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Oral History Transcript
Interview with: Nicola White
Date: 13th August 2019
Interviewer: Ann Davey
Q1: Okay, so this is an oral history interview with Nicola White, given by Ann Davey on 13th August 2019. Also present are…
Q2: Nicola Slavin
Q3: Eva Tausig.
Q1: The interview is taking place--, what area is this?
Q1: The interview is taking place at Blackheath as part of the Thames Festival Trust Foragers of the Foreshore Heritage Project. So could you please state your full name?
A: My name is Nicola Mary White.
Q1: And how old are you?
A: I am 50 years old.
Q1: And whereabouts were you born, Nicola?
A: I was born in Cheltenham in Gloucester.
Q1: Oh right. And did you grow up there?
A: I moved down with my parents to Cornwall when I was two years old and I spent most of my youth, apart from three years in Holland, growing up down in Cornwall, in Truro.
Q1: Oh right, so you spent three years in Holland?
A: Yes, I spent three years in Holland from the ages of between seven and eleven, yeah, I was in Holland.
Q1: And whereabouts in Holland?
A: I was near Belgium, in a place called Brunssum. I lived near a place where there were a lot of RAF people and Americans, Canadians and English people. It was like an RAF base. I lived there.
Q1: And your schooling, what subjects were you interested in at school?
A: At school I actually loved art and the creative sort of subjects. I also loved history and sports.
Q1: Oh right. And obviously you live in London now. How did you come to move to London?
A: I moved up to London in about 1998, and I came up because I had actually been living in France prior to that for a good let’s say seven years, and I came back when my marriage broke up with a Frenchman, and I came back with my son. So going back to Cornwall, there really isn’t much work down there. As much as I loved it, I thought, “I really have to get a job.” And I’d never in a million years imagined that I would live in London. Honestly, it was something that I just didn’t even consider. But I moved up, I suppose I must have been about 29, in about 1998, roughly and I found a job and then eventually bought a flat, and I’ve been here ever since. So that’s been--, gosh, 1998, 2008, almost 21 years. My maths has never been my strongest subject [laughs]. A long time anyway .
Q1: And in this area, South London?
A: Yeah. When I moved to London, I basically looked in Loot, in the magazine, and it was a case of choosing the cheapest place to live. So I actually started off in New Cross Gate down in South East London, which at the time was probably--, I had to rent somewhere and that was the cheapest place to be, and then I’ve gradually moved across. Now I’m officially in Woolwich but we call it the Blackheath borders, but South East London. I actually love it here. I wouldn’t go across the other side of the river. I love South East London.
Q1: And what does a typical week look like for you in terms of work, hobbies, that sort of thing?
A: Well, up until about four years ago, I used to work fulltime in the corporate world in banking and that kind of thing, but then I really got to the stage where I wanted to do something that I felt passionate about, and I really was not passionate about going to work in finance. And a lot of things happened but particularly--, there’s this one poem, which--, my mum gave me a book and there’s a line in a poem which says--, and it’s a day in the life of a mayfly, which only lives about a day, and the last line says, “Now tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild precious life?” And I thought, “Oh gosh, I just can’t--, just don’t want to do this with my one wild precious life, go to this bank every day.” So I decided to save up and try and do something creative. And I’d always made collages and bits and pieces on the side, you know, for years, and I’d always had my tideline art sort of life and my mudlarking and collecting and making, and it was just a case of trying to make it a little bit more fulltime. So now, to answer your question, what does my day look like, well, I look at the tides, I see what’s going on. I go down--, I mudlark if there’s a good tide, but I collect a lot of glass and metal and pottery and driftwood, and I create collages with that. I write about my finds. I also run a YouTube channel about mudlarking. So I’m trying to do all the things I love and trying to make a little bit of a living. I will say it’s a struggle sometimes but it’s the best thing I did, to give up the day job to pursue the things I love.
Q1: Fantastic. Okay, so talking about mudlarking, how long have you been mudlarking?
