Monday, 24 June 2013

An Evening Mudlark

I've been keeping my eye on the tide tables and had spotted that the lowest tides of the year seem to be this week, coinciding with the summer solstice. Last night there was an amazing 0.5m,  just too low to resist. 

My first evening mudlark - I was quite excited.  As I trotted down the road conscious that most other people were winding down, sorting out their evening meal before settling down to Sunday telly, quietly preparing for the working week ahead. 

Grey clouds crowded the sky. It was surprisingly gloomy not quite the midsummer mudlark I'd envisaged. As I descended the steps I was rewarded with a huge stretch of exposed shore with two hours still to go before low tide. 

I saw Lara's silhouette down the shore and made my way over for our arranged mudlarking meet.  It was fun to share stories and great to have some Lara mudlarking tips. 

It was such a productive trip that I can't decide which is my find of the day, so I'll start off with my top four. The first is Lara's favourite, a roman or medieval tile with a small hoof print, not sure if it's a piglet, lamb or kid. After tiles were cut out and shaped they were laid out to dry before firing, which is when a few collected prints from mice, dogs or livestock. 
Mudlarking Find: Roman or Medieval Tile with hoof print
I was delighted with my first whole Bellamine face, there seem to be endless versions. This one is rather scary bearing his teeth through a distorted mouth, with bags under his strange poppy out eyes but with a rather refined nose, as my good friend Gerry later pointed out. 
Mudlarking Find: Bellamine face 1550- 1700
Bartmann Jug 1551 - 1700 (Museum of London) 
I came across what I've been hoping to find since I started mudlarking, a 7cm long wild boar's tusk. The black doesn't match the pictures of white tusks I've found on the net, perhaps the enamel has worn off, unsure of the other tooth's origin - any ideas?

Mudlarking finds: Mystery tooth & wild boar tusk.
My last find of the day is a small 1.5cm lead cloth seal. I've wanted to find one of these for ages so made up even through the imprints are very worn on one side. Lara's top tip is smear with olive oil to bring out the design. I'm hoping that now I've got my eye in for these I'll find more on future trips.

Mudlarking Find: Lead Cloth Seal 1200-  1800s. 

As ever a handful of pottery made its way into my bag. These are my favourite pieces, from left to right clockwise, hand painted tea bowl, early transferred pearlware, flow blue and green transferware. The whole lot probably spans from around 1760 - 1900s. 
Mudlarking Finds: pottery shards. 
Lara will be posting her finds shortly on her site here. Our next planned mudlark is one with a difference and will definitely  be one to remember - watch this space! 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Staffordshire Figurines 1775 onwards

I’d expected to come across a head of a china figure at some point but didn’t consider it could be a torso. I still do wonder why on earth I picked this broken old thing up. It’s a specimen of things I could never stand - china figurines, but things always seem rather more interesting when you ease them out of the mud and want to figure out what they are and the story they have to tell.  

Staffordshire figurines were produced from 1775 onwards in ‘the potteries’ a collection of six towns Burslem, Tunstall, Hanley, Fenton, Longton and Stoke, now all subsumed into Stoke on Trent.

Press moulds were used, the worker’s finger print can be seen clearly inside my find, left as they pressed the clay into the mould. Earlier figures were made with back and front moulds with features and colour all the way round. Enamel colours were painted onto the glazed figures by hand, fixed by another firing at lower temperatures, occasionally gilt was then added before a final firing.

After 1840 figures tended to be slip caste in one mould and flat backed so they could sit flush with the wall atop mantelpieces.

The emphasis was on cost. The figurines were churned out cheaply and quickly using child and women’s labour for 12 hours a day 6 days a week. There were dozens of potteries producing them. Virtually no one bothered to imprint maker’s marks.  Many potteries went out of business in this highly competitive market and sold on their moulds and stock. Therefore it’s rare you can trace particular figures to specific potteries.

What’s interesting about the figurines is the insight they provide into popular taste. They offered the middle classes an affordable alternative to the expensive porcelain figures produced by the Meissen pottery in Germany and Chelsea and Derby factories in England.

It seems the Victorians were particularly mad about these figurines. Perhaps more people had greater disposable income as the industrial revolution kicked in and production costs declined so they were within reach.

The early Georgian figurines tended to represent biblical or classical figures or romantic representations of rural life.

