Grubbing around on your knees in cold, alluvial muck might not be everybody’s idea of a great afternoon out, but Lara Maiklem weaves her life around it. Maiklem is a ‘mudlark’. She holds a permit from the Port of London Authority that allows her to scour the Thames foreshore, the area between the high and low water marks of the tidal river, for whatever flotsam and jetsam the waters might yield. In the Victorian era, mudlarks depended on selling their finds to make a living, something documented by Henry Mayhew in London Labour and the London Poor, but for Maiklem it’s a hobby that allows her to escape the clamour of the modern city and search for items of historical interest.
In this, her first book, each chapter focuses on a stretch of the river. Maiklem begins in Teddington in the west, where the tidal Thames starts, and works her way east, towards the estuary, where the river joins the