A: Well, it was a gradual--, for me, how long have I been mudlarking? It was a gradual progression, I think, from--, when I came up to this area of London from Cornwall, I found myself on the Thames Foreshore, and it was a bit like a replacement beach, because I’d been used to going on the beaches in Cornwall. So when I went down the steps and found myself, you know, on the banks of this river, it was like being on a beach, and I started to notice little bits of pottery and glass, which was great ‘cos I use them in my collages, and then I found my first coin, so I suppose officially that’s when I started to realise that there were bits of history I could pick up down on the riverbanks. So officially I suppose, how long have I been mudlarking? Let’s say about 15, 16 years, I’d say.
Q1: And can you remember your first experience of mudlarking?
A: My first experience of mudlarking, when I found my first coin, I just started screaming with absolute joy and delight. I just couldn’t believe it. I was so excited that the idea that this coin that somebody had dropped, you know, over a hundred years ago, I’d just found it. I just found it the most exciting feeling. I think a few people not far away probably wondered what on earth was going on [laughs].
Q1: And after that experience, what keeps you going back to mudlarking?
A: What keeps me going back to mudlarking is just this real sense of anticipation and excitement, but it’s also now I think--, I really feel--, it’s really developed for me into something in that I really feel that I want to tell the stories attached to the objects I find. I’ve got this real idea that when we depart this planet, you know, we leave stories and they need to be told, and I love to go down and collect these stories and tell them. So yeah, it’s partly that, I think, and the excitement, just generally the feeling of being outside, the exhilaration. It’s a big mixture of things really.
Q1: Fantastic. And my next question says describe the experience of being down by the river--,
A: Oh well [laughs].
Q1: I think we’ve already started saying that.
A: For me, when I go down to the river, I always feel, oh, just very free, you know. I go down there, I take a big deep breath and sort of breathe in the air and look at the water, you know. Every time I go down there, the river can be different. Sometimes it’s like a mirror. Sometimes it’s really rough and choppy. Other times it’s the night, the day, you know. It’s just a real reflection of moods, the river, and I find it quite meditative, you know, when I go down there, and it’s like being in another world, and you do feel very calm because you’re in the present. So it’s excitement, anticipation, exhilaration.
Q1: And do you have a particular time of day that you particularly like to go to the river?
A: Hmm, well, you know, if I could choose a particular time of day, the summer is great for mudlarking because you can sometimes go, you know, in the evening and in the morning, and it’s great because you’ve got the light all the time. I love early mornings because it feels very--, for me, mornings are always more productive in many ways than the evening, and it’s just got a sense of promise about the whole day. But generally speaking, any time of day works for me. If it’s a good low tide, I’ll be there.
Q1: And how about time of year?
A: The time of year, gosh, again I love the river in every season. I’ve been down there when it’s tipping down with snow. I’ve been down there when it’s absolutely bucketing with rain. I think my least favourite is when it’s beating it down with sun because then it can get a bit too oppressive. But I’m happy to go in any weather.
Q1: And what would you say your most memorable experience of mudlarking has been?
A: Gosh, my most memorable experience of mudlarking, it’s hard to pick one. I suppose, you know, it would go together with the finds. I think one of my favourite finds is a very memorable day for me. It was just after I’d given up--, given my notice in and said I’m going to leave my job and step out onto the precipice of uncertainty, and it was an evening and I’d just finished mudlarking actually. The river was looking really beautiful, and then I found a coin which had a really beautiful inscription on the back, which was very special. I can tell you about it now. It’s one of my favourite finds. I can tell you about it again afterwards. But it’s a very old Elizabethan coin from 1601. You know, and I was staring out at the river and I’d actually finished mudlarking, and I was thinking, “Oh, you know, I’m going to be leaving my job, this is all a bit scary.” And I looked down in between my boots and there was a round object. Just in the dusk, I could make it out, and I leant down to pick it up. I mean, in itself it’s nothing special, a round object, because you get a lot of nuts and bolts, but there was something different about it, and I noticed it was this beautiful coin. But there’s a Latin inscription on the back, which translates into, “I’ve made God my helper.” I didn’t know it at the time, but for me--, I’m quite a spiritual person as well, and so for me that was like a real--, almost like a message from the river that, you know, all these uncertainties are going to work out. So that was very memorable.
Q1: Amazing. And on a different subject, any difficult or hairy situations you’ve found yourself in?
