Daring down the steep, slippery steps onto the banks of the Thames in the heart of London, under the shadow of Tower Bridge for the first time ever I’ve gone ‘mudlarking’. This shadowed community trudge through the mud of the Thames to find some lost treasures whenever possible, whether it be in the depths of the night or early in the morning. Mudlarking enthusiast Jill Mead is often found scouring the banks of the Thames for any valuable finds, Jill finds the Thames a fascinating place to find old goods as for hundreds of years people have being using the Thames to dump their unwanted rubbish, so she expresses “its probably one of the best sites for finding artefacts in the world.”
Jill, 50, moved from Yorkshire to London 27 years ago to pursue her career as a photographer, after travelling the world. Now a professional photographer for The Guardian, Jill uses this to her advantage when mudlarking, capturing magical pictures of the early sunrise or midday sun over the city from the river. “Some of my finds are then used in my professional image shoots in the backgrounds for props, adding my touch and London heritage.” Jill uses the example of using empty wine bottles or pottery in the back of some food articles.
Over many years Jill has found an array of different treasures, ranging from: buttons, shoes, bikes, thimbles and jewellery. Most often she finds stems on clay pipes, describing them as “small white sticks that contain a lot of information.” Clay pipes are the old fashioned cigarette ends, Jill tells me and can date back to the 1500s. “I use them for personal enjoyment, posting pictures of them on Instagram” Jill shows me a photo her collection that are dotted around her crammed (some would say messy, I say homely) flat, showing little bits of history of London twinned with her Yorkshire legacy. “I like just learning a little more about the heritage of London and find it amazing that these small clay objects have survived tide after tide for many, many years. People just assume that I am looking for old coins, bones or a treasure chest! But thats not the case.”
Jill has influenced and introduced her 12 year-old son Ned to this hobby. He joins her on most of her trips out, with Jill saying: “he is gaining cultural values and learning about historical pasts through doing mudlarking and what we both find, instead of what seems to be happening to the young of staying inside and playing on games consoles.”
As the afternoon comes to an end, Jill says something that I can really agree with. Although a bitterly cold day with numb hands Jill says “it offers a massive amount of escapism for myself.” Being a single mum, Jill says how mudlarking really helped her escape from life, its a hobby in which she can forget about everything else and just enjoy it.