Treasures of the River – Mudlarking

A Mudlark is a person who scavenges in river mud for objects of value. In the 18th and 19th centuries Mudlarks were typically poor people who sold what they had found in the mud of the riverbed for living.


Why is River Thames the Largest Archaeological Site in Britain?

Riverbank at Low Tide

Photo: Urban Adventurer


River Thames was once the world’s largest port. Traderships, boats, and sea vessels of all sizes came and go exporting and importing cargo around the globe. In the 18th and 19th centuries uncountable wharfs, docks, ship buildings, and warehouses stood both sides of the river.

As a result, tons of objects discarded or accidentally dropped into the water during the centuries.

Because the river is close to the sea, incoming and outcoming tides continuously bring those objects and artifacts to the surface with the mud, making River Thames the largest archaeological site in Britain. – explains Meriel Jeater, Curator at the Museum of London in Thames Festival Trust’s article.


Victorian Mudlarking

Mudlarking Boys in the 19th Century

Mudlarking boys in the 18th century.

Image Source: Thames Festival Trust


In the 18th and 19th centuries mudlarks were typically poor people, searching for anything along the river that they could sell for living. Many children, mostly boys, were doing mudlarking. They were mainly searching for practical items, such as coal, ropes, chopper nails, and iron. In the 19th century mudlarks were the lowest members of society in London.


Modern Mudlarking


Photo: Urban Adventurer


In modern times mudlarking has become a popular hobby. Today’s mudlarks have passion and deep interest in London’s history and archaeology. A hobby that gives a hand-on experience of British history for adults and children alike.

Mudlarks of modern days tend to look for items that personally interest them, such as coins, jewellery, old toys, knives, bottles and Chinese or Roman pottery. These are actually common discoveries.

Today organisations, such as Thames Explorer Trust  offer mudlarking experiences for kids and adults along River Thames.

During these tours, however, you are not allowed to bring artifacts home.


You Need Permit

Although theoretically anyone can do mudlarking in London, in practice, not. It is because anyone searching the tidal foreshore – for any reason – from Teddington to the Thames Barrier must hold a current foreshore permit from the Port of London Authority. This includes all searching, metal detecting, ‘beachcombing’, scraping, and digging. It actually means, you need a permission even to flip a stone and see under it.


You Must Report Your Finds

Riverbed at Low Tide

Photo: Urban Adventurer


 Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer at the Museum of London records all archaeological finds made by the public. You must report if you find anything that could be of archaeological interest.


The Historical Importance of Mudlarking

Artifacts found in the riverbed can still give a lot of valuable information on London’s history. These findings can alter how we see the past and even rewrite history.

Several books have been written about the artifacts found by members of the public and the Society of Thames Mudlarks. The incredible findings of toys from the Medieval period, for example changed how historians now view that period of time.


Mudlark Exhibitions

 Mudlark exhibitions are regularly held in different places in London. Most of those exhibitions are free to visit and no need to book in advance.

Some exhibitors even allow visitors to touch some objects of their collections (however, always ask), giving an incredible opportunity to make history tangible.


 Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames


Where: Southwark Cathedral – entry via cathedral courtyard opposite the River Thames

When: From 21 July to 30 October 2021 Open daily from 9am-5pm

Entry: Free – NO need to book a time slot


Mudlark Exhibition


Where: Chiswick Pier Trust

When: 25-26 September from 10am-4pm

Entry: Free – NO need to book a time slot


The Mudlark Pub

The Mudlark, Montague Close, London, Greater London, SE1 9DA

The Mudlark Pub

Photo: Urban Adventurer


Mudlarking was so popular in the 18th and 19th centuries that there is even a pub named after Mudlarks in London.

The Mudlark Pub opened in the middle of the 1700s at the riverside and became the favourite pub of market traders of London’s oldest fruit and vegetable market: Borough Market.

The Mudlark Pub

Photo: Urban Adventurer


The Mudlark Pub is just a 10-minute walk from one of the best mudlarking places, the Millenium Bridge. So, why not pop in for a beer and a burger after treasure hunting?


Ready for your next adventure? EGGOLNAD is London’s most egg-centric restaurant. Have a look.