Wednesday, 14 March 2012

It's A London Thing No.66: Mudlarking

It’s a London Thing is our Wednesday series in which we turn the spotlight on a unique aspect of London – perhaps a curious shop, sometimes an eccentric restaurant, a hidden place, book or oddity. The subject matter will be different every week. The running theme, however, will remain constant: you have to come to London to enjoy it. It’s A London Thing.

Mudlarking. It’s A London Thing

We want to take this opportunity to introduce you to Fiona, your guide.

"London Walks puts you into the hands of an expert on the particular area and topic of a tour..." The New York Times

Meet Dr. Fiona Haughey, who guides our Thames Beachcombing walks.

London Walks' Mudlarking walks are unique. They're a normal walking tour some of the time. You walk a bit, you stop, the guide points something out – something you wouldn't have noticed or understood – and talks about it. And then you walk a bit further. Stop. Something else is pointed out. And light gets shed.

The usual formula.

The difference – it's a big difference – is that on the Beachcombing outings you, the walkers, are "turned loose" at regular intervals to go and find what you can find. And what you find you pick up and take back to Fiona and she identifies it for you: explains what it is, dates it, explains how it got made, what its identifying characteristics are, what its rarity or otherwise is, etc.

That's seriously major expertise. (Of the variety the New York Times was saluting.) Seriously major expertise because often what you're showing her is just a fragment, a shard. Sometimes not much bigger than a postage stamp.

How does she do it? Well, it has to do with being the real deal. A top flight, working archaeologist with many years of experience.

Let's trot out a few of her "qualifications": UCL Ph.D.* on the prehistory of rivers. Has been on digs in Jordan, Turkey, Oman, Syria, Egypt, the Caribbean (Barbados and British Virgin Isles), the British Virgin Isles, Slovakia, Scotland (the inner Hebrides and St. Kilda), Southern England and of course in London (on both dryland sites and the Thames foreshore).

For the last few summers she's been the Object Registrar and Illustrator on the Ta'yinat Archaeological Project, a hugely important dig in southeastern Turkey. An early Bronze and Iron Age dig. Place has a very long history – it was the third most important city in the Roman Empire. it's a site that's "noted in the bible". It has a temple site that may be a forerunner of the temple in Jerusalem. They've found cuneiform tablets – one of them a complete treaty document. Bigger than A4 size, it's the only original one in existence. They've found a series of statues, including, uniquely, a complete one of a lion standing up. ("He's 1.3 metres high.") They've found gold, silver and ivory figures. They found a finely carved stone pot with a little swivel lid. In Fiona's words, "the first one got everybody leaping around – we got several of them."

She says, "when we started we were getting 300-400 objects a season. Now we're getting 700-800. The breakdown in the early stages was 75 percent of it was normal junk; 20 percent was interesting; 5 percent was real stunners. And now we're starting to reverse those figures. Much much higher percentage of major finds. Starting to get a complete new range of things – off-beat things – things that it's going to take some time to work out what they are."

And that's who you're mudlarking with when you go on a London Walks Thames Beachcombing outing.

The leading edge of this post was that New York Times quote. I think we're justified in having it be the trailing edge as well.

"London Walks puts you into the hands of an expert on the particular area and topic of a tour..." The New York Times

Mudlarking. It’s a London Thing.


A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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  1. I actually use a computer a lot. I have three computers that I use on a regular basis - one is on my desk top in my Washington office, another is at home, and I have my laptop that I use when I'm travelling. Flights to Lagos

  2. Nothing can beat a Thames foreshore walk especially with an expert, since I went on one I've been completely hooked and have started a blog of my finds, with pictures of the objects they might have come from, it is just incredible what you can find.