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May 29, 2024 14 mins

Mudlarking is a uniquely British hobby, though you can dig through river mud anywhere there's a river. But the Thames has the good stuff. 

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to the short stuff. I'm josh, there's shock, We
got a clam diggers on and we're ready to go
to do a little mud larking, which just happens to
be the subject of this short stuff. Have you ever
heard of this term? I want to say yes, but
sometimes my brain makes up memories just to be cool.

Speaker 2 (00:26):
I'm not sure I would assume that etymology edic even
look it up, because I just assumed that mud larking
was just having a lark in the mud. It's got
to be it, right, Or.

Speaker 1 (00:39):
Maybe you flitter about from one place to another like
a lark in the mud. Okay, I like them both.
Can we both win like a soccer game? Sure? I
love it.

Speaker 2 (00:50):
I love it. Mud larking is a thing that we're
talking about that. It's a term you probably hear in
England more readily and specifically even maybe London. Originally in
the eighteenth or nineteenth century, and back then it was
basically when people of lesser means would walk along the

(01:11):
mud banks at low tide of the river Thames.

Speaker 1 (01:14):
It's Thames right, Thames, Thames.

Speaker 2 (01:18):
Thames, the Thames and collect stuff to try and sell.

Speaker 1 (01:23):
Yeah, everything from little bits of rope to coins. If
they were lucky, anything somebody would buy. That's how some
people actually supported themselves in the nineteenth century. Fast forward
to today, I'm guessing starting around the seventies, maybe the eighties.
Now it's just a pastime. I don't think anybody supports

(01:44):
themselves mudlarking any longer. It's just a hobby, akin to
people who are beachcombers with metal detectors on.

Speaker 2 (01:52):
The bill, or like magnet fishing.

Speaker 1 (01:54):
Yes, similar to that. We actually did a short stuff
on that, remember that. Yeah, this is like that, but
there are definite nuances that distinguish it from either one
of those two things.

Speaker 2 (02:05):
Yeah. And the reason why this has become a pastime
or i guess a sort of a hobby now on
the Thames is because the Thames was a garbage dumping
ground for many, many years. People would just you know,
we did our thing on New York City trash and
how previous to trash collection, people would just dump it
on the sidewalks and in the rivers there in New York.

(02:27):
They did the same thing in London and it was
a junky, nasty polluted river until about you know, sixty
something years ago, when they took great, great efforts to
really clean up that river, and now apparently, at least
as far as urban rivers goes, it's one of the
cleanest ones, right, But there is still because it happened

(02:48):
for so many years, and because so much happened in
London over those years, there's just you know, thousands of
years of potential gold and sometimes real gold in those
muddy banks.

Speaker 1 (03:02):
Yeah, because a lot of people have lived densely in
the London area on the Thames for like you said,
multiple thousands of years. So there's just a lot of
stuff there that separates the Thames in and of itself
from other rivers. But one of the other things that
really makes the Thames so great for mudlarking is the
tidal action that it goes through every day, four times

(03:24):
a day. Two high tides two low tides are so
pronounced that when low tide goes out, it exposes a
tremendous amount of the Thames to open air for people
to walk around and look for stuff. That's part one.
The other part is that when the tide comes back in,
it comes back in with such force that it actually

(03:44):
can scour the river bottom deposit stuff up on what
will soon be the shore at low tide, and then
when the water goes back out there you go oppressed
of something that was thrown in the river five hundred
years ago is now at your feet mudlarker.

Speaker 2 (04:00):
That's right, and if you remember. Actually, I don't know
if this has kind of come out before that with
how our publishing works, but there's a thing that we
either discussed or will discuss in our No, I think
it's already out actually our episode on the Silurian hypothesis.
Then it came out today, and that is the fact
that something stuck down in mud can survive in better shape,

(04:21):
much much longer than something subjected to the forces of
wind and erosion and things like that. So a lot
of the stuff that these mudlarkers are finding in the
mud on the Thames is in great shape.

