Cover Image: Mudlarking


Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I've been fascinated by mudlarking for years (as a lapsed archaeologists this is hardly a surprise) and I follow a few mudlarks on social media, including Laura Maiklem. They seem an almost impenetrable group, and indeed getting 'in' is detailed here. Not just anyone should go fossicking on the foreshore and as it's not without its perils that's as it should be!

Maiklem's finds are not the big sparkly things which make the news (like the Staffordshire Hoard, for example, found by a detectorist) but the small domestic everyday objects discarded by ordinary people. Personally I find a clay pipe just as exciting as a coin. A small ceramic bowl or a button can tell a story - and these are the stories Mailkem brings us - from research and imagination -written beautifully, while weaving in the narrative of her own life.

Maiklem conjours up her time on the river and the estuary brilliantly, it feels almost as if we are there with her, looking on, squelching in our wellies to9 see the treasures turned up. This is a lovely book about a fascinating topic, to be enjoyed by anyone, not just history lovers.
Was this review helpful?
Lara Maiklem is a mudlark. She can be found at low tide walking the beaches and mud of the River Thames, foraging, searching, collecting bits and pieces. And in the course of her memoir ‘Mudlarking’, she tells the history of the river. This is a personal history, not a novel.
Starting at the tidal head near Teddington and heading east to the Thames Estuary, Maiklem has written an anecdotal guide to London’s river, the treasures which can be found buried in the mud, and tells the stories of the people [real and imagined] who once lived there. From the discarded Doves Type to broken clay pipes and glass bottle stoppers, she describes the objects she has found, their place in her collection, her methods of cleaning and preserving them. Along the way she consults experts and historians and forages with fellow mudlarks who each have their favourite places, their specialist objects to collect.
‘Modern mudlarks fall into two distinct categories,’ she explains. ‘Hunters and gatherers. I am one of the latter. I find objects using just my eyes to spot what is lying on the surface. Eyes-only foragers like me generally enjoy the searching as much as the finding, and derive pleasure from the simplest of objects: an unusually shaped stone, a colourful shard of pottery or a random blob of lead. There is an element of meditation to what we do, and as far as I’m concerned the time I spend looking is as important if not more so, that the objects I take home with me.’
At times the pace seemed a little slow – lots of descriptions of mud – but the nature of mudlarking itself is slow and contemplative. I enjoyed the insights into the river’s history, the anecdotes and fascinating detail not normally heard. A book to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
Read more of my book reviews at
Was this review helpful?
Pretty much everything that humans have made used and thrown away will be here forever. Often these possessions have ended up in middens and now we bury vast quantities of our unwanted stuff in the ground in dumps. If you know where to look these relics from a time long gone can be found, especially along the foreshore of the tidal Thames.

There have been people finding the detritus and treasure alongside the capital’s river for hundreds of years. It has been called the world’s longest archaeological site! The people who look for those discarded and lost items are called mudlarks and for the past fifteen years, Lara Maiklem has walked searching for anything that she can find. The variety of things that she spots is quite astounding, and these tell the story of London going back several thousand years to the Neolithic.

I have been following her via various social media accounts for years now, so nice to read a little more on the subject as well as a little of her own history as to what she finds so addictive about doing it. I really enjoyed this and liked the way each chapter concentrated on different parts of the capital, from Hammersmith, Rotherhithe and right out into the estuary. I found her to be an informative writer who is passionate about her subject and keen to discover more about the objects she finds. If the book has one tiny flaw, it is that there are very few pictures of her finds. I know she has an Instagram account ( that is linked to the book, but I am not on Instagram so couldn’t see them.
Was this review helpful?
This book is a pure joy. I learned so much about the history of the Thames, London itself and the art of seeking and finding. I’m a longtime follower of Lara’s on Facebook and was overjoyed when she announced her book. I would recommend this read to anyone with an interest in buried treasure, history and the art of mudlarking. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
Mudlarks are not only ragged Victorian urchins but also twenty-first century treasure hunters on the foreshore of the Thames.  I confess that I have always wanted to have a go at mudlarking and this fascinating book just confirmed my desire.  A must for anyone who loves London and history and mud.
Was this review helpful?
An enjoyable read following another persons hobby and interest. You know its been a good read when you consider having a go yourself, now where is that trowel,
Was this review helpful?
I am in charge of our Senior School library and am looking for a diverse array of new books to furnish their shelves with and inspire our young people to read a wider and more diverse range of books as they move through the senior school. It is hard sometimes to find books that will grab the attention of young people as their time is short and we are competing against technology and online entertainments.
This was a thought-provoking and well-written read that will appeal to our readers across the board, both students and staff. It had a really strong voice and a lot of fascinating ideas within that I think would capture their attention and draw them in. It kept me engrossed and I think that it's so important that the books that we purchase for both our young people and our staff are appealing to as broad a range of readers as possible - as well as providing them with something a little 'different' that they might not have come across in school libraries before.
This was a really enjoyable read and I will definitely be purchasing a copy for school so that our young people can enjoy it for themselves. A satisfying and well-crafted read that I keep thinking about long after closing its final page - and that definitely makes it a must-buy for me!
Was this review helpful?
If you know London well, then this book is very interesting and taking you to places you normally just walk past. The first two chapters were superb, however, the book then got a bit muddled. Still, I would definitely pick something else up by the author in future.
Was this review helpful?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an archaeologist. I kept a collection of curiosities like bones, feathers, interesting rocks and shells, and ceramic fragments I found in my best friend’s backyard. I still have a natural history collection with this kind of stuff. Although I realized archaeology wasn’t all it cracked up to be when I did a summer field school at age 15 and discovered it was hot, mucky and mostly tedious work, the idea of paying meticulous attention but also making lucky finds still attracts me. Hunting is a natural human instinct, it seems; for me these days that plays out through litter picking, foraging for free food, searching for fossils and shells on the beach, and looking for wish list items and random gems in secondhand bookshops.

