I wish I could be there to join Steve…I love finding stuff! What would we find along the banks of our local waterways? Imagine! ~JB
In London, the Thames has always been the natural receptacle for concealing and disposing things, creating a miry hoard of secrets, all just waiting for Steve Brooker, the mudlark, to come along and snaffle them up. Over the last seventeen years while he has been searching, the mud has been eroded by wash from the Thames Clippers, exposing an unprecedented level of finds that compel Steve to come mudlarking several times each week at low tide and be the first to see what has been newly revealed.
Steve is widely known as the Mud God—which seemed a little far fetched to me—until I saw him striding towards me eagerly in his chest-high bespattered waders, clutching his yellow plastic bucket and trowel. Over six feet tall with a grizzled beard and intense, glittering eyes, he was as excited to get down onto the beach as a child on the first day of the Summer holiday. Only someone with Steve’s natural authority can carry off such unmediated enthusiasm naturally. He is a man who is confident of his place in the world, and that place is the foreshore of the Thames.
We came down the slipway as the tide fell towards its lowest ebb. The day was mild yet occluded, and my heart lifted as I was released from city streets into a vast open space, the domain of water and sky. The territory of the Mud God. He understands the idiosyncrasies of the tide, and the nuances of the mud banks and the river bed. As well as coins and buttons, he finds Roman shoes, Medieval pins, eighteenth century witches’ bottles, nineteenth century lovers’ tokens, twentieth century voodoo dolls, live bombs and new guns – and sometimes he find human bodies too. He knows where to look and he does not need a metal detector because he has sharp eyes.
Helen Mirren’s Ring
When Helen Mirren lost her ring throwing her grass clippings over the river wall from her Wapping garden, it was Steve who found it for her in the river. When villains throw handguns and sawn-off shot guns into the river at Woolwich to lose them forever, it is Steve who collects them and hands them to the police—he found fifteen recently.
Mudlarks tend to work in pairs for safety’s sake on this hazardous river and I had the privilege to be Steve’s partner in slime for a day. And I was happy to be in his company because Steve is a member of the Society of Thames Mudlarks, has a licence from the Port of London Authority and has the necessary experience to judge the treacherous movement of the tide against the access points to the shore.