In Victorian times, the celebrities, venerated and events of their day were quickly caste. Likenesses were copied from prints. Purchase and display was a way of communicating your erudition, cultivation, humour and how with it you were, perhaps equivalent to the facebook likes, shares and retweets of today.

Actors and comedians seem to have been their celebrities, almost all of whom are forgotten now. Below is John Liston, apparently one of the greatest comedians of all time, he was the first comic actor to command a higher salary than a tragedian, earning the vast sum of  £60-£100 a week in 1820.  
John Liston Playing Sam Swipes at the Haymarket 1820 (V&A) 
Busts of politicians, clergy and Shakespeare were produced.

Bust of John Wesley ( 
Scenes of intrigue were represented, such as Stanfield Hall, where local notable Isaac Jeremy met his end at the hands of an illegitimate gentleman farmer’s son James Rush, as were dramatic events, such as 17 year old Ellen Bright’s death by tiger in 1850.

Death of the Lion Queen 1850 ( 
It’s not evident to me what period my find is from, she was found on the Georgian mudbank amid shards of white salt glazed plates and early Worcester Porcelain, so I suspect she’s one of the early Georgian types, a hunch backed up by her roundness and similarity to the figures below produced around 1790.
Ralph Wood Figurines C.1790 Staffordshire ( 
(thank you to V&A and Madelena Antiques for all the information on their websites which helped me piece this together). 

Friday, 7 June 2013

A Spring Mudlark and My First Coin

Back on part time wages and back on the bus. Low mists of cow parsley edge the parks. Above, horse chestnuts are dressed with white candles. Trees still hold the lime green haze of spring before they deepen into the green of summer. This time I noticed the Council block's lawns with their daises and buttercups squared off with black railings. We pass traffic lights and lamp posts covered in flowers wrapped in cellophane, tributes to someone killed in a traffic accident. Then the streets narrow, the height of buildings increase and you'd no longer know it was spring. Just tarmac, glass, metal and stone - albeit rather grand.

There were so many people down on the foreshore, the Thames Discovery crew measuring,  documenting and considering old archaeological features, a large group of kids, solitary souls, a gaggle of friends and kids with their families. I wasn't expecting to find much. I reckoned most stuff would have been scooped up after a series of low tides, a bank holiday weekend and half term. 

It was a pleasure to meet 11 year old Kane and his mum Sarah, all the way down from Merseyside for a mudlark. Whilst his friends immerse themselves in PS3s, minecraft and youtube Kane's out digging in bottle dumps. Kane kept me company for a while telling me what he'd found in the past and what he'd like to find. Keen to find some Tudor pins, it was nice to be able to show him where to look and how to find them. Turned round and there was Florida Tom, back in England for 6 weeks of mudlarking. Very good to meet up with him again. 

Fortunately Tom and Kane kept me mooching around one particular spot and just when I thought this was definitely my worst mudlark ever I found my first coin - well apart from a Russian Kopek and 2p - very excited. I didn't care that it was battered, thin and worn - it all added to its charm and it sparkled!

Mudlarking Find George II Copper Farthing

It's a George II copper farthing minted  between 1734-1754. I can't make out whether the date is the 30s or 50s. A crown of leaves (laureate) tops George's head and he wears Roman military dress in the classical style. On the reverse is Britannia, the Latin name for Roman Britain, who first appeared on British coins in  1672 and was only omitted from the 2008 redesign, much to the annoyance of the Daily Mail. 

Masses of fakes were also produced, the wording or 'legend' was often different so the counterfeiters could escape prosecution. Given I can't make out whether it reads  GEORGIUS.II.Rex and on the reverse BRITAN NIA no idea whether it's a genuine or not - quite like the idea it might be a fake. I wonder what it last bought? 

George II Farthing (AH Baldwin and Sons) 
On my way back I found a couple of nice delft shards,

Mudlarking Find: Delft Shard

Mudlarking Find Polychrome Delft Shard Early 1700s
A couple of salts reckoned by Christies to be from 1720 and from Vauxhall, deploy similar colours and painting techniques to the one above. 
Delftware Salts possibly from Vauxhall 1720 (Christies) 

My other vaguely interesting find I'll keep for a separate post. As I left it started to rain. Ran for the bus and just managed to get home in time to help husband and youngest pack for our imminent holiday, which went some way to appeasing my rather irritated husband - who wasn't too happy that I'd absconded down to the Thames.