Lara Maiklem is a London mudlark, scavenging for what washes up on the shores of the Thames. I thrilled to her descriptions of what she’s found, including clay pipes, coins, armaments, pottery, and much more. “The Thames is England’s longest archaeological landscape,” she notes, and the many layers of the city’s history mingle at the foreshore: Victorian, Georgian, Elizabethan, medieval, and Roman. The jewel of Maiklem’s collection is a sixteenth-century leather child’s shoe she sent to Cardiff University for conservation.

I was also intrigued to learn about the official procedures for registering finds. When Maiklem came across a sixteenth-century posy ring, she had to report it to the Museum of London as potential Treasure (which under UK law belongs to the Crown or to the City of London) so they could decide if they wanted to purchase it from her. The British Museum already had a similar one, so she was allowed to keep it. Her finds also get recorded in a nationwide Portable Antiquities Scheme database with 1 million+ items: in this way, mudlarks are contributing to citizen science.

The book is arranged geographically, moving west to east along the Thames. I’m not familiar enough with London for this progression to have meant much to me, so by just past the halfway point the chapters felt like “here’s where I went and here’s some things I found” and “here’s somewhere else I went and some other things I found.” I’m not sure how the structure could have been more successful: perhaps each chapter could have focused on a different time period or category of finds? All the same, this is a fascinating way of bringing history to life and imagining what everyday existence was like for Londoners across the centuries. (If only there were photographs of Maiklem’s collection!)

Favorite passages:

“Time stands still in the fog. With all modern points of reference obscured, the river is ageless, static and ghostly. The spirits of the foreshore rise up in the mist, just out of sight. Through the swirling whiteness a medieval fisherman pegs his fish traps to the riverbed, a Victorian scavenger wanders barefoot through the mud, and a Georgian shipwright checks the hull of his newly built ship. On the river, invisible galleons and sailing barges glide past, wherries are carried swiftly downstream on the retreating tide, and a phantom paddle steamer pushes through the currents. Thames fogs are quite literally the mists of time. They are daydream manifested, swirling visions of the past.”

“My mother had had a museum of her own when she was a child and would delight me with the story of the cat skull, the pride of her collection. She had found it by the side of the road in a state of partial decomposition and rather than wait for the maggots to do their job and risk losing it to another collector, she took it home and boiled it in her mother’s best milk pan to remove the remaining flesh. I loved that story, but bedtime cocoa at my grandmother’s house never tasted quite the same after I’d heard it.”

“The key to spotting objects on the foreshore is simply to relax and look through the surface. Mother Nature rarely makes perfectly straight lines or circles, and as the eye becomes practised, imperfections and patterns start to stand out.”
Was this review helpful?
What a wonderful meander along the Thames enlightening us along the way with bursts of local history and legend. I felt like I learnt a lot despite thoroughly enjoying myself. Mudlarking sounds like an intriguing and addictive way of life. A brilliant book to educate, entertain and inspire you to take your time and open your eyes to what is around you.
Was this review helpful?
Such a joyous and fascinating read - the writing is excellent and the subject matter is wonderfully intriguing.
Was this review helpful?
A really lovely book, and a simple yet clever focus.  I loved the writing style, and found myself really absorbed by the book.
Was this review helpful?
Gentle account of  the author's experiences mudlarking and finding treasures in other people's rubbish.  Interesting to mudlarks and history buffs.
Was this review helpful?
This is a delightful book. It is fascinating, easy to read and it feels like you're walking the banks of the Thames having a chat with Lara Maiklem about what she's seeing and what it means. Along the way, we get history, politics, geography and at no time is it boring or forced. Ms Maiklem wears her knowledge lightly and disperses little nuggets along her walks as she delves into the soils of the river at low tide. There are some surprising facts about the Thames - I had no idea about the heights of the different tides - about London history and about the social lives of the people who's belongings are found. 

Mudlarking seems interesting but difficult as the task is physically demanding and at all times you're paying attention to the movement of the tides but there's also the very real possibility of finding something of real value - either financial or historical - and Ms Maiklem has found lots.

This is an excellent book to give as a gift for anyone living or born in London 0r interested in the Thames. It will be of interest to a wide range of ages. 

