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Oral History Transcript
Interviewee: Ted Sandling
Date: 9th August 2019
Interviewer: Claire Selby
Q1: So, this is an oral history interview with Ted Sandling by Claire Selby on the 9th of August 2019. Also present are…
Q2: Henry Everett.
Q3: Eva Tausig.
Q1: The interview is taking place at Ted’s home as part of Thames Festival Trust’s, Foragers of the Foreshore Heritage Project. So, to start off with could you please state your full name?
A: I’m Ted Sandling.
Q1: And whereabouts were you born?
A: I was born in Manchester.
Q1: And where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in the outskirts of Manchester.
Q1: And when you were growing up, what kind of subjects were you interested in, in school?
A: I was interested in a lot of things. I had a particular interest in science, and I went on to study physics at university, but changed whilst I was there to history of art.
Q1: And Manchester to London is a bit of a trek, what actually brought you to London?
A: London seemed to offer a great many more opportunities. Actually, first of all, I moved to New York, but I moved to New York three days before September 11th 2001, and came home again quite quickly afterwards. So, I’d intended to move to New York and be a writer, sort of living this archetypal writer’s existence. But it was pretty awful, and so I came back, and I came straight to--, I think I moved to London within a month or so of that happening.
Q1: And what do you--, what’s your actual job? What do you do?
A: I work at Christie’s, the auction house. I’m in charge of the online courses produced by Christie’s Education. So, that’s making courses available to students around the world about the art market, art history, that sort of thing.
Q1: So, what does a typical week look like for you?
A: Weeks are very busy, it’s a very creatively fulfilling role, but it’s also very intense. I’m getting ready right now to fly out to San Francisco tomorrow to film out there for our next course. The weeks involve working on scripts, editing films, working with agencies to, you know, create things that help our students with their learning journeys.
Q1: And we’re going to sort of move on now to mudlarking. Can you tell us how long you’ve been mudlarking?
A: Mmm. I started mudlarking I think round about 2003 or 2004, so within a few years of moving to London. Mudlarking came slightly later to me than my experience of being by the river. First of all, I explored the river foreshore as a place to walk, I was very interested in--, I think like many young people in London, I was interested in psychogeography, the idea of cities layered upon historic cities, and I was very keen on walking around. A friend and I did something once which was algorithmical walking where we threw a dice to determine, you know, what road we would take, like would it be the first, second or third road, and would we go left or right and something like that, and then we’d do these random walks. And so, seeing when the tide was out that there was an opportunity to walk along the river and that this cut through London in quite a profound way, was very exciting to me. I didn’t really understand at that point that there was history embedded in the foreshore, and I’m not entirely sure what I can credit that to, that sort of change of aspect from looking around and walking linearly to creeping and picking things up--,
A: But part of it I think was Mark Dion’s exhibition, Tate Thames Dig, which I think was transformative for many Londoners, it changed the way we viewed our city. And suddenly, from being a very contemporary city with history to be studied, it was a very contemporary city with history to be collected. You know, it was something that you can make your own, suddenly this wealth of London’s past. Thames Tate Dig was--, when was it--, it was the turn of the Millennium or something like that, when--,
A: Tate Modern opened. First, I think at Tate Britain and then Tate Modern, so I think it was when it was at Tate Modern that I saw it.
Q1: So, having seen that and that having such an impact, what then drew you to actually start mudlarking yourself?
