to go. You can usually, very often find something that someone else has found that's been, you know, already researched for you. I know quite a lot of people who are specialists in various areas that I can email. And then obviously my finds liaison officer and the Museum of London usually fill in the gaps. So that's the way I--, and I've got lots of--, a library of very weird books, including a book on beads, that was very useful for my bead.
Q: Nice, thank you. And can you describe to me the next object?
A: My next object is [pause] a Roman scabbard chape. And it is one of only two that have been found in this country. And it is made of ivory and it's like a little box. And it's open at one end, with a sort of scalloped edge, and it's got little commas cut into it on both sides. And it sort of tapers down towards the other end, which is closed. And it would have gone on the end of a scabbard, a sword scabbard. So it's the hard bit that stopped the sword from going through the end, basically, when you put your sword in your scabbard. And it dates from the second to third century. And they were specially made for the Roman auxiliary, apparently, I found out. And I found it on the foreshore when I was down there at night time. And I nearly trod on it [laughs]. It was very lucky that I looked over there with my head torch and my beam caught it. And I saw this little box lying on the ground, and picked it up. And I very nearly trod on it. And, yes, and it's perfect and it's beautiful. And it's so old. It's nearly 2000 years old. And I can imagine it--, I can imagine him, Roman auxiliary soldiers didn't come from the country that they served in. The Roman Army would post them in countries, different countries to hasten Romanisation, because they married. And they basically married local women and turned everybody Roman. It stopped them from--, it stopped mutiny if they weren't in their own countries. And auxiliary soldiers weren't Roman citizens. So they served in the hope that at the end of their services they'd become--, they'd be honoured with Roman citizenship. Which would give them all sorts of benefits. And so this man wouldn't have come from Britain, he would have come from somewhere else. So I imagine somebody whose come from North Africa, whose been sent to this miserably cold, wet little island. And he hates it and he's freezing cold and he misses home. And he's been sent and he's arrived in London. He's probably marched from the coast down on the south. And he's marched all the way to London and he's on his way north to defend the empire from the heathens north of the wall, up in Hadrian's Wall. Because they never conquered Scotland. And I imagine him being sent up there just to stand guard and to do all the crappy jobs, basically, up on the Wall. And as he marches through London his scabbard chape falls off the end of his scabbard. And he doesn't even realise it's gone till he gets to his next camp. And that was my--, that's how I imagine that ending up in London.
Q: Amazing. What goes through your mind, then, when you see something that you've never seen before?
A: Well, the thing that I like is that you know that whatever you pick up off the foreshore, you're the first person in however long to touch it. So for that I was the first person in 2000 years to touch that object. And it's that that really goes through my mind. It's that--, it's reaching back through the years as you reach down to pick something up. You're literally reaching back through the years into history. And that's what goes through my mind as I--, and I can hear the voices as I'm mudlarking. I can almost hear the history, especially if you go down at night. It's quite eerie, that's when the ghosts come up out of the foreshore. And you really are stepping back in time. It's a time machine down there.
Q: Amazing. And can you tell us about your next object?
A: Yes. My next object is my Tudor shoe. Which is a perfect and complete child's Tudor shoe. It dates from the 16th century, and I found it at Greenwich. And it came out of the mud, slowly, complete. So, as I pulled it out, the mud had kept it together. All the string that had--, all the thread that had held it together had rotted away. All that was left was the leather. But it was still in its, you know, still complete. And so I pulled it out full of mud, and it was just this complete little shoe. Probably would fit a five year old. And it was the sort of shoe that I'd seen, I'd been to Morocco, the sort of shoe I'd seen people selling and wearing in Morocco. So it's that kind of workaday slip-on shoe. And the back had been pushed down in that sort of naughty way that you're told not to do with your shoes, pushed down. And you could see the little creases across the top and just this sort of ghostly imprint of a heel and some toes. And that was, just sent a shiver down my spine because it was just so personal, you know. Just, you could almost see the foot in it. And there was a little hole in the end where they'd worn right through it. And I don't know if somebody had lost it running across the mud or getting into a boat. Or whether they'd been bullied and someone had pulled it off and ran off with it and thrown it in the river for a laugh, like kids do. And I can imagine the hiding they got when they got home without a shoe [laughs]. And I showed it to a podiatrist, and they said that it's quite possible the person who owned it had had a hammer toe from the wear and from the way that the end has worn through. So that's where the tendon in the big toe gets pulled in and the toe gets pushed up. So it's worn, so you can see that, you know, how it's been worn, yeah. That's my next one.
Q: What do you do with your objects after? Do you just have a massive collection or do you ever sell the objects or...?
A: Well, the shoe, I mean, the shoe is so precious. I found lots of bits of shoes and lots of shoe soles and inner soles. And I can preserve those, I'm not worried about preserving those. I squash them flat because leather tends to twist and warp when it dries. But with a sole, because it's thicker leather, if you squash it flat as it dries, it's usually fine. But with this, I thought, well, there's no way I'm going to try my amateur conservation techniques on this, it's too precious. And it took me two years to find somebody to conserve it professionally. And so it stayed wrapped up in a plastic bag in a cupboard for two years. The Museum of London get a lot of shoes because it's damp, and whenever they dig down into London, they find shoes. And they didn't have the funding to help me. So I went to the Mary Rose, and I spoke to them there, because they've conserved shoes almost identical to the one that I found. And I met with the head conservationist there and had a great chat with him. And they didn't have the money to help me, but he sent me to Cardiff University, where they have a course on conservation. And a student took it on. And so it was great because it taught her a huge amount and I got a beautifully conserved shoe back afterwards. And it's the pride of my collection. And my collection is very carefully curated. I keep--, I try not to keep everything, otherwise I'd have a house full. And, because, when I lived in London, my house was very small, I had to be very selective about what I kept. And I've sort of tried to keep doing that. And, because I like to look very closely at the foreshore, the things I find are usually very small. So I keep them all in a great big printer's chest that's got 18 sort of thin draws. And if it fits in my printer's chest and I haven't got it, then it gets to stay. I only keep larger things if they're really special. So I try to keep things down [laughs] not be a mad collector.