I was given a copy of the book by Netgalley in return for an a honest review.
Was this review helpful?
For centuries people have searched the foreshore at low tide on the Thames for a chance of making a living or, more recently, to find treasure.  These mudlarks have a history tied up with that of the city.  Lara Maiklem is a long-standing member of the community and she takes the reader on a geographical journey down the thames and across the centuries as she indulges in her surprisingly interesting hobby.
The passionate hobbit is a passionate person indeed and Maiklem embodies this amateur enthusiasm.  Her book is a love story to the river and the city and a gallop through thousands of years of history.  Encompassing history, geography, geology, sociology and even a bit of danger, the sense of humour is to the fore always and this is a delightful read.
Was this review helpful?
Lara Maiklem has scoured the banks of the Thames for over fifteen years, in pursuit of the objects that the river unearths: from Neolithic flints to Roman hair pins, medieval buckles to Tudor buttons, Georgian clay pipes to Victorian toys. These objects tell her about London and its lost ways of life.

Moving from the river's tidal origins in the west of the city to the point where it meets the sea in the east, Mudlarking is a search for urban solitude and history on the River Thames, which Lara calls the longest archaeological site in England.

As she has discovered, it is often the tiniest objects that tell the greatest stories.

I love non-fiction books that delve into the history of ordinary folk, and I have particular fondness for them if they are also connected to London (the city of my birth), because we hear so much about the lives of the great and good (or bad!) but not often about how people like you or I actually lived. So when I heard that Lara Maiklem was writing a book about her years of mudlarking on the river Thames, I knew it was going to be one for me - especially as I have been following her Twitter feed and Instagram pages for some time.

Mudlarking takes us on a journey down the river Thames, from the tidal head around Richmond and Twickenham all the way to the Estuary. It covers the history and importance of the Thames and details of the artifacts that have been found along the foreshore - mainly by Lara Maiklem herself, over the fifteen years she has been searching for them. 

What makes this book so completely fascinating, and at times, poignant, is the way Lara Maiklem weaves the history of the great Thames with her own experiences out there on the foreshore, and the stories behind the objects she has found over the years. This really brings to life the way ordinary people lived and worked on and around the Thames. The book is very readable and full of so much interesting stuff that it is actually quite a page turner.

My one criticism of the book is that it really needs pictures as well as the fascinating text. Although, the end papers themselves are beautifully illustrated with drawings of many of the objects described and there are a couple of lovely maps of the Thames, I thought the lack of photographs was a shame - a few here and there would have enhanced the reading experience, rather than me having to break off every now and again to look something up in Google!

Having said that, the book itself is an absolute delight and I learnt so much from the information given in these pages. One of my favourite facts was learning about the "secret" statues that grace the river frontages of Vauxhall Bridge, which opened in 1906, as these are absolutely beautiful and I had no idea they were there - in fact, you can only really see them if you are travelling on the Thames by boat. 

The allegorical figures are twice life-size and were designed by two artists F.W. Pomeroy and Alfred Drury, who completed four each - Pomeroy completing the ones on the upstream side. The Pomeroy statues are of Agriculture, Architecture, Engineering and Pottery, and the Drury ones of Education, Fine arts, Science and Local Government. The Pomeroy ones are, for me, the most beautiful and Architecture is my absolute favourite, because she holds an amazing facsimile of St Paul's Cathedral in her hand. I am planning a trip to Vauxhall Bridge soon, so I can try to spot them "in the flesh".

This book is inspirational and will have you looking at what is under your feet the next time you are near a river! I am not at all surprised that this has become a Sunday Times Bestseller. Highly recommended!
Was this review helpful?
I loved this book and it was so much more than I expected. In my dreams I have always wanted to be a mudlarker, and find some treasure, not valuable treasure but interesting. Well nowadays  I would not be unable to meet the demands of mudlarking but this book took me to the places I could only dream of going, it gave me so much information and background to what mudlarking means. I also enjoyed the many historical bits that made the whole thing make sense. The author had such a passion and fascination for the subject, I learnt so much whilst joining her on this adventure, things that I didn't know like the Crow Stone. I might not be able to mudlark but I can enjoy a stroll along the Thames and now I can see it through different eyes. Anyone with an interest in London will enjoy this book.
Was this review helpful?
Really interesting, slow at parts though but I can't say I didn't enjoy this, would have liked to have found out more about areas but this was something to enjoy between books for me and would recommend if you like history.
Was this review helpful?
A fascinating account of Lara's finds on the foreshore of the Thames. Very interesting historical information but I was expecting more photos of the finds - there are none. You can however find photos on her instagram feed which is great. The writing is captivating and I would recommend to anyone interested in London's history.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to both the puclisher and to NetGalley for the ARC of this title.  

I found this an absolute treasure-trove of information and fasciation.  We all love a good treasure-hunt; imagine doing this on the Thames, finding old shoes and imagining who wore them, or hat pins, or bottles.  Lara's passion for mudlarking and her knowledgeable experience are contagious.  She writes in a clear voice, providing information along with her anecdotes, as well as a bit of autobiography.  A thoroughly enjoyable read, even for those of us who don't read much non-fiction.  Our library has already purhased it and I have recommended it on numerous occasions with positive feedback!
Was this review helpful?