Speaker 1 (04:33):
Yeah, for sure. I mean like really really old stuff.
I saw somebody who found a tutor shoe and it
was in such great shape that you could see where
like the person wearing at their heel or like the
side of their big toe had like shaped the shoe
around it. Those impressions were still there.

Speaker 2 (04:52):
Isn't They had a corn.

Speaker 1 (04:55):
Or maybe even a bunyon. If you're a lucky mud
larker and you find a tutor shoe, we.

Speaker 2 (04:59):
Should do a short corns and bunions. Sure, all right,
So if you are in England and you want to
do this before the break, we should tell you that
you do need a permit. You have to get a
permit from the Port of London Authority. Apparently it takes
about a month or longer and we'll cost you about
about thirty five quid and you will get a standard

(05:19):
license to dig about three inches deep. You can't go
in there with your shovel or your backo and dig
like six eight feet down. You just can't do that.
You still want to not disturb the Thames that much.
They're trying to protect that thing, so you can go
about three inches down.

Speaker 1 (05:36):
Okay, Well, let's take a break and we'll come back
and talk about some amazing stuff that people have found.

(06:06):
All right, Chuck, you talked about digging maybe three inches
down tops. I've seen there's some places where you can't
dig it all, but you can pick stuff up if
it's sitting on the surface of the mud bank right
the foreshore is what they call it. But there are
other parts along the Thames where you can't even go.
They're protected like cultural sites the Tower of London. You

(06:29):
can't mudlark along. There's a Roman doc area that was
later developed by Alfred the Great and the Seven Hundreds,
and that was later used by Charles the Second and
to survey the damage of the Great Fire of London
in sixteen sixty six, called Queen hythe I don't know
if I got that right or not, but that's how
it's That's how it's spelled, at least if you're an American.

(06:50):
That's what you would say if you saw this word
spell out like this? Am I getting that across? I think? So, okay,
it's just such a cultural treasure and an archaeological site essentially.
If they're like, don't even go near.

Speaker 2 (07:01):
This, that's right. But let's say my friend, you're mudlarking
there on the Thames. You pull something out and you're like, oh,
this might be worth a well treasure. What would you
do with that item?

Speaker 1 (07:18):
I would go on eBay and sell it.

Speaker 2 (07:22):
But you can't do that.

Speaker 1 (07:25):
Well, let's see what else can I do? I would
hide it under my bed for a decade until the
heat went down.

Speaker 2 (07:31):
No that's not what you're going to do either, what
you're supposed to do. They have laws in England that
basically said they like these treasure laws where hey, if
you find something like that, something from antiquity that's worth,
something that belongs to the people of England, my friend,
and you have to go to the fines liaison officer
and you have to give it to them and they

(07:53):
will help you identify and determine what that is and
what it's worth. And do you sell it? No, no, no,
they have to record it in their Portable Antiquities Scheme,
which is basically a British museum project that just keeps
track of all that stuff. And then finally, if it
does have value, a museum has the right to buy

(08:15):
that and you could potentially be compensated for that.

Speaker 1 (08:17):
Sure. And then if they're like this is totally valueless,
get this out of our face, you get to keep
ebe sure if you can find a chump who wants
this extraordinarily common thing. Apparently clay pipes from like the
sixteenth century are a dime a dozen in the tens nothing. Yeah,
And the reason why, I mean, you look at these things,
you're like that seems like that's a pretty cool archaeological find.

(08:40):
It's not, because at the time, starting from about the
fifteen hundreds onward, they were essentially treated like cigarette butts
are today. Like you've just finished using the pipe and
you just throw it, like you just throw it at
ever use. Yes, from what I saw orf, or maybe
a couple of uses, whenever you got tired of carrying
it around. Okay, And probably I would guess have formerly

(09:00):
smoked a pipe at two separate times in my life, right,
I would say that you probably tossed it when it
started to get gummed up with like tar.

Speaker 2 (09:10):
Yeah, yeah, yeah, that makes sense. I think they had
pretty little thin stem, so it probably got gumped.

Speaker 1 (09:16):
Up pretty quick. Probably.

