Garden & Gun

HAPPY AS A MUDLARK

Greetings, fellow mudlarks! You of the boots or old tennis shoes (the ones you bought two summers ago, worn out already, sacrificial footwear) sinking deeper than you may have expected or hoped for into the ever-soft foreshore. But it’s a bargain you make with the elements. Like everything else in this life, it’s about how far you’re willing to go—how dirty are you willing to get? The farther and dirtier the better: We mudlarks know this. Beachcombers are in our family tree, friendly relations, but they are not us. Those of you with no dirt beneath your fingernails, we pity you. ¶ And yet, this is interesting: Though you’ve been one off and on for most of your life, you may not even know it. You may not know what mudlarks really are. You may never have known that digging around in the mud looking for cool stuff had a name, that it was called something other than digging around in the mud looking for cool stuff. But everything has a name, and this thing we do is called mudlarking, a beautiful word for something that is essentially a muckfest, a deep dive into our silty past.

. The magic of the word doesn’t wane from repetition, but the beauty of as “a person who scavenges for usable debris in the mud of a river or harbour.” It’s a term that was coined in the latter part of the eighteenth century, in London, describing those who scratched around on the shores of the River Thames. The Thames is a tidal river. It rises and falls by up to twenty-four feet a day. And every day on its shore—the foreshore, it’s called, the part of the shore between the high and low water marks—something is seen that wasn’t seen before. Two hundred years ago in London, the children (most mudlarks were children, or robust older women) took to the water’s edge at low tide hoping to find something, anything, they could sell. By the late nineteenth century, there were almost three hundred of them, scrounging for a living in the river’s muck. Lumps of coal, rope, bones, iron, copper. The children hauled their catch up to the street and sold it for whatever they could get. But there were also incredible treasures to be found: Bronze Age swords, shields, rapiers, Roman coins.

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