A: Well, from that, or from whatever turning point there was, I realised that looking down at my feet was interesting. And I had no conception of what was, you know, academically or archaeologically interesting on the foreshore, but I just knew that there were, you know, fragments of manmade items down there. And the first few times I would go, I would pick up broken pipe stems in the main and bits of pottery with writing on, and that sort of thing. I remember my hunger to find a pipe bowl. And of course, in these early days I would go once a year, twice a year, it was not a planned thing, it was serendipitous. You know, I would see that the tide was out, and I would be with friends and we’d hop down there and do this, it was not a planned thing ever. And so, it took a fair amount of time for it to move from an incredibly casual way of exploring London, in amongst many other ways of encountering the city, to something that I took more seriously. I write in my book about the--, one of the sort of magical moments for me which was when I was with some friends who’d come over from Rome and we had been doing the touristy things on the South Bank, you know, we’d been to Borough Market and we’d been the Hayward, or whatever, and as the evening wore on and we were walking home we walked along the Embankment and looked down and the tide was out. And we climbed down there, not with the intention of mudlarking, but simply to see, you know, the reflected lights of the City of London on the River Thames because it’s incredible to be on the foreshore, it’s entirely a different experience from being in the city. You know, the sound changes, it becomes quiet and you leave behind the frenetic aspect of London, just by stepping a few metres down, you know, it’s remarkable. So, we stood at the water’s edge and looked across at the City of London. And then, I looked down and at my foot was this pipe here, the horse’s hoof pipe which is, you know, bone white and was as clean as is now then, it was just sitting on, you know, a patch of gravel or a brick. And I picked it up and as you can see it’s remarkably beautiful, and I knew then that I wanted to do more.
Q1: And so, thinking about now, what is it that keeps you going back, 'cos that was obviously your first experience ten years ago or so. What keeps you going back to the foreshore?
A: There is--, there’s an excitement to it. You never know what you’re going to find. So, it is, I guess, a sort of dopamine hit.
A: It’s that concept of randomised rewards, that if you always get something great doing something, you quickly lose interest, but if you never know what you’re going to receive, there’s a compulsion to repeat the activity.
Q1: And, thinking about now, do you have a particular time of day or a particular time of the year that you like to go down?
A: No, I go down when I can which is relatively infrequently. I have, you know, a lot of work and family commitments.
Q1: And would you say that finding the pipe, is that your most memorable experience 'cos it was the first?
A: Mmm, that’s a very good question and not something I have thought that hard about actually, what do I remember most? I think, in part because every incident is different and memorable in its own way, so looking at the selection of objects that I’ve chosen for the exhibition, each of them I can remember their finding, and I think I could say that for many of the things that I’ve found, and the excitement of finding them. The glazed Delftware floor tile, for example, was just as exciting as the pipe stem because I knew instantly that it was very old and also that it was incredibly preserved. So, you know, to see the lustre of the glaze, the shine of that glaze as bright as when it was made was remarkable. And again, that too was, you know, sitting perfectly exposed, just there to be picked up.
Q1: So, you talked about the dopamine hit and the excitement. Are there--, is there any particularly hairy situation that you’ve got into down on the foreshore?
A: Yes. It can be unpredictable, and there are times where you lose track of the tide and it can cut you off. You can go past a--, I guess, a sort of neck of the foreshore where the tide can come up faster than you can get back. And that’s worrying, but I’ve never been caught foul of that, there’s always been another place to get to. The worst I felt was in Fulham where it’s very very muddy and I thought I was going to get stuck there, and the tide would come in, and I knew that I couldn’t get back the way I’d come because I’d--, you know, every step onwards had been terrifying for me, and I’d felt incredibly claustrophobic and anxious which is crazy when you think that you’re in the middle of, you know, the most popular city.
A: And also, probably that if the worst came to the worst, you could swim. But eventually, I managed--, sort of ratchet-like--, with ratchet-like motion forwards to find a rather rusty ladder that I escaped from, but I remember feeling that as a very uncomfortable moment and certainly have never been back there.
Q1: So, we’re--, I’m not going to give away the location, but we’re sitting in a north-west terraced house of London, so my big question is, how far do you travel to go mudlarking?
A: To the River Thames [laughs]. You know, it’s--, it runs through the centre of London and is always pretty accessible, so it’s never more than an hour away really. I quite prefer the western reaches of the river. I like the--, I think they’re slightly quieter places to go, while being no less exciting in the things that you might find there. But yes, I--, particularly when I was writing my book I wanted to try as many different places as possible. So, I mudlarked as--, within the, you know, sort of confines of London as far east as the Isle of Dogs and as far west as Chiswick.
