Thursday, 17 April 2014


Seven months later and it's finished. Hour upon happy hour ensconced in the shed, slowly assembling this manifestation of mudlarking passion. Immersed in music in a way I haven't had the luxury of doing since I was a teenager, from opera to Rudimental, I've been in heaven. 

Whilst the mosaic is essentially a copy of  Emma Bigg's mudlarking mosaic, as I became more confident I've gone off piste, keeping religiously to her pattern but improvising. The most daring is this central slash of green glazed shards surrounding a wave of glass bottle tops and bottoms, some possibly dating from the 16th Century, although more likely from 17th century onwards. The oldest thing on the board is probably a deeply incised section of strap handle likely to have been made in Kingston in medieval times.

I had to slip in a few mudlarking classics. No mudlarking mosaic could be complete without a gurning Bartmann face, slotted in another section of salt glazed stoneware, 

originating from one of these. 

Saltglazed Bartmann Jug 1485-1714 Freshen Germany (Museum of London) 

Tucked in a corner above the creamware teapot spouts is the foot of a pipkin or skillet, still dusted with smoke from the charcoal it sat upon hundreds of years ago, with a smidgen of green glaze, the earliest form of coloured glaze used in Britain. 

It perhaps graced the bottom of a vessel similar to this

Surrey Hampshire ware skillet 1566-1700 (Museum of London) 

Elsewhere are the tops of green Tudor pottery money boxes used to collect entrance fees to theatres and some archetypal naive hand painted delft patterns, 

probably made in London and likely to have come from dishes akin
 to this
London Delft Dish 1680 (Christies) 

A mudlarking mosaic didn't seem quite right without one more section of delft, this time the more unusual polychrome type.

A cat's paw print caught forever in a medieval tile is fenced in by twisted creamware handles, possibly from a teapot. 

Or perhaps from something really posh like this punch pot or a Wedgwood melon tureen. 

Creamware Punch Pot 1765-1780 (historic new england) 

Right at the top are those marvelous shards  of iridescent glass you find along the Thames, their patina the sign of glass aged by several centuries. 

Tantalising snatches of writing on stoneware give clues to their story, a collection of ink pots, German mineral bottles, a Whites lemonade bottle and a few mysteries.   

To my surprise transferware is only marginally represented. A line of my favourite floral fragments highlights a row of clay pipe bowls standing to attention, with my collection of bartmann beards beneath. 

The early morning sun flooding through the shed windows illuminates the bottoms of three delft drug jars from the 17th century interspersed with large sections of dining plates, 

jars which would have looked something like this, 

London Delft Drug Jar 1650 - 1700 (Christies) 

So here it is, propped up against the shed wall. Fragments from around 1,500 objects belonging to 1,500 people living in London or visiting, over 7 centuries. Some treasured some hardly noticed, between them travelling hundreds of thousands of miles, telling stories of trade, human innovation and technical advancement, fashion and our desire for beautiful things. 

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Mudlarking Mosaic - 3/4 way through

Visually this pipe section would have looked better if I'd orientated the pipes so they cascaded in a more higglety pigglety way with their bowl mouths open to the viewer, as in Emma Bigg's original mosaic. Instead illuminating the history won out. Lined up in date order lie 50% of the types of clay pipe produced. Starting with the small ones from the 1610 on the right and ending with the large spurred pipes made until the 1840s, positioned so it's easy to see their development over the centuries. Their spurs, different types of feet with or without initials  are all exposed.  I couldn't quite bring myself to cement in any of my decorated relief pipes. 

And then the view from the top, which once on the wall will never be seen. 

Rather chuffed how this line of Westerwald turned out, its deep cobalt blue creating such  a strong impression. The epitome of German domination of 17th and early 18th Century European ceramics, with its precise moulded reliefs and careful incised patterns executed by hand and perfectly glazed.

To the right, purposely included one of the drilled mother of pearl 'shards' I've picked up along the Thames, in this section of iridescent discarded worked pieces. 

The Westerwald shards most likely came from tankards and jugs

Westerwald Jug 1702-1714  with moulded relief design (prices4antiques)

Westerwald Mug 17th C (Crocker Farm) 
Westerwald Jug circa 1730 with incised patterns made by hand (Martyn Edgell) 
Again copying Ms Biggs mosaic, I've included a row of large chunks of 19th century utilitarian English stoneware, the remains of ink bottles and other storage vessels. The impressed writing reveals a Derbyshire bottle produced by Bourne (a longer post on this can be found here) and the neat lettering of Stephen Green's Imperial Pottery in Lambeth, the centre of English saltglazed stoneware pottery from the mid 17th - mid 19th century.

'The imperial pottery in Princes Street Lambeth places Mr Stephen Green amongst the foremost.. The variety of its productions comprises jugs, garden vases and figures, water pipes, filtering machines and vessels for chemical purposes..About seventy persons are employed on the premises; and the consumption of materials amounts to one thousand tons of clay, one hundred of sand, twenty tons of burnt flint and Cornwall stone, twelve tons of salt and eight hundred tons of coal annually...The business was begun nearly 60 years ago' (E W Brayley 1841).