A: Hmm, well, once my stomach did lurch. I was mudlarking at Battersea once, and the foreshore is very, very wide. There’s a large expanse of foreshore, but there is like a little gulley that goes right from the wall, which goes out into the river, and it’s difficult to really notice it. You--, it doesn’t really, you know, draw your attention to it in any way, except that when the tide’s coming in and you think you’ve got an awful lot of foreshore left, when you get to this little river-y bit, it’s extremely muddy there, but you have to cross it to get to your exit. And the tide was coming in and I stepped in it, and I went right down and, I must admit, I did feel--, my stomach did go and I did panic, and after I got out of there my legs were sort of trembling a little bit [laughs]. I think it’s a good example of making sure you absolutely know what’s going on around you. I mean, I was fine but it could have been different.
Q1: Okay. Normally do you travel far to go mudlarking?
A: I tend to mudlark an awful lot in South East London because they’re my favourite areas. I tend to go back to the same spot over and over again because it seems to be different each time I go. So I don’t travel a huge distance. Sometimes I’ll go into Central London, but mostly I’ve got my little favourite areas around here, so mostly it’s quite close by where I go. I would travel far if I found somewhere that I loved, but don’t need to.
Q1: Could you describe to me how you prepare to go mudlarking?
A: Right, so how do I prepare to go mudlarking? I always have--, I’m a bit--, I’m not really--, well, I’m not superstitious but I always make sure I’m wearing my favourite necklace, which is here, ‘cos I always feel like I’m not going to find anything if I don’t wear it, she said, not being superstitious. I’ve got my favourite bag. I’ve got my trowel. I’ve got a little pouch that I wear around my waist with my phone and my camera. I always take my camera because I’m often--, well, I’m always shooting videos to put on my YouTube Channel. I have my coat, you know, in case it rains, my boots obviously. I check--, I’ve got my tide app on my phone. That’s it really. I just make sure I’ve got everything, my rucksack, my bag, bottle of water, a snack. Yeah, you know, it’s like going on a mission. I mean, absolutely, you have to be prepared [laughs].
Q1: Is there anything in particular you wear apart from what you’ve already mentioned or you take with you?
A: [Laughs] I tend to wear mostly--, and I have realised I probably need to get a few new tops, but I do tend to wear my stripy top when I go mudlarking [laughs]. It’s turned into a bit of a habit now. And I just wear jeans. I always wear my kneepads as well. I forgot about those. And so yeah, I do tend to wear my uniform of jeans, of stripy top, boots.
Q1: And anything in particular you take with you, you haven’t mentioned?
A: No, apart from my trowel, always take my trowel. I’ve got a really nice handmade trowel by a really good friend. You know, everything I take tends to have a bit of a special meaning with it. I get attached to things. And I’ve got a bag that used to belong to my dad. I don’t use a bucket ‘cos I use a bag ‘cos it’s my dad’s old bag. So yeah, I have all my little bits and pieces.
Q1: And do you mudlark alone or with other people?
A: I often like to mudlark alone, not because I don’t want to be with anybody else. It’s just that I actually enjoy the solitude of being down in the river. I do a lot of thinking when I’m down on the river, and I just love the quiet. So I tend to be more of a solitary mudlarker, but I do sometimes meet up with friends, but generally I’m more on my own.
Q1: And if you meet friends, is that a set group of people, different people?
A: I sometimes bump into people I’ve never seen before and always have a chat, but often I’ll meet up with some good friends that are mudlarks as well, like Simon Borne. He’s also got a YouTube Channel. We often do a bit of filming together. And then there’s a few of the girls that I meet up with sometimes, like Monica and Anna and Marie-Louise and various people. I think I’m getting to know--, there seems to be quite a little community of mudlarks now, especially with the onset of social media, people get to know each other more, so, you know, I do sometimes meet up with them.
Q1: And is there any particular type of object that you’re more interested in collecting?
A: For me, my favourite types of finds are finds that I can--, like a link back to a person or a place. I love finding things with a name on. So, you know, for me it’s really not so much about the value or whether it’s gold or silver. It’s really for me--, I get most excited when I find something that’s got something inscribed on it, that I can research and sort of go back in time.
Q1: And can you describe your method of mudlarking, how you go about it?