Speaker 2 (09:18):
So before we get onto what we really want to
talk about, which is some of the cool stuff they
found in the Thames, we should say to be careful.
This is something you want to get into. That tidal
action is pretty severe. It can come in pretty quickly,
and sometimes you're just so into what you're doing out
there in the mud that you might look up and
be like, oh, krad, I'm now stranded here and the
water is coming at me. And there have been people

(09:41):
who had to been rescued. That are mudlarking out there
because the water's coming at them.

Speaker 1 (09:45):
Yeah. Some other hazards are You can slip on rocks
because they're wet and covered in algae, so you want
to be careful walking around. You also want to wear gloves,
You want to wear boots. You do not want to
wear clam diggers. Like I said, you want to kind
of keep your skin covered as best as possible. Because
there's all sorts of communicable diseases you can catch still

(10:06):
by digging around on the Thames Foreshore. One of them
is called Wheels disease and it is transmitted through water
via rat urine. It's transmitted from rat urine via water.
Either way, rat urine's involved in your getting a disease
from it. You don't want that.

Speaker 2 (10:23):
I'm surprised there are rats in London.

Speaker 1 (10:25):
Yeah. What else?

Speaker 2 (10:28):
Well, I think we should talk about some of the
things they found, because you know, we could go on
and on about these. I just picked out a few.
I don't know if you found any other ones, but
for my money, I would love to talk about the
Doves Press typeface or the Doves type or Doves Roman
because it was an actual typeface that was found and

(10:50):
recovered from the Thames, a long lost, forgotten, well not forgotten,
but a long lost typeface from this company called the
Doves Press, and it was co owned and I believe
it was the early twentieth century. It was a guy
named TJ. Cobden Sanderson and Emery Walker, and apparently they

(11:11):
dissolved their partnership. Eventually the press closed in nineteen seventeen.
When they were dissolving the partnership, they came up with
an agreement where Cobden Sanderson was like, that typeface is mine.
This is what we print all our stuff in. When
I die, then you can have it. I'm assuming he
was older, but I'm not sure why Walker would agree

(11:33):
to that, unless CS was a little closer to death.
But at any rate, that was what happened after the
final publication CS. Apparently it just did not go down
well between them, and he said, I bequeathed the spot
to the bed of the Thames, and over one hundred
and seventy trips threw these metal molds into the river.

Speaker 1 (11:56):
Yeah, two hundred thousand pieces. He threw the Tire proprietary
typeface into the Thames, and there were no other copies
of it. So this beautiful typeface that there are plenty
of examples of because this publishing house that used it
was around for a while, it was just lost forever.
And that really got in the crawl of a modern
designer named Robert Green, who, based on examples of it

(12:20):
from like books or something like that, created a digitized
version of it. But he was like, this can be better.
And I'm not sure if he got into mud larking
or to find these type I'm not sure what you
call them, the little dye that you would actually use
to on the printing press, the molds, the molts, or
if he ran across mudlarkers who had found him or something.

(12:44):
But he became you could probably say, obsessed with finding
these original molds and did he launched like some expeditions
on the temps to find him. He came up with
like one hundred and fifty or so of them and
used them to really drive home the digitized version of
doves type that he created.

Speaker 2 (13:05):
Yeah, do you know what he did in twenty fourteen
He got the Port Authority Port of London Authorities dive
team to go get this stuff.

Speaker 1 (13:13):
Yeah, pretty neat.

Speaker 2 (13:15):
And they did it, and now we have Doves Roman again.
And as you know, I'm a Times New Roman guy.
We each have our fonts that we print our various
stuff in, and I've always been a Times New Roman guy.
But boy, this Dove's Roman is beautiful.

Speaker 1 (13:28):
Yeah, I love it. Give me Calibri or give me death.

Speaker 2 (13:33):
There's more things that people have found. That was the
coolest story, so you can just go check it out
and look up more things that have been found mudlarking.
A lot of cool old things from antiquity.

Speaker 1 (13:43):
Yep, very cool. And if this you got the mudlarking
bug and you go to London, make sure you get
a permit first. And I guess since we talked about permits,
the means short Stuff's out. Stuff you should Know is
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