I haven't been able to track down the the origin of 'Waterlow London'. 

Complete Bourne Ink Bottle (Museum of London) 

The hand painted blue and red laced with gold, Japanese Imari porcelain (1650-1750) is scattered through this next section. A previous post about its history can be found here.

and to end - a large chunk of the will be finished in another month or so mosaic. 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Hammered Coins

Finally I seem to be getting the knack of finding the small and metal. It's true what the other mudlarkers say, you just need to get down on your knees and search small patches of foreshore. It was the first time I'd brought along proper knee pads and  this time I made myself search for a couple of hours. Previously I'd got a bit bored, preferring the ambling of beach combing. I'm also shocked by how difficult I find the systematic searching (with my eyes) between all the pebbles and muck. It takes a lot of  concentration. I often find myself drifting off and not really looking, similar to reading the words in a book but not taking in the meaning.

I was rewarded though with this tiny (around 1cm) paper thin medieval silver penny. The surround has disappeared, either eroded over time or slivers of the valuable silver were snipped, a common practice in this era. The surround holds the writing used to date these coins, so I suspect this one is impossible to date. I believe it could be anything from 1300-1500. 

This one is rather worn but you can just make out the crown, face and hair on the left.

Mudlarking find medieval silver penny

I met Nick, mudlarker for 35 years, on the foreshore yesterday who kindly tried to id the coin for me. Apparently up until Henry VIII they didn't go in for likenesses, so a stylised crowned and wavy haired king stares out from the front on all of them. A cross sections the reverse, three dots cluster in each section  (or pellets as they called by the numismatists). In this instance there is a rose shape with a dot in the middle, the 'proper' term is quatrefoil which means 'four leaves' - what a surprise. 

Coins with quatrefoil seem to be less common. I've found a few similar coins on the net and posted a couple below, one is from Richard II another Edward IV, another Henry IV and V and quite a few from Henry VI, so clearly the flower thing doesn't help much in dating. 

Henry V1 1421- 1471 - Silver Hammered Penny (ebay) 
It's difficult to estimate the value of a penny in today's money. However, according to Wiki answers 6 pennies bought you a sheep in medieval times. A penny would buy you roughly what  £10-£15 will buy in today's money. 

Richard II  (1367- 1400) silver hammered penny (historyincoins) 
Hammered coins were produced by hammermen or moneyers who belonged to one of the medieval guilds. They placed thin metal on one die which was usually embedded into  some kind of stand and then whacked it with another. The dies were metal and engraved with the image to be transposed onto the coin.

Detail from a wall in  Rostock (Wiki) 
In the early medieval period each large town had their own moneyer, but as time went on fewer and fewer cities minted coins, until eventually they were all minted at the Tower of London. By the middle of the 17th century hammered coins were no long made, as machined made milled coins became the new currency.  

Friday, 24 January 2014

Stuck at home not mudlarking

Rain and being a responsible mother is keeping me away from the Thames for a good month. Growl. So as I'm not in the shed mosaicing tonight and a bunch of big teens have commandeered the TV room I'll spend a while finishing off this post with a few finds from my last mudlark. The first is part of a cartouche from a bellamine jug. Interestingly London Mudlark found one very similar shortly after I picked this up. Someone ventured it bore Amsterdam's coat of arms. 

Mudlarking find: salt glazed cartouche 1550-1700
A very worn decorated pipe, the same ghostly sleep walking figure appearing on both sides. There are surprising few pictures of decorated pipes on the web so have not a clue what this might  be, hoping Richard might be able to help out.  

Just love this large chunk of green glazed pottery. I'm always rather moved by seeing the decoration someone has pinched with their finger tips hundreds of year ago. It is unusually refined, does this mean it it was produced in France or is it the more recent (1550-1700) Surrey Hampshire Border Ware? I really am rubbish at identifying the different types of green glazed ceramic, so I'll be taking this down to the Thames Discovery identification session on 4 Feb for some expert advice from Jacqui Pearce the pottery czar from the Museum of London Archaeology.   

And finally the oldest pipe I have ever found 1580 - 1620, it's weeny and next to a whopper from the 1770s. 
Mudlarking finds: clay pipes L 1770s and R 1580

Friday, 3 January 2014

Mudlarking Mosaic - Half Way There

As a child I knew every picture in every book in my childhood home, every object in every cupboard, every ornament in my grandparent's house. I was particularly captivated by detail and if there was some secret to be found in an image even better. So it's been enjoyable piecing together sections of mosaic with a few secrets of their own. In one section close inspection reveals the relief tongue flicking and roaring lions of Westerwald jugs and chamber pots. 

Produced in Germany from the 16th Century. They were imported to England in volume. These little beasties were probably impressed between 1650 - 1700

Westerwald Chamber Pot 17th C (Croker Farm)
Westerwald Jug (Christies) 
More intricate details can be found in the sections of salt glazed stoneware, largely originating from medallions on Bartmann Jugs again imported in huge quantities from Germany, often holding wine. By 1600 100,000 pieces of German Stoneware were imported into Britain a year, when the population of London was only 200,000 and Britain's population was under 5 million. 