A: Well, how do I go about it? Well, I tend to just--, when I go mudlarking, I’m walking pretty slowly and just scanning the foreshore extremely--, sort of very intensely, I suppose, sort of waiting for my eye to be drawn to something that might be a little bit unusual. And, you know, I’ll kneel down and spend a great deal of time in one particular area.
Q1: And when you go, how long do you spend in one session, say?
A: When I go mudlarking, I like to spend as much time as I possibly can. It always goes way too quickly. I tend to go down a couple of hours before the tide is out, so I’ll sort of chase the tide out, and then--, and then I’ll wait until it comes back in again. So I mean, I could be there sometimes--, depending on the area, you know, when the tide allows, I can be down there for four, four and a half hours, five hours sometimes, but the time really flies. It’s like being in another dimension when you’re searching. It just goes by so quickly.
Q1: And what do you do with the objects you find?
A: Hmm, well, the objects that I find when I’m mudlarking, I pop them in my bag. I get them home, give them a wash, research them. I often photograph them, put them on Twitter if I want to--, I like engaging people with finds, so, you know, if I want to know something about something, I’ve found that Twitter in particular is a great resource. You can find out so much ‘cos there’s experts on everything. And then I’ll research them, then I’ll put them in a YouTube video, and then they find their special place on a shelf in my studio or in a box, more and more going in boxes now because I’ve got no more room. I need to get a big warehouse [laughs].
Q1: I was going to ask you about further research and social media. Would you like to give a bit more detail about all that?
A: Yeah, I do use a lot of social media for my practice, if you like, and it all comes under the umbrella of Tideline Art. And out of all of them, and there’s so many, I do have a Tideline Art Facebook page and I’ve also got an Instagram page, but my favourite has always been Twitter, I think, because it’s--, there’s so many people on Twitter, experts on so many different things, and I’ve used it a lot. You know, if I have something that I can’t identify, I put it out there and it gets retweeted and retweeted and then there’s so many people that come back with--, I’ve found that people love to be involved, especially with mudlarking finds, because it’s always--, you know, people get excited, I think, when something is discovered, and everyone likes to do a bit of research, and it’s just a nice break away from the problems of the world, I think sometimes, to get stuck in and research a little button. I’m not so keen on Instagram. And I also love YouTube as well ‘cos it’s a way of sharing it with people across the globe, you know, to actually--, so that they can be with you almost when you’re finding something.
Q1: And do you think the river’s changed over the years that you’ve been mudlarking?
A: Yeah, I really think the river has changed a lot since I began mudlarking, particularly--, when I look back at photographs of where I go regularly, I can see how the mud has gone right down and down. Of course you don’t really notice it when you’re there, you know, on a regular basis, but it’s when I compare it back to photos that I’ve taken five or six years ago, there’s a big change, you know. The level has just gone right down. But I’ve also noticed, particularly near Greenwich, because I go a lot to a place called Enderby Wharf, you know, and when I first started going there, there was nothing there, but the flats and buildings which have sprung up on the side of the river have just gone up and it’s such a huge contrast to what it used to be. So yeah, it’s changed in many ways.
Q1: And do you think your relationship to mudlarking has changed over the years?
A: Well, my relationship to mudlarking has changed over the years, yes, it has. I have become--, well, you could almost say a little bit obsessed, I suppose. It has, it’s become a really important part of my life, and it’s interesting because right at the beginning when we started this conversation, I said I could never imagine myself living in London and Cornwall would be my preferred place to be, but I have realised that I couldn’t possibly move back to Cornwall now because the River Thames has become such an important part of my life that I just can’t imagine being without it. I recently spent a week in the Channel Islands with my mum but it was just way too clean, you know [laughs]. There was just nothing to find [laughs].
Q1: And can you describe mudlarking in one word?
A: Oh well, I’m going to describe mudlarking in one word. It might sound rather strange but the first thing that came to my mind is delicious.
Q1: Fantastic, that’s great. I see you’ve got a number of objects to show us, so if we could look at one of the objects and if you give me some information about it. What’s the first object you’ve chosen?