Q1: And can you describe how you prepare for these trips?
A: I put a pair of wellies in a bag--,
A: And I keep--, I take a spare bag along with me and I go to the river [both laugh]. Yes, I don’t really have exciting preparations, I just go along. And, you know, sometimes if the tide is low and I’m at work, I work where it’s relatively easy to get to Westminster, I might just nip out in my lunch break in the clothes I’m wearing, a pair of shoes, and if I’m lucky a plastic bag, otherwise I stick things in my back pocket.
Q1: And is there a particular thing you wear or take with you, apart from the wellies?
A: Wellies are the most important.
A: For years and years I wore hiking boots, I thought those were the right things to wear, and then discovering wellies was a revelation.
A: Suddenly, you could go an extra, you know, six inches deep in mud without worrying about it, wade into the water. I don’t wear gloves as my hands seem to get just as dirty wearing gloves as not. I bring along if I happen to have it, a little trowel used for laying cement, and equally if I’m prepared enough I will bring some wet wipes and antibacterial wipes for afterwards.
Q1: And do you mudlark alone or do you go with part of a group?
A: I often mudlark with other people, I much prefer to mudlark alone. It’s really difficult to properly concentrate when you’re chattering, and it’s much too pleasant to talk when someone else is there. So, it’s something where I think all of the most interesting things I’ve found have been when I’ve been on my own.
Q1: And you mentioned that, I think, the west of London is more appealing to you. Do you have a particular area there that you keep returning to?
A: I’d say there are two or three different places that I like to go. We can start with by Westminster which I might do in a lunch break. Vauxhall has always been a great favourite of mine, it’s less accessible currently due to slipway works and has been out of action for a year or so, but is a wonderful place to go. I really like Putney, as well, on both sides of the river.
Q1: And when you’re down on the foreshore, is there a particular kind of object that you’re looking for, or something that you are keen to collect?
A: I’m always looking for the face of a Bartmann. So, a Bartmann jug is a 17th century stoneware jug with the impressed face, normally, you know, it’s a sort of medallion of a woodwose, which is a mythical creature, all hairy like a Yeti. And woodwoses lived in the forest, they’re a, you know, sort of medieval sort of green-man type character, except what they did was they embodied all of the--, the most debauched aspects of humanity. They were drunken, sexually insatiable--,
A: Creatures. I’ve always loved the fact that this was the creature that faced up beer bottles, and I love finding bits of those jugs and bits of the faces and bits of the medallions or cartouches that sat on the belly of the jug. I’ve never found a full face, which mortifies me. It’s good to spot that sort of pottery 'cos it indicates that you’re in an area where old things will be found. The jugs themselves have another sort of slightly more magical aspect as well, they were used as witch’s jars, they were filled with urine and pins and other things, and buried at thresholds to prevent bad juju, which some people find very interesting.
Q1: And when you’re down on the foreshore, is there a particular method or practice or process that you will go through?
A: I tend to move to the furthest point more quickly and then work my way back. I quite like walking by the water’s edge, but equally have a constant argument with myself that, you know, five feet up the shore was by the water’s edge an hour ago, so I’m not quite sure what the benefit is. But there’s a real pleasure to being next to the water. And that’s another thing, you know, in London to just be walking by moving water is psychologically, very powerful. And very relaxing, and very thought-provoking. Or, you know, if not thought provoking, an opportunity to spend some time with your own thoughts. Sometimes I zig-zag up and down the foreshore, sometimes I follow, you know, the sort of strata that are defined I think by the relative density of objects that the tide sorts.
Q1: And you mentioned that sometimes you’ll go in your lunch hour, how long do you normally spend by the river?