Q: Has becoming a mother changed the way you mudlark or the things that you pick up, or...?
A: Yes, because I use it to escape from them. That's where I go to get away from them [laughs]. It's my excuse, especially--, that sounds awful, doesn't it--, when they were babies. It was just a place to go where I could be myself again, you know, and not be at the mercy of screaming children. And they're not quite old enough, they're 7. One of them is fascinated by it, one of them couldn't care less. But they're not quite old enough to take them down to the foreshore. I don't want to take them till they're older because it's not very clean down there, you know, there's still raw sewage and I don't really want them playing around in that. Once they're old enough to appreciate what they're doing, what they're looking at, and they're not going to stick their fingers in their mouth, then I'll start to teach them. They're fascinated by the things that I find and it's teaching them loads about history. They're already fascinated by the Romans. And I can actually show them things that they can hold and understand. And the foreshore is a great place for kids to go when they're a little bit older because they can actually touch history. It's not dusty, boring books that I learnt history from, it's, you know, real, living history. And it's real history, it's about real people, not about kings and queens that are dead and bear no relation to you or your life.
Q: Is the real people, the story behind the object, or part of the object, the reason why mudlarking kind of resonates with you?
A: For me, yes, absolutely. It's all the people who have left--, that's their only scratch on history, is what they've left, the rubbish, basically, their rubbish. You know, they're not the people that got written about. They're not the people that got recorded. They're completely forgotten people. But they have left something of themselves in the river. And I think that's what really fascinates me. My family were ship builders on the Thames, boat builders in the 19th century. And I like that feeling there's something of them in there. I have another ancestor that was held on a prison hulk at Woolwich in the early 1800s. So I like the thought that there's something of him in the river there, too. And it's full of all these lives, all sort of washed up and mixed together. But they're lives of people. We'll never know who they are, but they have left some little scratch on history.
Q: Hmm, beautiful. And we've spoken about all five objects, haven't we now, I think.
A: I think so, yes.
Q: So then can you describe mudlarking in one word?
A: Erm, in one word? For me, obsessive, I'd say, it's an obsession. Or a passion, yeah. That's two words, I'm not allowed two words. Obsession, passion, there you go [laughs].
Q: [Laughs] Cool, thank you. Are there any questions that I've missed out, or elaborations that I could do?
Q1: Yeah, there were just two things that I wasn't sure what they were. The gold lace end. So [inaudible 0:38:39] gold, lace, a piece of lace that has gold on it? I wasn't quite sure what that was.
A: Yes. So, lace ends, some people call them aglets, some people call them chapes. I call them aglets but most people don't know what they are. You know the little hard bit on the end of your shoelace?
Q1: Oh, yes.
A: So it's basically--, we find--, I find, or mud larks find lots of little brass utilitarian ones. Everyone laced themselves and pinned themselves into their clothes, basically. So you find a lot of the ordinary copper alloy ones. This one is really beautifully made. It's gold filigree and it would have been on the end of a--, they might have used it as decoration. Sometimes they had laces with these gold lace ends on their sleeves, there are paintings of them. Or it was on a lace end that they used to do up their doublet or their jacket or something like that. But it comes from a time of sumptuary law. So not everyone was allowed to wear gold at the time. So someone very important owned this. And it's actually part of a miniature hoard. I'm not going to say where it's coming out of, but several hundred pieces, tiny pieces of gold have been found in this one spot. And the Museum of London are collecting as many as they can. And I've donated mine to the Museum of London. And they're--, all of them are either squashed or broken and they're all bits of jewellery. There's nothing complete that's come through. So they think it's a bag that a goldsmiths had that somehow--, maybe he dropped it or it was stolen and somebody threw it in the river rather than get caught with it. Because they would have been hung if they'd been caught with it. And somehow it's ended up in the river. The leather bag's gone and all these bits have scattered. But every single piece--, there’s a little tiny sort of--, you know, there's one lady, I think she just literally goes through the sand grain by grain in this area. And she's found tiniest little flakes of gold and just single chain links. So it's obviously just waste gold that was destined for somewhere else, it was going to be melted down. But with this, I, in my mind it was--, I like to imagine that there was this man. And his job was to clean up a big house or a palace somewhere. And he shovelled up all the reeds off the floor and, under the floor, from all the dancing and all the feasting, where all the bits of gold had dropped off people's clothes. And he at the time had picked up all these bits and kept them. And his wife found the bag of gold, went mental at him, and said, "Get rid of that, because if you get caught with it we're both for the, you know, high jump." And so she picked it up when he was out one day and chucked it in the river to get rid of it. That, in my mind, that's what happened. But more likely it's probably a bag of gold that a goldsmith had that he was taking it to melt down. Which is a shame, because the piece I've got is beautiful. Hmm.
Q1: So one other question. All your finds--, are there any that are sort of particularly personal to you or ones that you've kept, that you take out and pick up and look at that always derives pleasure?
A: It's my shoe, yeah, it's the shoe, every time, yeah. Just because I can--, it's a museum piece, and you don't get to touch museum pieces. And I've got it in my house and I can take it out whenever I want and hold it and look at those little creases. And look at it and it's--, I mean, maybe it's more poignant because when I found it, it would have fitted my son perfectly. So it was almost like finding, you know, a shoe from a little boy his age. So, yeah.
Q: Beautiful, thank you.
A: Good, well done. Super, no problem.
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