London “Mudlarking” Twitter Account Provides the Joy We Need Right Now
I don’t remember how Lara Maiklem’s Twitter account first crossed my timeline, but I’m grateful every day that it did. Maiklem is a “Mudlark,” which the dictionary defines in its old-fashioned usage as “a person who gains a livelihood by searching for iron, coal, old ropes, etc., in mud or low tide.” But Maiklem has made modern mudlarking both an art and accessible to her global audience, opening up a door to the past with every new discovery.
Maiklem searches the banks of the River Thames in London, where you must be licensed to do so, and shares her finds with her many thousands of followers at @LondonMudlark. She’s also written a delightful bestselling book, Mudlarking.
There’s always something wondrous to be found on Maiklem’s Twitter account, as she evinces a keen eye for both objects and the history behind them, and writes evocative captions that let you tag along for the ride. In July, followers rejoiced when she made the discovery she’d long been hoping for:
Update, just been told it’s St Osmund, mid 15th and rarer than a Becket badge
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) July 5, 2020
How can you not feel pure happiness at the success of someone’s 15-year-long search? Maiklem’s enthusiasm for objects from the past that were discarded or accidentally made their way into the Thames is addictive. You can’t wait to see what she’ll uncover next, and something you might glance over without a second look—like a bone button—suddenly becomes a treasured find.
There’s something about bone buttons, the colour and smoothness worn of a thousand buttoning ups. I found a more unusual one a few weeks ago at Woolwich followed a week later by another in central London – what are the chances of that! I love the grooves that thread has worn pic.twitter.com/NYNT9x4ztU
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) September 4, 2020
I keep and collect the bone buttons I find on the foreshore. They come in all hues of soft honey brown and sometimes they were dyed black with natural vegetable dye There’s nothing rare or historically mind blowing about them, they’re just nice and tactile, and very ordinary. pic.twitter.com/jHNEUEDYL8
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) August 6, 2020
(For scale, it’s about as long as my hand and my hand isn’t small!)
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) September 17, 2020
Handmade nails from the Thames foreshore. Some look unused and others are curled and tortured from being pulled out of whatever they had held together. They might be common, but they are beautiful in their simplicity.#mudlarking #mudlark #londonmudlark pic.twitter.com/hRS9ZCX6iS
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) August 19, 2020
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) September 10, 2020
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) August 24, 2020
I found this little clay cow last week. It complements the identical clay horses I’ve found in the same spot. It’s got the word ‘Germany’ on the base, so probably made for export. I’m not exactly sure what it is. A toy? A cracker prize? A fairground prize? Suggestions welcome pic.twitter.com/ex2aGrKajJ
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) August 30, 2020
Sometimes the river sends me a message. Forlorn from Old English forloren (past participle of forlēosan “to lose”. In Dutch it’s verloren, German is also verloren, and Swedish it’s förlorad.
This single word quite accurately sums up river at certain points along its course. pic.twitter.com/t9CHPt7v4n
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) August 27, 2020
Maiklem uses only her eyes to discover the items that the Thames has given over that day. A staggering amount of eras are intermingled in the London mud, and she’s collected from across the centuries:
This is a small selection of the coins and tokens I’ve found on the river over the years. I didn’t find any of them with a metal detector and I don’t dig or scrape away the surface either. I search eyes only, which is a far less destructive and meditative way of saving history pic.twitter.com/OBdJYduuDu
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) September 1, 2020
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) September 12, 2020
One of my favorite things about Maiklem’s account is that she’ll often provide historical context for the objects, or show what they looked like in the original. It’s like watching history come to life, as otherwise forgotten facts and creations are resurfaced.
Boar or ancient pig tusk found on the Thames foreshore. Pigs lived on the streets of medieval London, turning general waste, food scraps and human excrement into meat, glue, jelly, leather, bone and bristles. You could used everything from a pig except its oink #mudlarking pic.twitter.com/Q4nWmhjUuL
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) August 29, 2020
An 18th century teacup, possibly made in the imperial kilns of the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1722). Cups like this were imported in huge quantities from China on the same trade ships that brought tea. That we still call fine ceramics ‘china’ refers back to thIs time #Mudlarking pic.twitter.com/59pouVpJ19
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) August 22, 2020
18th century iron shoe patten found on the Thames foreshore. Pattens were under-shoes designed to be worn outdoors and to lift the wearers and their shoes and ladies’ dresses above the mud and grime of early streets.#LondonMudlark #Mudlark #Mudlarking pic.twitter.com/QukPxXhS2s
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) August 3, 2020
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) September 16, 2020
Think you’d make a good mudlark? Give it a shot:
Spot the pins. Handmade brass pins (c.1400-1800). If you find a good spot you can gather hundreds of these. They wash up together, sorted by the tides over time.#londonmudlark #mudlark #mudlarking pic.twitter.com/sqqEbKs4ec
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) September 11, 2020
Maiklem has helped put wider knowledge of mudlarking on the map, and interest is only growing. If you’re in London, there’s currently an exhibition of found objects at Southwark Cathedral!
Saturday was a South East wander (mostly) along the Thames
Started off visiting @Southwarkcathed for the first time to see their fab little mudlarking exhibition (very cool to see pieces from the Dove Press mentioned in @LondonMudlark‘s book!) pic.twitter.com/NPLs8Tr9QD
— Adam Dyster (@AdamDyster) September 13, 2020
Some of the discoveries by London’s dedicated mudlarks are of such value or historical importance that they end up in museums. But I adore that Maiklem’s account showcases so many interesting items that you wouldn’t find in a museum—so you might never have seen or heard of such a thing before. Many pieces in museums are, well, “museum quality,” pristine and sometimes unused. There’s far less “every day” representation as well: how many jeweled cups have you gazed upon behind glass versus a cup a regular Londoner used ages ago?
Getting a chance to look at what Maiklem has found makes me feel closer to the people who actually handled these objects, and to dream up stories of how they came to be in the river.
16th c silver posey ring with ‘I LIVE IN HOPE’ engraved on the inside. It’s large and I’ve always thought it originally belonged to a man, maybe a sailor or river worker, and it slipped off his cold wet finger one winter morning. Or perhaps it’s story is more tragic #Mudlarking pic.twitter.com/Mn85oKduUV
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) August 2, 2020
In a time when the present can seem dark and hemmed-in, Lara Maiklem is opening an insightful door into the past every day on her Twitter account. Seeing her posts is a reminder that there’s a more expansive world out there and puts our own history into perspective. And there’s something immensely comforting about mudlarking. It assures me that we are never really forgotten, so long as there are people willing to look for what we’ve left behind.
Don’t forget to pick up a copy of Mudlarking (titled Mudlark: In Search of London’s Past Along the River Thames on this side of the pond) if you want to learn more. You can follow Maiklem on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I’ve only just scraped the surface of the treasures that lie in wait for you there.
Available from bookshops – please support your local indie – and online: https://t.co/6eWQTxghQm
• Sunday Times Best Seller
• Winner, Indie Award for Non Fiction
• Radio 4 Book of the Week
• Observer Book of the Year
• Daily Express Greatest Read
• Apple Books Pick pic.twitter.com/TabRxSKKSI
— Lara Maiklem (London Mudlark) (@LondonMudlark) June 27, 2020
Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site!
—The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]