Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Society of Thames Mudlarks

A few years ago...okay twelve years ago I married my high-school sweetheart. And after much begging, cajoling and in the end telling, we went to London England for our honeymoon. I’d always wanted to go, because who wouldn’t (my husband for one) and enjoyed every second while we were there. I’ve now created a monster (said husband) who’s the one always saying ‘we should go...’ and it’s me who now has to say ‘no!' All very funny but not really relevant to my post today...or is it?

While in England we did a tour with Trafalgar. Wonderful company and great tour guides. As they bussed us around the capital our noses plastered to the windows a story of a group of people made my ears prick up and take note. Not that I wasn’t already listening to the tour guide beacuae I was. During our stay there I soaked up every aspect of London and imprinted it on my brain permanently. I just love the place.

But, back to the tour guide who was explaining a group of people called Mudlarks who once searched the banks of the Thames at low tide. Just another name which means a beachcomber who searches the mud at low tide for anything of value. I wanted to be one of them. Just the thought of digging in mud and maybe finding some lost treasure hundreds of years old sent my blood to...okay I’m starting to sound like a romance writer. But let’s just say I was excited. The tour guide went on to say that only a few permits were allowed each year and that they were a well sought after article. I could only agree, as I now wanted one, even though I lived in Australia.

Eventually we went home and continued on with our lives until one day only four years ago I started to write. Then I started to write romance novels with a twist - time travel. And what a better way than to send my heroine catapulting through the ages but by having her find a piece of jewellery long buried in the banks of the Thames which does exactly that. You’ve guessed it; my heroine is a Thames Mudlark. In fact they are actually called The Society of Thames Mudlarks today. Anything they find they have a month before they must forward it to the Museum of London for cataloguing. After that time the item is returned to them, to either sell, (to the museum or elsewhere) or keep. The Port of London Authority issue the permits for them to fossick the ancient shores.

Although being a Mudlark today is for hobbyists and history lovers alike, back in the Industrial Revolution it was all that stood between starvation and food for some families. Should they find something, anything, a button even, it could be sold for food for them to eat. Most Mudlarks were widowed women and children. These poor souls had to deal with raw sewage and corpses of humans and animals that often washed up with the tide. Take the tower of London’s moat, need I say more on what a mess that was for a while. Not a very nice working environment for them, even if necessary.

So, a story told offhandedly years ago stuck a cord with me, and was the basis of a major turning point for my heroine in my manuscript. It’s true I suppose, that stories evolve by events in our own lives. That, when we hear tales of the past we writers see a plot somewhere between the words. I certainly did and will continue to do so.

Perhaps one day if I’m lucky, The Society of Thames Mudlarks will make me an honorary member. I can only dream.
Tamara Gill
This post originally featured on my blog 2010


Bron said...

Hi Tamara

I lived in London for 8 years and while I was there most people who went anywhere near the Thames (often drunk on a Friday night out fell in)came away with terrible infections from the dirty water! Not much as imporved in the 21 century by the sounds of things. It's still smells and is dirty.

Anonymous said...

Exciting topic Tamara!
Mudlarks huh?and as you said a bit like beach-combers we have here that go out after high tide and check the beaches for lost/buried treasure.

Having only recently visited London myself, I know exactly what you mean and how that whole country had fired your soul. It caught me as well. We too enjoyed a trip around UK with the same travel company.
Agreed, the guides and their information/knowledge was priceless.
I agree, it Would be wonderful to go back and be included in a dig :)

Thanks for an interesting post and insight into old/new London.

Gillian Layne said...

Amazing! I've never heard of this. Wow, does it get the imagination going! Thanks so much for sharing this. Good luck with your story. It's a brilliant premise.

Cheryl Leigh said...

Ah, London, my favourite city. I'm glad you convinced your hubby to go there. :)

I have a friend who used to go mudlarking. She only found broken pieces of china, which, sadly, had no historical value.

Suzi said...

Thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into The Mudlarks.
Can we all book to do a group dig?

Anonymous said...

Hi Bron!

I know what you mean, the Thames River is very murky, muddy looking water. I certainly wouldn't want to swim in it. Perhaps those who fell in learnt a lesson afterwards. LOL

Thanks so much for stopping by!
Tam :)

Anonymous said...

Isn't England wonderful, Mary.

I'm looking forward to my next trip there. I want to visit as many castles as I can. They're great fodder for Regency set historicals.

Thanks for stopping by.
Tam :)

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you liked the post, Gillian.

Isn't it funny the things we learn when we least expect it. I think Mudlarks will always hold a special something with me from now on.

Thanks for stopping by.
Tam :)

Anonymous said...

Cheryl, I'm soooooooooo jealous of your friend. If I had enough guts I would have walked down those steps to the Thames River and just dug around without a permit. But, I'm a good girl and didn't want to be banned from England. ;)

London is my favourite city in the world also. I just love it.

Thanks for stopping by.
Tam :)

Anonymous said...

Suzi, if you book a group dig, I'm in!!! How cool would a holi be with all the historical loop together visiting the sights and sounds of England and Scotland!!!

Oh, to dream....

Thanks for stopping by.
Tam :)

Maggi Andersen said...

I thought they'd cleaned the Thames up and there were fish in it again. Interesting post, Tam. I read a book about these mudlarks in the Victorian era, they had children working there. I saw something on TV recently too. Apparently the tide comes in so fast it can be quite dangerous!

Christina Phillips said...

What a fascinating post, Tam, it's amazing that stuff is still around to be found in the mud! Not sure I'd like to rummage around in the mud like that though (actually I know I wouldn't)!

Anonymous said...

Hi Maggi!

I know, isn't it sad that little kids had to look for things just to eat.

And I have to agree with the hobby being dangerous. I remember standing on the Tower Bridge and watching the tidal flowing Thames go out. It was very fast and quite scary. I know I wouldn't have wanted to fall in. Would have been washed out to sea before I surfaced to the top!

Thanks for dropping in.
Tam :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, now come on, Christina, what's a little mud between friends. LOL.

But I know what you mean, would be a dirty job, but I'd still love to do it.

Thanks for dropping in.
Tam :)

Allison Butler said...

Thanks for the fascinating post, Tam. I'd happily rub my face in the mud if it meant finding something precious from the past LOL.
But on a serious note, it's sad that children had to dig in the mud in the hope of finding something to sell so they could eat. Feeling terribly blessed!