Lara Maiklem introduced me to a whole new world in Mudlark: In Search of London’s Past Along the River Thames. Not that I haven’t been to London. I have. She takes readers specifically to the foreshore of Britain’s iconic Thames, with all of its quirks and eccentricities. And then she digs in the mud or looks carefully for things popping up through it.
A journey to the foreshore isn’t about traveling to that place. It’s about exploring various eras in the past. And, as Maiklem explains, certain spots offer up different eras and unique tidbits. Some mudlarks search for old coins, others for bottles or long pins. If you’re really lucky, you might find a shoe or boot from centuries past. There are all kinds of options. Yes, even body parts make a brief appearance in her narrative.
And the way Maiklem tells all this is beyond charming. Even though I admit digging around in the mud isn’t my idea of a relaxing hobby. She imagines how that shoe happened to arrive in her eyesight on the foreshore. Or she explains the entire purpose behind coins and tokens used in taverns. It’s not just to buy a pint of ale, but more colorful and complicated.
So, this book delivers history, archaeology, even some social commentary. And don’t forget the story of tides and current along the Thames, which are capricious and complex. I also loved her interjections of personal details—her mother, her partner and kids. She gives readers context while still completely focusing on mudlarking.
I read this for a nonfiction book group I’m in online. And when the group picked it, I was skeptical. But this is why book groups add so much to my reading life. I enjoyed this book considerably more than I expected to.
Maiklem imparts gobs of information without a professorial tone. She leans more to the excited and amazed attitude of “I still can’t believe I found this.” Mudlark includes a small course in preserving relics as well. Bringing something old safely out of the mud is considerably more complicated that it seems.
At a time when traveling is rare, Maiklem offered me the chance to get away from my own four walls. That is invaluable right now. If you’d like a real-life adventure with drama of discovery, this is a wonderful choice.
And because her stories connect back to Romans, Saxons, and Danes, I plan to dive into at least one of the Viking-related history books on my shelves. I think some London-based historical fiction, like Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell, sounds like a perfect pair as well. Equally good would be the also very city-centric Paris history: City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris by Holly Tucker.