A: Very rarely more than a couple of hours. So, I would like to go an hour before low tide and stay an hour afterwards, but I just lose the ability to concentrate for longer than that.
Q1: And when you find objects what do you actually do with them?
A: What’s my finding ritual? The dance of joy that--,
A: I tend to pick them up, maybe wash them off in the river and chuck them in my plastic bag. If they’re particularly fragile, I’ll put them in a pocket. I bring them all home and clean them in a diluted solution of Milton which is used for sterilising babies’ bottles--,
A: And I do this because a doctor who collected spittoons, told me to do that. He said that spittoons might still give you TB, so he cleans them in Milton. God knows what things from the river might give you. I’m not really sure of the efficacy of it, but that’s what I do, that’s my cleansing ritual.
Q1: [Laughs] And do you do--, once they’re home and they’re clean, do you do a particular research project, or look at more information?
A: It depends what they are. At this stage, and I should state for the record that I’m not one of those mudlarks who finds tremendously interesting things all the time, or indeed ever. I don’t have Tudor coins to research or anything like that. But I do find things that I think might have fascinating stories. I have actually, and this isn’t deliberately laid down, but I found this when I was with Hannah which has a tantalising bit of an address I think, 62 Fleet Street. If something hints at a story, I’m very keen to get to the bottom of it if I can, but many things now I pick up because I find them aesthetically pleasing. So, there’s not necessarily research to do, I probably have a good sense of what they are, but I know that finding them and owning them in the collector’s sense of possessing something, or possessing something beautiful, is important and the reason underlying my picking it up.
Q1: And is it important for you to share your finds through social media or exhibiting what you’ve--, putting on display what you’ve found?
A: I think it’s really--, it has been important to me and part of the sort of story behind my Instagram account was my looking for a way to share and talk about the things that I’d found. Now, I was incredibly naïve when I started mudlarking, and I thought I was the only person who’d ever discovered it.
A: And I knew that over the decade or so of my doing it casually, I’d built up a collection of things that I found very beautiful, and some of them I thought had very interesting stories underlying them. And I tried various different ways of sharing them with more than just me and my friends and so on. I blogged posts about them, I tried sharing them on Twitter, nothing really worked, and then I set up an Instagram account and suddenly, I found that there was a huge interest in these things. I guess this must have been 2015, the Spring of 2015. And the account grew very quickly. It was, you know, remarkable to me, and lots of people seemed really enthused and engaged by what I was sharing, and I found that, you know, incredibly exciting. I’d always known that these things were beautiful, and I was so thrilled that other people thought so as well. It was at that point really once Instagram had begun to take off that I realised I wasn’t actually the only person who’d ever done mudlarking before, and there was a big community of people around that, many of whom knew an awful lot more than I did, and provided so many opportunities for me to learn from them. And also, to talk about the activity and to find new people to go mudlarking with.
Q1: And sort of moving more to the sort of context, has the river changed a lot over the years that you’ve been mudlarking?
A: I think it’s changed enormously. I think when I started doing it, even when I started my Instagram account, it probably was an awful lot easier to convince oneself that it was a habit undiscovered by most people in London.
A: Whereas now, I think it’s much more widely known and much more widely practised. I don’t think I could get away with going to the river for the first time and thinking that I’d invented this for myself. Sort of in terms of its physical framework, I think it’s changed a lot as well. I believe it’s widely recognised that the Thames clippers, those fast-moving catamarans, are responsible for the tremendous erosion on the foreshore, and certainly you can see where steps that you’d once have, you know, taken a very dainty final step down onto the foreshore, you now have to jump, so the foreshore is rapidly wearing away. And I--, to me, that’s one of the reasons why I was so against the introduction of the enforced permit for mudlarking, so as of 2016 the Port of London Authority requires all people picking things up on the foreshore to hold a permit. I’d done it for a decade finding nothing of archaeological value and had I not had that decade to learn, I would never have really found my enthusiasm for it. So, I felt it was closing off that sort of--, that genesis to new mudlarks. But also, I felt the casual mudlarks could never do in a million years as much damage as the erosion is doing. And of course, if you don’t pick something up on the foreshore, it will be out to sea within, you know, six months or a few tides, so it’s not as if mudlarks are--, and here I mean mudlarks with good intentions, I’m full cognisant of the fact that there are those who, you know, deliberately pillage the foreshore. But if it’s not found, it’s lost forever. I’m not entirely sure that regulation is something that prevents people with bad intentions from continuing with those intentions.
