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Hidden Histories from the River Thames

Malcolm Russell, Matthew Williams-Ellis


The first illustrated book on mudlarking that tells the captivating stories of forgotten people through objects recovered from the river Thames

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Combining insights from 200 eclectic objects discovered on the Thames foreshore, meticulous historical research and contextual illustrations, Mudlark’d uncovers the hidden histories of forgotten people from all over the world. Beginning in each case with a particular find, Malcolm Russell tells the stories of the people who owned, made or used such objects, revealing the habits, customs and crafts not only of those living in London but also of those passing through, from continental Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia.

In the 18th and 19th centuries London was the busiest port in the world, exchanging goods, ideas, people and power with every continent. The Thames long acted as London’s water source, shipyard, thoroughfare and rubbish dump. Its banks have been densely packed with taverns, brothels, markets and workplaces, and scavengers – known as mudlarks - have scoured them since at least the 18th century. Consequently, the Thames today offers a repository of intriguing objects that evoke ways of life long forgotten. A delicate bone hair pin uncovers the story of Roman ornatrices - enslaved hairdressers. A counterfeit coin reveals the heritage of millions of Australians. Glass beads expose the brutal dynamics of the transatlantic slave trade. Clay tobacco pipes uncover the lives of Edwardian women parachutists and Victorian magicians. A scrap of Tudor cloth illuminates the stories of Dutch and French religious refugees.

The book also includes a primer, giving step-by-step advice on how to mudlark on tidal rivers and how to identify commonly made finds.


'Absorbing … [a] magnificent book … beautifully illustrated'
Mail on Sunday

'Surprisingly beautiful and poignant … No matter how humble, each [artefact] is artfully photographed against slimy-green stones or driftwood. Indeed Mudlark’d is both incentive and guide to any budding time traveller'
Jacqueline Riding, The Art Newspaper

'[An] impressively illustrated and researched volume'
Colin Thubron, The New York Review of Books

'Lavishly illustrated ... a globally-minded artefact-led exploration of the lives of "forgotten people" from Britain and beyond ... stunning foreshore photography'
Current Archaeology

'Stunningly illustrated'
World of Interiors

'Take[s] us on a journey of historical imagination … The book is itself a thing of beauty, with handsome illustrations and Matthew Williams-Ellis’s foreshore photographs that help us take off on flights of fancy'
Country Life

'Highly original and compelling'

'A beautiful new book'
Book and Film Globe

'What a tome! What an attention grasping delight! What an inspiration to don my larkin’ gear and catch the next falling tide! My enthusiasm for the hobby is re-born and I am rejuvenated! … This is a book that deserves, even demands, a thorough browsing on the evening before every future visit you embark on down to the Great River. Buy your copy soon!'
Ted Fletcher, The Searcher

'The perfect reference book'
Treasure Hunting

'An outstanding book from several points of view: a handsome, well-crafted artefact, intelligently designed, printed on tight-weave matte paper rather than tacky gloss paper, written with skilful research and imagination, and garnished with evocative foreshore photographs by Matthew Williams-Ellis … I highly recommend this book'
Fortean Times

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Quarterbound (no jacket)

Size: 26.0 x 18.0 cm

Extent: 224 pp

Illustrations: 417

Publication date: 21 April 2022

ISBN: 9780500024225

Contents List

1. Immigrants and Enslaved People
2. Criminals
3. Intimates
4. Believers
5. Entertainers
6. Queer Folk
7. Addicts
8. Traders
9. Fighters
A Mudlarking Primer
Further Reading

About the Author

Malcolm Russell studied history at the University of Sheffield where he was also more recently an Honorary Research Fellow of the history department. He first started unearthing objects from the past thirty-five years ago while excavating Victorian household tips. He now connects with his passion for the past through mudlarking on the foreshore of the River Thames. He is one of the most popular mudlarks on social media, and has contributed to publications such as Treasure Hunting, The Searcher and Beachcombing. He lives in east London.