A: Okay, the first object I’d like to tell you about is this small brass tag, and it’s a very good example of how something can look rather uninteresting but turn out to be very interesting and it can open up a whole story. And this tag is engraved with a name and an address, and it’s engraved with the name of F Jury, 72 Woolwich Road. And this in fact is a soldier from World War I who lived in Woolwich, and because there is the address on it, I’m able to find out an awful lot about him through ancestry. And so I found out that he went to Australia at the age of about 43. He joined the army. He came back, he fought in the trenches. He lost some fingers. He married his landlady, and he died at about age 60. And then I actually traced his grave as well, and he’s only buried round the corner here in Eltham Cemetery, in a pauper’s grave. And so that is just so precious. He never had any children of his own, so it was particularly wonderful being able to open that story book up and tell his story. So that’s probably one of my favourite finds.
Q1: And do you remember what the river was like on the day you found this?
A: Yeah, when I found this, it was raining, and I saw this in the gravel and initially I nearly didn’t pick it up because I just thought, “Oh, that looks like a boring bit of metal.” But then the light caught it and I noticed some letters on it, so I picked it up and then I left it in my--, in a bag for a while. I didn’t even look at it, and thought that it was probably the name of a shop or something. So when I discovered it was a name and an address and that there was all this history then again, you know, thanks to the internet, thanks to Twitter, so many people helped me to research this story. It was a real team effort. So this is a real prized possession.
Q1: And how long ago did you find it?
A: I found this in about--, I think it was 2015, and it was quite significant because it would have been--, it was just--, well, it was 99 years ago that he had taken a boat to go and enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, so it was like 100 years almost later, you know, to tell the story of what he did, you know, and his story up until then had been completely forgotten about, so.
Q1: And how do you picture him when you think of him?
A: Hmm, well, how do I picture him? Do you know, it’s really--, it’s really hard, but I suppose in a uniform. In black and white, I picture him, I suppose, because that’s how you do [laughs], isn’t it, with people from that time. But I don’t know. And his wife, you know, she was called Sarah Amelia Carter, and I could just--, it’s easy to just develop this real romantic notion of their life when in actual fact they were probably two very normal people living in Woolwich.
Q1: And what was the tag for originally?
A: Well, this tag, I think it would probably have come off of a suitcase. It looks as if it’s probably been screwed onto maybe a wooden chest perhaps. But yeah, he was born in about 1873 and--, is it 1873? No, maybe 1880, but anyway he was pretty old when he signed up for World War I.
Q1: And the object itself, what does it feel like to hold it? Is it heavy, smooth? What does it feel like to you?
A: It’s--, it just feels rather nice, you know. Every now and again I--, I’ve worried that I’ve lost it, you know, and I--, it’s one of these things that I just would feel so very upset about if I lost it. It’s just so precious. But yeah, it feels very worn actually because I’ve sort of held it so many times [laughs] and showed so many people.
Q1: And why did you particularly choose this object today?
A: I chose this object to talk about because, like many of my favourite objects, it--, it’s linked to a person, you know, and the River Thames for me is just full of these stories, you know, modern and old, of people from the past, people that have been here before us, you know, Londoners from the past, or from all over the world really. So yeah.
Q1: It’s amazing. Can we look at the second object, if you could describe your next object in a few words?
A: Yes, I will. I’m going to describe this little tag. It’s a round tag with a little hole in it, with again some writing on it. And when I found it, I thought it was a coin or a shopping trolley token, ‘cos it looks rather similar.
Q1: Yeah, and did you find this recently?
A: I found this in June, I think it was June of 2018, this object here.
Q1: And when you go out, do you remember what your life was like when you found this, what was going on? Do you relate that to these sort of finds?
A: I can’t really remember what was going on when I found this, no. I think because I spend a fair amount of time down by the river, it’s hard to sort of remember what you were going through every single time you go down there.
Q1: Do you remember what the river was like the day you found it, what the conditions were?
A: I think again when I found this, I seem to remember--, actually it was a very hot day when I found this object, and I do remember that I very nearly didn’t bother picking it up because I thought that it looked like maybe the edge of a modern coin. And when I pulled it out, it was completely covered in sort of rust and so it didn’t actually look terribly interesting. So I’m glad I did pick it up.
Q1: And how did you feel then, when you picked it up?
A: Well, when I eventually rubbed the rust off of it, I again felt very excited ‘cos I thought, “Oh, there’s a possibility that this does have a name and an address on it,” and indeed--, indeed it does.
Q1: And then you found out what it was?