Q1: And has your relationship to mudlarking changed much over the last ten years?
A: It’s changed enormously. It’s changed very much because of the book. The way in which I thought about mudlarking, the way in which I wanted to do more of it in order to discover more stories, the joy of the research and writing the book, and how--, seeing how people responded to it, you know, with such, you know, generosity changed the way I felt about the river as well. It became something that I felt I could hold more dearly.
Q1: And can you describe mudlarking in just one word?
A: [Pause] It doesn’t give you an awful lot of scope for flexibility there--,
A: Does it? It’s rather definitive. Just one word?
Q1: Yeah [laughs].
A: [Pause] No.
A: I couldn’t.
Q1: So, are we going to move onto the objects that you’ve selected to talk about, so I think we’re going to--, we could left to right or we could go right to left, it’s kind of your choice really.
A: Let’s start--, well, let’s start on our left and Eva’s right. We can start with the bottom of a gin bottle which I find rather beautiful because of its rather rare star-shaped pontil mark. And partly because that’s a very interesting pontil mark, the pontil mark is where the molten glass is cut off. Partly because it’s star-shaped and interesting, partly because this is my one connection to the very great archaeologist of the River, Ivor Noël Hume, who I never met, but was always once I’d become aware of it, in awe of his book, Treasures Of The Thames. And all of his work in bringing the archaeology of the quotidian, of real people, to life. And that was something exactly that I wanted to do with my book. But a friend of mine at Museum of London Archaeology who was a close friend of his, sent on a picture of this to him shortly before he became ill and passed away, so I know that he’s seen it--,
A: And so, I treasure it for that reason.
Q1: And is this quite a recent find?
A: No. You know, I said I could remember finding each of these, I--,
A: [Laughs] I haven’t the faintest idea when I found this. But it’s old enough that it’s in my book. I also like it because of the stories it tells about the gin craze in London, and the sort of way in which gin took over and was a source of enormous fear for the well-to-do in London whilst bringing great misery to those living in the rookeries, but also I guess, anaesthetising them from the horrors of awful, awful poverty.
Q1: And can you remember the day that you found that?
Q1: [Laughs] Did you know what it was when you found it immediately?
A: Yes, I did, because it is a beautiful green square shaped bottle and gin is still sold in beautiful green square shaped bottles.
Q1: And how do you picture the last person who used that?
A: [Both laugh] Drunkenly.
A: Weaving down by the river and throwing it in.
Q1: And can you describe what it’s like to hold?
A: It has surprising weight to it. The glass is very dense towards the bottom. I should explain it is just the bottom of the bottle with a two edges extant that extend six centimetres up at right angles. And unlike a contemporary bottle, they--, they’re triangular in profile, so they get much thicker as they meet the bottom, and there’s a great deal of weight in the glass.
Q1: And can we hear what it sounds like if we tap it?
[Sound of tapping glass]
A: Yeah, so [sound of tapping glass] that’s it against my wedding ring.
Q1: And what made you choose that object out of the ones that you’ve selected?
A: I talk about it when I give talks about my book. I like to talk about it with reference to Hogarth’s very famous caricatures of Gin Lane and Beer Alley; opposing the two, Gin Lane being awful, we see suicides and pawnbrokers and a basement, a cellar bar with a sign over it saying “Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for tuppence. Free straw for nothing--, Clean straw for nothing.” The idea being that once you’ve passed out you collapse on the straw. The image of the mother, the drunk mother dropping her baby over the stairs is horrific caricature and then with Beer Street, everyone is incredibly healthy and beef-fed, populated by John Bull smoking his pipe under a pub sign.
