If you want to take up mudlarking on the Thames Foreshore there are some important things you need to know. First and foremost, you’ll need to become familiar with the Port of London Authority (PLA), the body that looks after and manages 95 miles of the river Thames from the Thames Estuary to Teddington Lock. The PLA is also responsible for providing services to shipping, maintaining river channels, navigation, moorings, lights and buoys.
Since the beginning of 2017 it is now illegal to mudlark, ie search and remove items from the Thames Foreshore, without a current permit. You will need to apply to the PLA in order to buy one. Permit information here
The Standard permit is sufficient for most uses with the more advanced Mudlark permit only issued to members of the Thames Mudlark Society.
As a general rule, there are fewer mudlarking restrictions on the south bank of the Thames than on the north, which includes the City of London foreshore, where scraping or digging is not allowed for standard permit holders who are only permitted to search ‘by eye’ in these zones. There are also areas of Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) eg Queenhithe, Burrells Wharf, Palace of Westminster and Tower of London foreshores where no mudlarking is permitted. It is up to all mudlarks to ensure they are fully aware of any new changes to restrictions.
The Thames Foreshore is a wonderful place but can be dangerous and care needs to be taken when out and about mudlarking, so always tell someone where you’re going. Although cleaner than ever before there are still occasional spillages of raw sewage into the river after heavy rain so wear gloves as a precaution and wash your hands after mudlarking. I also recommend good, sturdy waterproof footwear (I prefer wellies myself) and ensure you’re up to date with a tetanus jab too.
It goes without saying you’ll need to check the tide times. I like to buy these little guides to the tides, available online from Amazon or good bookstores, showing high and low tides throughout the year.
Also be aware of pinch points on certain parts of the Thames Foreshore where the tide can come in faster than expected and risk cutting you off. Always make sure you know where the nearest steps or stairs are for getting on and off the foreshore.
I often get asked if I can take keen beginners out mudlarking with me but unfortunately I’m not able to unless they’re in possession of a standard permit. If you’re not a permit holder, but would like to learn more about the history and archaeology of the London foreshore, I heartily recommend the Thames Discovery Programme website where you can book yourself onto one of their guided tours of the foreshore at a very reasonable price, family friendly too. Guided tours click here
There are many online resources for new mudlarks to learn their craft and help identify finds: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (#mudlark) plus some excellent YouTube videos showing experienced larkers searching for and talking about their finds. Finally, it’s the responsibility of all mudlarks to take any discoveries over three hundred years old to the Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) at the Museum of London for verification and logging with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS.) FLO contact details
Wishing you enjoyable and safe mudlarking!