Oliver Clark talks with John Winter
I don’t use a detector so I rely on my eyes and trusty rake. I started mudlarking in late 2013, and because the three-year Thames Foreshore Permit is valid from January to December, this meant that it only covered me for just over two years. I now have a regular licence.
Despite this, that single purchase was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I’ve always had an avid interest in finding long lost items from the past and used to do field walking with my dad when I was a boy.
One of my first significant finds on the Thames was a complete Georgian wig curler. Initially I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was ‘a something’. It wasn’t until one popped up on one of the Facebook groups I realised exactly what it was.
It’s often like this; if I’m not quite sure what it is, I pick it up and identification might come months or even years later. Having said that, I try not to hoard too many things. I regularly take back bits that have outstayed their welcome in my expanding collection of overflowing Tupperware boxes.
For those of you who have never heard the term before and don’t know what an aglet is, they are decorative ornaments used at the end of points (laces) to secure a garment, and are and often found in pairs on hats, or dresses. See Ian’s Shoelace Site for more information.
The best time to go mudlarking depends very much on the tides, which means I often find myself down there in the middle of the night armed with a head torch and accompanied by a friend. I find it more magical searching at night although it can be pretty scary. It’s very easy to get cut-off from the tide, or stuck in mud, so for safety reasons it’s always essential to go with at least one other person.
Funnily enough, most of my little gold bits have been found at night. Perhaps it’s something to do with the way my torch illuminates and highlights the gold.
Take a look at the portrait of Elizabeth de Valois, Queen of Spain – 1568, and especially the jewels. Notice the ribbons tying her sleeves and skirt are tipped with long, golden pearl-set aglets.
I found my first Tudor aglet – the one on the right – on the Thames foreshore in February 2018. I can’t tell you exactly where because it’s a secret! In fact, most mudlarkers guard their findspots with secrecy because it certainly takes time to research and find each good location. I managed to find it about ten minutes in to a session. I can explain the tiny hairs you see in the picture. When I find something tiny and precious like a piece of Tudor gold, I keep it safe in my little finds box which is lovingly cushioned with toilet paper to stop any rolling around. Fibres from the toilet roll have become detached. Simple as that!
Right place at the right time
In my experience much of a good mudlarking session is down to being in the right place at the right time, and also having faith in yourself that you will find something. That’s not to say that there’s no skill. Mudlarks need to train their eyes up in their ability to spot differences in textures, shapes and colours to spot the right kinds of objects. They also need o be able to read the tides to spot when there is going to be a good night, and also learn which areas of the foreshore would potentially be the most interesting
On some nights you can literally come away with nothing despite hours of searching, which can be frustrating, particularly if your friend has found a few treasures (oh the envy)!
As a general rule of thumb I tend to avoid visiting the same place two days-in a row, and when I do find something really good I know that that’s most probably going to be my luck for the night. Not that that ever stops me from staying down there for another few hours. It’s like buying a lottery ticket only with better chance of having a win.
As a mudlark, you have to declare anything considered treasure to the local FLO (Finds Liaison Officer) who speaks to the coroner directly. For London, they’re based at the Museum of London. You then have to arrange a suitable time to hand over the find.
Non-mudlarks often ask me how much my finds are worth, and what’s the point in doing it if I have to hand over any treasure? What I find thrilling about it is the historical significance of a find or if it’s pretty, rather than monetary worth. The idea of finding something that gives us an insight into history that would have otherwise been lost is very exciting.
I thought you might be interested in the first aglet I found in 2016. It is 11mm in length, so, larger than the one I found recently, which is currently being stored in a little plastic finds bag until my meeting with the FLO!
The picture makes the 11mm Aglet look very large.
Other Tudor Gold found by Oliver
The Mudlark – 1950’s Film
Did you ever see the film ‘The Mudlark’? The 1950’s trailer for this British film classic can be seen below, and is available on UK DVD, fully digitally restored and remastered. This is a fine film that is mainly forgotten but still worth seeing, it deals with a homeless boy in Victorian London (1876) who rubs shoulders with two of the leading figures of the time – Queen Victoria and Benjamin Disraeli.
I was delighted to receive another aglet from Nottingham detectorist David Baker. He describes it as a “Tudor Silver Tag”and he found it in Lincolnshire. I thank him for sharing. It’s a cracker!
I now realise why my friends over the Pond understood what an aglet was. The TV series Phineas and Ferb was broadcast over there! As kids they must have learned by repetition.