Q1: It’s a fantastic piece. If we move onto the second one.
A: So, the second one is a fossil. The oldest item in my book. It is a little sea-urchin fossil, surprisingly small. There’s no scale in my book and so I become used to photographs of things, everything appears the same size, but it’s only two or three centimetres tall. The same in diameter. What makes it remarkable is, its little sugar cone shape and the five pointed star that’s inscribed across the top of it which shows it as a sea-urchin fossil. These are I think, remarkable for their aesthetics, but also for their relationship to the history of humanity, and even to, you know, hominids that were not homo-sapiens. There’s a very famous hand axe that was found in the United Kingdom that is three or four hundred thousand years old, you know, unimaginably old, which has been very carefully napped to reveal--, or not to reveal, but to celebrate a fossil sea-urchin at its centre point. So, where as you gripped it and the blade extends out beyond your hand, but at, you know, the centre of the area within your hand is a sea-urchin fossil. They have been found in graves of early humans, they’re collected, traditionally put on windowsills by fishermen’s wives, they’re called fairy loaves. They contain such, you know, such ancient magic within them.
A: I say, having no belief in magic, but at the same time an awareness of how they have been cherished and celebrated and picked up.
Q1: And when you spotted that, would it have been in that--, would it have been upright, or was it on its side?
A: Quite likely upright, yeah.
Q1: Can you remember the day you found it, or again is it--,
A: No, what I’m being proved wrong about here--,
A: Is I can’t--, those two I have no memory of finding them.
A: But the next three--,
A: I’m going to be really good at those questions.
Q1: And what--, describe what that one feels like to hold. It’s very different from the gin bottle, it’s sort of--,
A: It’s light, it’s pale, it’s soft because of its curves, although of course very hard because it’s flint. It’s very tactile.
Q1: And again, what made you choose that particular one?
A: Because of the connection to the great depth of our evolutionary history.
Q1: And I think we’ll move onto the next one which is the tile.
A: Yes, that’s right. So, this is a floor tile, a Delftware or tin-glazed floor tile. To pre-empt your question, I found this underneath Tower Bridge on the South Bank. It was sitting glazed side up, elevated somewhat on a stone or a rock, and I couldn’t get over my excitement when I found it. It was clean, it was shiny. These rich cobalt blues were just, you know, luminescent. It is a foliate pattern of a floor tile, it’s got one blue leaf, two green and a yellow, and the green is slightly over-spilling the boundaries, the outline have been drawn on, painted on in cobalt blue. I love Delftware, Delftware is--, as I said, it’s a tin-glazed pottery which has come to England after travelling the world. It’s named after the town in Holland, Delft, although it was made in England before it was set up in Delft. This would have been made actually I think in Antwerp in the late 16th century, before this sort of thing was being made in England, but only shortly before. It’s about an inch and a half thick, so it’s--, you know, it’s a solid tile. It would have been called galleyware when it was made, and these were used to pave indoor floors rather like you might find encaustic tiles in a Victorian house. Unlike encaustic tiles, they’re not hardwearing at all, and so very quickly the decoration would flatten out. There is an example in a house called The Vyne in Hampshire of a galleyware floor which I highly recommend visiting, or looking at photographs of. Why do I like Delftware? I like it because of its--, the naivety of the brushstrokes which in part were determined by the fact that artists were painting onto a very absorbent background, and so once you make a mark it’s there for good. The colours change in the firings, so cobalt blue would have been black when they were painting it. It just feels intensely human, it feels very much made by someone. I also like the thickness of the glaze, so as I pass it round you’ll see it’s raised against the background, and it chips off. Yeah, it’s very--, it’s a very personable sort of pottery.
