Mudlarking expert Jason Sandy has found a Roman hairpin, medieval brass knuckles and three bodies during his 10 years mudlarking on the Thames
A mudlark has described his incredible array of finds along the tidal edges of the Thames, including Roman hairpins, ancient coins and even corpses.
Mudlarking, where people comb through the ages with objects large and small that have been discarded or washed up on the banks of the river in search of historical treasures, is becoming increasingly popular.
Architect and mudlark expert Jason Sandy says he fell in love with mudlarking after watching a television documentary and finding his first clay pipe in the mud by the riverbank the next morning.
Among the historical oddities, Jason revealed he’s also made more sinister discoveries, including no fewer than three freshly dead bodies, as well as a recently released human femur, reports MyLondon.
Jason explained that there is a wide variety of objects to be found in the cold mud of the Thames, from fossilized sea creatures to Roman relics to Victorian remains, if you know what to look for.
“It took me a while to catch my eye,” says Jason. “I’m always looking for certain forms. Natural shapes are rocks, and coins and artificial objects are unnatural shapes. It’s a very dark beach with black and orange making versatile terrain so dark coins tend to camouflage.”
Jason said his best find was a first-century Roman hairpin, and he’s also amassed a fine collection of coins, fossils, and musket balls.
His favorite pieces of jewelry are those that tell a story, and Jason loves to research the history of his finds, like the bottom of an eggcup he once found marked Cleveland Square, which he traces back to a ship called the SS Thames , owned by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company.
Jason speculates about a sailor on the Thames-moored ship eating his boiled egg one morning and fumbling the eggcup in the water. It’s those little moments of imagination that speak to the human side of the story and bring an object to life.
The best daytime low tides are between January and March, but if you want to go in the summer you’ll need to go at night from July to September. This means you can often find Jason with a headtorch, crawling in the mud at 1am on a summer night.
This begs the question, is it just coins and buckles washing up on the shore?
The answer is: no. Three freshly dead bodies (and a new human femur) – Jason admits – are among the things that didn’t make it into the display case. To this day, Jason doesn’t know if it was murder or suicide, but he hasn’t forgotten the first time it happened.
“The first body I found was early Sunday morning,” he grimaces. “There was a guy on the beach, face down in the mud, wearing a hoodie and sneakers. When the police found the body, there was a man around who confirmed that we had found someone. I’m not sure if it was a friend or if someone is coming to see if he’s dead.”
Jason hints that he’s not the only mudlark to run into something awkward, but says it’s not his stories to tell.
While the term mudlarking originated with children who used to collect coal from the coast to buy bread, the practice is more tightly regulated these days.
The Port of London Authority, which issues licenses to would-be muddlers, recently stopped issuing Thames Foreshore Permits, which give you the right to search and paw the beaches.
The decision was made after consultation with the Museum of London and Historic England to preserve the “sensitive historic site which has come under increasing visitor pressure”.