Bellarmine (or Bartmann Jug) C 1580 (Martyn Edgell) 
A watery mosaic needs a few boats, in this instance topped by a sky of small shards of flowered flow blue, a type of transfer ware where the cobalt blue 'flows' into the white body, produced from 1820. 

Next onto the really tricky bit, well tricky if you don't possess or haven't found the right equipment to cut clay pipes in half or in sections. Unfortunately very easy to shatter, so these sections take ages, but I love their effect. No credit can come to me as again I'm just copying Emma Brigg's mosaic. 

I did manage one innovation however. I couldn't have created a mudlarking mosaic without mother of pearl, found in abundance in one section of the foreshore. There must have been one or more workshops set up along the Thames to inlay the mollusc's creamy secretions into furniture or jewelry. The photo doesn't quite do it justice as you can imagine when it catches the light it's blooming lovely. The long ribbon of pipes and cream ceramic above took a mind boggling three days to put together. 

And finally another 'chunk' coming together.

Back to work next week, I'm going to miss my long absorbing shed sessions. 

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Mid winter mudlarking

Almost our shortest day, the sun didn’t rise until after 8am. Son out the door delighted it’s the last day of term and off I waddle in wellie boots with mudlarking rucksack, to lower the tone of the train bearing city workers.

What a glorious day, the reflective light was almost blinding on the foreshore.  

Bumped into Jason and linked up with London Mudlarker. A lovely lead cloth seal, my find of the day,  softened the blow of losing my first ever jetton a few weeks ago. It had slipped through a hole in my bag. That will teach me. The small and metal require  a different storage strategy, the casual bung them in a plastic bag will no longer do.

Fortunately the jetton hadn’t washed away and was found a week later by one of the Thames Discovery crew. So you can fully commiserate with my loss, you can see it in all its glory via  this link.

So, the lead cloth seal. It’s big and complete with lots of clues. A crown on the front, with something else beneath perhaps a shield/coat of arms.  

Mudlarking Find: Cloth Seal possibly from late 15th Century
On the reverse is a small rose and what looks like lettering an ‘A’, ‘H’ – can’t tell. 

Then on the band is a little star or sun (top left hand side). 

I've found a similar one on the portable antiquities scheme site here. It could date from as far back as 1474. The time of all that Renaissance art in Florence. 

Annunciation Leonardo da Vinci 1473-1475

In England the war of the roses was in full swing and and Edward IV was on the throne

Edward IV (Wiki) 
and was the decade when William Caxton established his printing press in London. There were 3 million people in England. 

Earlier I’d found one of those cute tiny money box tops dating from Shakespeare’s time. 

Mudlarking Find: Money box top from 1580 - 1620

They are associated with theatres, many were found when the Rose theatre was excavated in Southwark London.   Entrance fees would be collected in the box. The coins could only be extracted by breaking the pottery money box. It is thought these small globular vessels gave their name to the 'box office'. 
16th or 17th Century Surrey Border ware Money Box (Museum of London) 

It was the also a day of delft. An unusual piece with vivid polychrome on both sides, I suspect this might be Italian Fience (tin glaze) rather than English delft. 

Followed by a plate shard with  crude chequered pattern

And part of a delft picture tile.

And then I came across a little fella

Finally went off to collect more pipes, white china and shell edged pearlware for the mosaic. I hope to spend a few days over the holiday period ensconced in that shed, a hectic period of work having enforced a fortnight’s break.

Met up with Jason again, he had kindly pocketed this hand painted shard knowing I’m a sucker for those smashed bits of pottery.

I also snuffled up a few pieces of a mudlarker’s caste offs, the thin delicate handpainted neck of Chinese export porcelain my favourite.

Then off for a post mudlarking coffee and cake with London Mudlaker, passing the guy who has spent the last year decorating chewing gum with enamels all the way along the Millennium bridge.

As we gazed at St Pauls and watched a traditional  tug boat  pull it’s load of  yellow metal crates up the river, we eulogised about London. We’re both so pleased that this  mudlarking passion pulls us down to London’s  belly so regularly.

I decided to weave  through the back streets and alleys to Moorgate. Slanted winter light misted side streets . Every few minutes I came across another slender white church,  slices of old London preserved between rising walls of ultra modern office blocks. It was busy with city workers on their way to Christmas lunches.  Restaurants were full of large sedate groups, a few brave enough to wear their paper crowns in primary colours. Tables were laid with Christmas crackers and big wine glasses ready to welcome the next party. Enormous baubled Christmas trees stood behind the sheets of curved class which show off those minimalist cavernous company entrances. They almost softened them. Christmas really is the only festival London fully celebrates. Up to now I hadn’t felt the slightest bit Christmassy, but something stirred in me as I wandered through those narrow streets with all the Christmas glitter. Decided to come back one evening to really soak up the romance of  London at Christmas.