Q1: And is this one quite a recent find, or is this a while ago?
A: No, it was found in let’s say 2015.
Q1: Can you remember what the river was like that day?
A: Do you know what, it’s probably recorded in the Portable Antiquities Scheme, so they would know better than I when it was found. What was the river like that day? It was a sunny day. The way to get down to the river by Tower Bridge is underneath a little alleyway cut into the buildings, it’s called--, I want to say it’s called Horseferry Steps, but I don’t think it is. It is called Horsleydown Old Step--, Horsleydown Old Stairs. And it’s quite a narrow bit of foreshore there where you actually find anything good. There’s lots of foreshore to explore, but not that much where you would find anything particularly interesting.
Q1: And I think you talked about the brushstrokes. How do you picture the person who actually painted that object?
A: Dying young of some appalling--,
A: Disease, based on the inhalation of noxious chemicals.
A: Or Silicosis. But while they were alive they did great things.
Q1: [Laughs] I think you’ve explained why you’ve chosen that, Delft is a particular passion of yours. Shall we move onto the horse’s hoof clay pipe?
A: Yes, let’s. So, I’ve already spoken about the finding of this which I tried really hard to remember when I found it, when I was writing the book, and I’m pretty sure it was 2004. A summer’s day in 2004, an autumn day in 2004, something like that.
Q1: So, that was sort of one of your more rece--, more--, earliest sort of--,
A: This was an early find--,
Q1: Yeah, yeah.
A: This was a turning point. So, yes, finding this showed me what beauty there was to be discovered. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this interview, for most of my early times I dreamed of finding a whole pipe bowl. You know, I would go down to the river and that would be my sole ambition. Now, I come away with, you know, two or three on a bad day, and I think it’s very much about pattern recognition. You need to know what to look for before you can find it. And so, now I look for round flint pebbles that are hollow, that have a hole in them because those are pipe bowls, they’re not round flint pebbles at all. The foreshore being covered by a million round flint pebbles [laughs]. Yeah, I picked this up and was overjoyed, and it changed very much the way I looked at what could be found by the river.
Q1: And who do you think was the last person to smoke that?
A: I think it is revealing that it is a horse’s hoof, so to my mind this was owned by someone interested in horse racing. So, I picture someone who lost big on the gee-gees and chucked it in the river.
Q1: [Laughs] And what--,
A: Equally, you know, it could have been owned by a coachman or by someone who liked fox-hunting or whatever, but I say it’s a gambling man.
Q1: And what does it feel like to hold? Does it feel different to other pipes?
A: Does it feel different to other pipes? It’s light. It’s Victorian, so it’s much more delicate than the earlier pipes. It’s got a very clear moulding line that bisects it, that you can really feel if you think about it, but I tend not to think about it. What I look at is how finely it has been moulded, so you have all this wonderful hair, you’ve got the detail of the hoof, you’ve got the fetlock here. It is a very anatomically well observed object.
Q1: And what does it sound like when you tap it?
[Sound of tapping]
A: Hollow, delicate, but sound. [Sound of tapping]. It doesn’t have the dull tap of a broken bit of pottery, so it rings.
Q1: And it’s not a complete pipe, although it is pretty close. Do you imagine that the rest of the pipe would have more horse-related--,
A: No. So, what we’re missing is an indeterminate amount of stem, but maybe, you know, ten centimetres at the minimum. I imagine it would have been un-decorated or possibly had a little--, you know, a little plaque with the maker’s name on it.
Q1: Fantastic. Shall we move onto the next one?