A: Yes, well, because when I rubbed the rust off, I could see the name Bonzo on it, so I thought, “Well, it has to be a dog.” And then I was lucky enough to see that there was actually a surname on it as well and an address. So again it just opened up the whole possibility that I might be able to find out a lot more about it. And then, you know, the excitement is in the discovery and in the research.
Q1: And what did you discover then?
A: Well, about--, well, this I discovered, very interesting story really. I mean, again it just goes to show that sometimes a little find can, you know, have a big impact. I found out that this dog, Bonzo [Tabener 0:29:44], belonged to a lady in World War II, who lived in Greenwich, who’s still alive and she’s in her nineties now. And she--, I managed to trace her through her grandchildren, and she recalled how Bonzo was her favourite dog during World War II, but she was evacuated during the war and she was so thrilled to find him there when she came back. And that she’d been devastated when he was put down. But I suppose the interesting thing about this tag is that when I was researching it and googling Bonzo, I came up with a book called Bonzo’s War, which documented the plight of these animals in World War II, over three million animals that were euthanised during World War II, pets, because the government, you know, said it was kinder to put your pets down ‘cos there’s not enough food, they can’t go into bomb shelters, etc. And I got in touch with the author. I made a video and a lot of people said, “Oh, it would be nice to have a memorial for these pets,” and so we raised some money and actually had the unveiling the other day of a memorial to these three million pets who died in World War II. And that was all because of this little piece of metal with a hole in it [laughs].
Q1: And what does it feel like to hold that object?
A: It feels--, well, it feels really just very significant to hold, because it’s just got such a lot of--, you know, such a lot of--, of story in it, I suppose. And, you know, for me that just--, I do believe that sometimes stories are meant to be found and told.
Q1: Fantastic. If we could move onto the next object and give me a brief description of that one.
A: Well, this find here again is another story. They’re all rather war related, I’m afraid [laughs]. And this is a great big padlock, and just to be a little bit--, to give you a bit of a pun, it did unlock a very big story as well. And again it has a name on it, as often these old barge sort of padlocks do. And this padlock has the name of GE Morrow & Sons from Limehouse, and again a lot of research later I found out that George Morrow, George Edward Morrow, he owned a shipyard in Limehouse in the late 19th century, in around about 1890. And him and his wife had about 12 children, six of whom died in infancy, but they were all baptised in St Anne’s Church in Limehouse, so I went over there to visit Limehouse, to see where the family had lived and look at the old road where they were. I managed to find some photographs even of his old warehouse. But what was really quite poignant is that two of their sons, Frank Morrow and Sidney Morrow, they both fought in World War I, but Sidney Morrow, who was 19 when he went to fight in World War I, he died two months before the end of World War I, so that was just a real kind of poignant story. Frank Morrow, he actually went on to fight in World War II as well, and he got a medal for bravery. But Sidney Morrow, his name is inscribed on the war memorial for World War I soldiers in St Anne’s churchyard, so I took this padlock along and went to find his name on the monument, and I just thought, wow, you know, you find something like this--, and that family’s long gone, you know, they’re no longer here, but all those things they did, the pain and the anguish of everything in their lives, you know, it all comes back when you--, when you find something like this.
Q1: And how long ago did you find it?
A: I found this padlock, ooh, it’s got to be--, it’s got to be about a year ago, I think, about a year ago.
Q1: And do you remember the day you found it?
A: Yeah, when I found this padlock actually, it was covered in rust and I nearly didn’t bring it home, but I’d--, some of my friends--, you know, Alan Murphy from Rotherhithe, he was talking about finding padlocks and I was thinking, “Yeah, right, padlocks, hmm, very interesting.” But because he often found names on padlocks, I remember that day I thought, “Well, I will take it back with me.” And I lugged it in my bag and then got home, it was completely covered in rust, so I banged on it, you know, it cracked open and there was this name, and I was just thinking, “Wow, I’m glad I’ve brought it home with me.” And now I pick up padlocks, I’ve got about ten of them [laughs]. They don’t all have names. It’s always--, you know, you can be lucky or not. But yeah.
