Student Success - Mudlarking by Jack Engeham

Date published: Tue 18 Jun 2019   Author: HLH/JCD/Jack Engleham   Category: General   Share: Share on facebookShare on TwitterShare on MySpaceShare by Email

Student Success

At TBSHS, we are pleased to encourage students in a variety of pursuits. The article below is by Year 10 student Jack Engeham, who has made a series of fascinating discoveries while pursuing his interest in History through the practice of mudlarking on the banks of the River Thames. This has led him to a series of fantastic discoveries that he has shared with, and had documented by, the Museum of London.

Mr Dickens

Mudlarking by Jack Engeham

The word “Mudlark” has been traced back to the 18th/19th century. Mudlarks would search the muddy shores of the River Thames at low tide for anything that could be sold such as old pieces of rope and copper nails. Sometimes, when occasion arose, they would also pilfer from river traffic. Mudlarks were usually either young children, aged between eight and fifteen, or the elderly; and though most were male, girls and women were also known to be mudlarks at times. 

More recently, individuals searching the foreshore for historic artefacts have described themselves as "mudlarks". In London, a license is required from the Port of London authority (PLA) for this activity and it is illegal to search for or remove artefacts of any kind from the foreshore without one. The PLA site has lots of useful information for permit holders including maps, rules & regulations about where digging is and is not permitted, safety aspects and tide tables.

I have pursued my interest in mudlarking over a number of years and have made some interesting discoveries. As part of being a mudlark, it is necessary to declare items that are over 300 years old to the appropriate Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) responsible for the area of your finds. In London, the FLO is based at the Museum of London.  Once you have demonstrated that you have sufficient finds of potential interest to the Museum, you are then put into a rota for future appointments.  In the meantime, the Museum will carry out their own investigation into these items of interest. Meetings with the Museum are typically every 4 months therefore giving you sufficient time between appointments to discover your next batch of items of historical interest! I am lucky that TBSHS have supported me and kindly allowed me to attend various meetings with the Museum of London to show and register items which I have found on the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Once an item has been researched and recorded, it is returned to the finder at their next appointment.  In incredibly rare circumstances, the Museum may request to retain the item for their permanent collection (this has not happened to me yet!).

In terms of what items are selected, it is really up to the Finds Liaison Officer to choose items that are rare, in good condition and worthy of documenting and researching.  For instance, we have found Jettons (reckoning counters) from 16th Century, a silver hammered coin from 1585, multiple Rose Farthing coins from 1625-49, to name a few and none of these were recorded as these were not rare enough and/or in too poor a condition.

However, I am fortunate enough to have discovered a number of items that have been recorded by the Museum for their historical value.

Below are examples of my finds that were accepted on to the Portable Antiquities Scheme:

  1. Henry VIII Stove Tile

A fragment of a Post-Medieval boarder ware stove tile, dating to AD 1550-1600. The tile fragment is of moulded design bearing the Royal Arms of England within the Garter; dexter supporter, a dragon below the letter H on a triangular panel for Henry VIII. Only part of the Royal Arms and Garter remain. The tile has a green glaze.

Dimensions: length: 64.16mm; width: 64.11mm; thickness: 12.10mm; weight: 48.36g.

A similar tile can be seen in the British Museum collection, number B.281 which has been dated to 1550-1600.


2) Medieval Iron Key

A Medieval iron key dating from AD 1350-1400. The keys shank is circular with a rectangular section at the shoulder, decorated with a saltire. The key has an oval-bow with a kidney-shaped aperture defined by an inwardly projecting point from the centre where the bow abuts the shank. The bit is rectangular in shape, with four clefts, three vertical rectangular clefts removed from the base and one further horizontal rectangular cleft above. 

A similar Key is illustrated in Egan (1998:113-114 No. 308)

Reference: Egan, G. 1998 The Medieval Household - Medieval finds from excavations in London. HMSO. London


3) Tin Glazed Earthenware Tile

An incomplete Post Medieval ceramic delftware bichrome tin glazed tile dating to AD 1618-1650. Similar tiles are recorded in Betts & Weinstein (2010:114 No.132) Tiles painted with this design were made at Rotherhithe and Pickleherring. Dutch tiles with this design are dated 1610-40 (Pluis 1997, 250, A.01.11.83). The tile has blue foliate design, with a central rosette with trefoil boarder, flower motif in corners. The reverse of the tile is unglazed.

Dimensions: length: 67.59mm; width: 64.01mm; thickness: 11.54mm; weight: 63.01g.

Reference: Betts, I.M. and Weinstein, R.I., 2010 Tin-glazed tiles from London. London: Museum of London Archaeology.




Below are items that are currently being recorded

  1. 17th Century Token from John Standebrook, Lymeman

Octagonal 17th Century London Traders Token inscribed:
John Standbrooke Lymeman at St Maryouers Stairs In Southwarke His Halfe Penny ISS (swipe for reverse)
Particularly curious was his profession as a “Lymeman” which we have taken to be a supplier of lime.   Lime had a number of uses in particular its adhesive property with bricks and stones and as binding material in masonry works. Also understand quicklime to be used in burials.

2)     17th Century Token from Lion and the Lamb Inn (AD 1658)

This farthing’s inscription is: “John Vaine in Sovthwarke 58” (Southwark 1658).

There are the initials V over I and M. The picture whilst tricky to see is of a lamb on the left facing a lion on the right.  Due to the Lion and the Lamb reference, we believe John Vaine to have been the landlord of a tavern.   We understand this token to be in Dickinson’s reference guide as 99.


Details of some of my more recent finds are outlined below:

A range of military ordinance. This includes cannon balls and musket balls from the 16th century to the 19th century. Many of these would have been produced at the Tower of London and then transported down the river on boats.  This is one reason why we find so many on the Thames. There are also pieces of shrapnel from anti-aircraft shells which were tasked with shooting down German bombers during the blitz in 1940.


A group of buttons and buckles and cuff links dating from the 1400’s to the early 1900’s these may have fallen from clothing or been dumped in the river with clothing that has subsequently decomposed.




Clay smoking pipes were first used in Britain in the 16th century following the importation of tobacco from the Americas. Early pipes tend to have small bowls as tobacco was relatively expensive at the period. Stems have a larger diameter than with Victorian clay pipes.

Economics and fashion changed the basic shape of the clay pipe. Bowls became larger as tobacco dropped in price. In fashionable circles the length of the stem grew longer culminating in the Victorian churchwarden’s pipe which had a stem nearly a metre in length. In the Victorian period bowls were often highly ornate. Some have the maker’s initials and others have commemorative designs.

Also in the foreground are a selection of complete and partial clay wig curlers. These would have been used by people from the late 17th century until the late 18th century when they went out of fashion due to a taxation on wig powder

 A collection of coins and traders’ tokens dating from Roman to the 20th century. These include silver hammered coins from Elizabeth 1st (far bottom right). Also includes lead traders tokens (far bottom left),  these were made and issued by business owners in the 15th-18th century although the one shown is 18th century.


A miniature pewter toy plate dating from the 16th-18th century. Toys such as these are only rarely found along the Thames and have been used to rewrite the history of London and in particular our perception of children and what toys they had access to.

This is one of a number of items that we have high hopes of being recorded at our next appointment with the Museum of London.