A: This one I can remember the finding of intimately. It’s called a [Suraya 0:45:25] and it’s written--, well, it’s a piece of copper that had been rolled up within a little brass tube. It’s a magical talismanic thing, it’s inscribed with letters in Sinhalese, which is the main language of Ceylon, now Sri-Lanka. I found it closed, I found this little brass tube--, will it go back together again, I’m not sure it will go back together again. I found it in Vauxhall, and it was this big, and I thought it was a fishing weight or something to do with fishing anyway 'cos I don’t know anything about fishing, but it just seemed like--, you know, it’s got a little ring at the top and a dangling thing here. But I contacted a friend of mine who is a fly-fisherman and he said it wasn’t anything he’d ever imagine. So, it’s this sort of brass tube, it’s got a little nipple at the end, a ring for sticking a chain through at the top, and almost a clip that comes off near the top as well. As I cleaned it, it began to move and that was just remarkably exciting, because what was happening was, the two sides were separating out revealing that it was a tube that contained something, or had the potential to contain something. And that, that potential reveal of a secret was one of my most exciting mudlarking experiences, 'cos I went from picking up a fishing weight that wasn’t, to picking up a tube that might contain, you know, for all I knew it was 500 years old and contained the secrets of alchemy.
A: So, I very very gingerly twisted the bottom off of the top, and what was revealed inside of it, and this makes rather a [metallic noise] nice noise too, was this tightly scrolled--, tightly rolled scroll of copper with arcane symbols and geometric lines cut into it. And I really did think I’d discovered something of monumental significance. I thought here was the secret of, you know, John Dee’s notes for how to transmute base metal into gold.
Q1: And you’re still on the foreshore at this point, or have you taken it home?
A: No, I was back home--,
A: I was in the kitchen. How did I find out what it was? I don’t know how I found out what it was, but it’s very possible that I asked people on my Instagram channel if they recognised the writing or anything like that. And possibly some people of Indian heritage thought that it might be a Buddhist talisman. And eventually, I was able to narrow it down to being--, that’s not true. My wife discovered what it was.
A: She thought it might be a Buddhist talisman and she did enough research that we were able to identify it as a particular type of object. And then, my publisher knew someone whose parents were from Sri-Lanka, and I went to visit them bringing it with me, and they were able to tell me all about its category, what type of thing it was. They weren’t able to talk about this specifically because each one is made for an individual and the letters are the first letters of words carrying a sort of mystical significance. So, it’s not the word itself, it’s merely a symbol of the word. So, they are worn to just, you know, like so many mystical things, are worn to offer protection or good luck. How did it get into the river and when does it date from? Nowadays you find a lot of Hindu offerings, you know, little oil lamps or small models of Ganesh or large models. I found a gigantic Ganesh once. So, is it contemporary? I think it’s probably early 20th century. Some lonely person over here, despairing at, you know, the injustice they’re facing, and throwing this in the river.
Q1: And how long ago was that find?
A: When was that find? I think this was found in 2015.
Q1: And do you remember the day you found it?
A: I don’t remember the exact day that I found it.
Q1: And what--, you’ve chosen that object I think because it’s probably the most interesting and intriguing of all of them.
A: I chose this object because it’s the object that revealed to me quite how much I was a treasure hunter. When I found something that I thought could contain something invaluable, my emotional reaction gave me away.
Q1: So, in effect, you’ve chosen the best till last really because that’s got the most interesting story.
A: I would argue with that.
A: You know, apologetically, but I think they all have very interesting stories. This one has a very personal story and it has a story of, you know, my own real over-excitement at being able to open something that has been sealed, and finding something within. But where does that lead? And I think for all of the things that I’ve found, what was of interest to me more than the object itself almost, was where does it take you? What are you going to do with the fact that it is what it is? Because it is what it is and that’s great, but then what? Now, it’s interesting to me 'cos I got to meet some lovely people and they, you know, shared some Ceylonese tea with me and, you know, that’s all very nice, but the other things on the table also lead onto very interesting places as well.
Q1: Ted, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I think we’re going to have to finish there because we need to, but thank you so much for sharing these objects and telling us so much about them. It’s been fantastic, thank you.
A: Thank you very much for asking me to participate.
[END OF RECORDING – 0:52:49]