Q1: So how did you feel about it once you’d--,
A: Oh, I felt really special when I--, this was a very special find. It was very moving because, you know, I actually went to visit the church and saw the baptismal font where all these children were baptised, and I was just thinking, “How can you have 12 children and six of them die in infancy?” And it made me realise that back then, you know, it obviously was a lot more common for children to die young, you know. And then to lose your son in World War I and I was just thinking, “Gosh, you know, these people had such a different life.” So it just felt really special, being able to bring those people back to life again and just sort of--, just honour their memory really, you know, through a mudlarking find.
Q1: And how do you think this would have been used originally, this particular object?
A: Well, this find would have been used in his--, in his boatyard, I suppose, to lock up--, I don’t know, either to lock up the gate, or maybe it was to lock up a boat. I’m not absolutely certain.
Q1: And how do you picture the last person who used it before you found it?
A: Ah well, it could have well been George Edward Morrow himself, you know, that last used it, and I wonder how many times he sort of opened and closed it [laughs].
Q1: And how does it feel to hold? What’s the feeling of this object?
A: Oh, it’s nice and--, nice and chunky. I don’t feel so worried about losing this find [laughs].
Q1: [Laughs] Fabulous. And what’s your next object?
A: Well, I’m going to show you an object here--, because I spoke about my coin that I found, I’m going to show you one of my more precious little objects. ‘Cos even though it’s nice to find objects with stories, it’s also nice to find something gold [laughs] and precious. So this object, which I did take to the Museum of London to show them and they gave it back to me, it’s a 95 percent pure gold ring with a big sapphire in it. And that was just a remarkable find because I just was not expecting to find this at all, and it was sitting in a--, in a puddle in the mud, and it was real--, like a real, “Wow, it’s a ring” [laughs]. And I picked it up, and I knew it was gold because it had still kept its colour. And a friend who has a special device that can analyse the stone and the gold and everything did a report on it, and it came out as being sapphire and gold. And so I took it to the Museum of London and they said it probably comes from the 1800s, but they didn’t need to keep it or anything, so I had it made slightly smaller so that I could wear it, but I don’t wear it too often ‘cos I’m a bit paranoid that [laughs] the stone might fall out or something.
Q1: And was this a recent find?
A: This was about a year and a half ago. It is just beautiful. I keep meaning to go get it--, make sure that it’s all sort of properly set in there and then maybe I’ll wear it more, but I’m just thinking it would be absolutely dreadful if I--, if I lost it or something [laughs].
Q1: [Laughs] And do you relate this to what was happening in your life when you found it?
A: Yeah, I think I did--, yeah, I do sometimes like to assign the meanings to my finds, you know. I do read into things a bit, and again I think it was a nice sign from the river that, you know, things are working out alright. Sapphires have a particular meaning about fulfilling your dream and things like that, so finding a sapphire ring was quite significant.
Q1: And have you any thoughts about its original use?
A: Well no, I don’t. It was quite large before I had it made smaller and it almost looked like a man’s ring. I don’t know. It’s always interesting when you find rings in the river because--, and I’ve found quite a lot of them--, you always wonder whether somebody broke up perhaps and threw it in the river, or whether it just slipped off somebody’s finger. You just can never know. But it’s good--, certainly good food for the imagination.
Q1: And do you have a picture of what you think the person was like that owned it last?
A: Hmm, I’ve got to be perfectly honest with you, I do not actually know, no. I don’t--, I’ve tried to imagine who may have owned it but I just can’t [laughs].
Q1: [Laughs] And what were your feelings on the day when you actually found that in the--,
A: I was really--, when I found this, I was really excited because I thought, “Well, it’s a gold and sapphire ring.” I mean, you know, you just--,
Q1: You could see that immediately?
A: Well, I could see it was gold. I wasn’t sure about the stone, but I thought that if it’s gold, the high chances are it will be some kind of good stone in it. And so I was very, very excited. It’s just--, I guess it’s things like that that keep you going back, you know, when you find something like this. You know, you go out in the morning, you’ve got no idea what you’re going to find and then you end up--, you come home with a gold semi-precious ring.
Q1: And how does it feel to actually hold it?
A: Oh, it feels--, it feels, yeah, very exciting to hold it [laughs].
Q1: [Laughs] I see why you chose that object [laughs]. And what’s the next object?
