Thames River Bank
Thames River Bank

Last week I went on a very exciting trip to London to go ‘Mudlarking’ on the banks of the River Thames. Beach combing, to seek out unusual ‘found objects’, is one of my favourite activities, but I’d never had the opportunity, or courage, to go foraging for finds in London before. My friend and fellow potter Fay de Winter planned the adventure as an unusual treat!

There are some rules and regulations about what you are allowed to do and pick up there. You can’t dig or even ‘scrape’ the surface for example without a permit, and there are certain areas that are out of bounds. But if you time the tides right, there is a large area, right in the city where you can walk along and find all sorts of things ‘by eye’ on the bank, with new finds refreshed with every tide.

Garnets found whilst Mudlarking
Tiny garnets

My intrepid friend and I descended down steps to the somewhat unpromising looking river banks at low tide and found an assortment of unlikely looking people already down there. I’m not sure we quite fitted into the scene but the people we chatted to, doing the same as us, were all as friendly as you could ask. There were one or two with metal detectors, looking for treasure, but most were like us, looking for the kind of treasure that isn’t worth anything to anyone else.

The kinds of things that caught our eyes, perhaps because we’re both potters, were things like pottery sherds (the most colourful items shining out of the mud) and clay pipes, pieces of which carpeted some areas of the bank. I also have a particular, somewhat crazy, attraction to hand made rusty boat nails and there were plenty of those there too. With the help of more experienced mudlarker ‘Dave’ who we got chatting to, we also found things we’d never have spotted otherwise; including tiny hand made pins and, most surprisingly to me, unpolished garnets.

I don’t know enough to date any of these finds or even really know what some of them were, before they became lost and then found again. Maybe I can do some digging around on the internet to find out more.

Of course they had to be organised and grouped into tidy categories of my own. Putting them in a row and photographing them, as if they were important archeological finds, affords them a status they probably don’t deserve. But it gives me joy anyway. All of these kinds of things have an influence on my creative work. I don’t know what kind of influence these objects will have – they may even find their way into a mixed media piece I make in the future. I just know there will be an impact, somewhere.

Various pottery sherds

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