A: Well, the next object I’m going to show you is a message in a bottle. Now I’ve found pretty much--, well, just over 130 messages in bottles in the River Thames and in the Thames Estuary since I started mudlarking and, you know, it’s a good indication that the river is not only full of old stories but modern ones as well. And so this message was a lot of fun, and it’s from a little boy called Jack, and all it said was, “I wish I could be a Dino Thunder Power Ranger, the red ranger, from Jack Hodges.” And I took a picture of this message in a bottle on my phone and I put it out on Twitter and said, you know, “Can anybody help Jack’s dream come true?” And it was like going out in a virtual sea, you know, like a message in a bottle, and it just got retweeted so many times, but miraculously we managed to trace Jack Hodges. Somebody recognised the name and, you know, as I said, it was pretty amazing that we traced Jack. And so I bought him a Dino Thunder Power Ranger outfit and sent it to him, and then his mum sent me back a photograph of him wearing his Dino Thunder Power Ranger outfit, and it was great because it was just such a nice thing. You know, as a child, you imagine throwing that in the river and then actually getting your wish back [laughs]. It’s just magical.
Q1: And how long ago was it that you found this?
A: This was back in 2013.
Q1: And how long had it been in the river?
A: The message in a bottle had been in the river I think--, not longer than about eight months, so not a terribly long time. He was still young enough to appreciate being a Dino Thunder Power Ranger [laughs].
Q1: [Laughs] And do you remember the occasion you found it, how you found it?
A: Yeah, I do, I do remember actually. I was out for a walk and I was with my daughter, and so when we found this message in a bottle, you know, she was particularly excited when she saw that it was from a child.
Q1: And how did you feel when you found it?
A: I--, oh, when I found it I felt really excited. I felt very excited.
Q1: And the bottle, is there anything about the bottle? How had that been used originally?
A: Hmm, the bottle that I found it in--, well, you know, when I’m looking for--, when I’m out looking for anything, if I see an empty bottle, I’m always looking to see if there’s a rolled up piece of paper in it, and this one looked kind of like it sort of deserved to have a message in it, so it was pretty exciting seeing the rolled up bit of paper in it.
Q1: So it was that more than the bottle itself.
A: Yeah, that’s right, you know. Sometimes--, I mean, obviously as a mudlark I come across so many bottles and rubbish and things, and I often see glass ones and I just think, “Why didn’t they put a message in it?” You know, if they’re going to throw it away, they should at least put a message in it.
Q1: And do you find many messages in bottles?
A: I have found about 130 messages in bottles now, so, you know, it just goes to show that quite a lot of people still do write them.
Q1: And what does it feel like to hold it, when you hold a bottle like that with a--,
A: Message in it.
Q1: Message in it.
A: Oh, it’s exciting. When I find a message in a bottle, I usually wait for a few hours before I open it to sort of savour the anticipation and excitement. I don’t open it straight away, you know. I’ll put it in my back--, in my backpack, you know, and I’ll sort of be thinking, “Oh, I wonder who it’s from, what it’s going to say, will I be able to read it?” ‘Cos sometimes you get messages that--, the ink has been bleached by the sun and you can’t read it, so it’s always exciting. And then I’ll make it a bit of an occasion, you know, sit down when I’m having my picnic or a cup of tea, and then have the opening of the bottle ceremony.
Q1: And why did you choose this particular one to talk about?
A: I chose this one because it’s just such a nice story, you know. I mean, I’ve found quite a few messages in bottles and I’ve met the people who sent them, because I think messages in bottles are all about connection as well. You know, it’s like you throw a message and you don’t know who’s going to find it, if anyone’s going to find it, and it is a way of connecting. And I suppose this one was just a lovely story, that a child wrote something and, you know, that then his wish was fulfilled. And it’s just a nice fluffy kind of feel good [laughs] nice story, which I enjoy telling.
Q1: Fantastic. And are those all your objects?
A: They are, those are. There’s so many. It’s very hard--, and I’m sure lots of mudlarks have said to you, it’s very hard to just think of five finds. There are so many that are potential favourites.
Q1: Well, thank you very much, some amazing objects.
A: Oh, my pleasure.
Q1: And I think that’s the end of our interview. Thank you so much [laughs].
A: That’s okay.
[End of recording 0:45:22]