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Book review – Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem

Book title written over 3 lines on its cover

The River Thames thunders through London. It has unleashed its watery power, shaping the city, for as long as there has been a city.

It has brought trade from afar to its banks, and with that trade it has brought people. It’s easy to forget in this age of air travel and internet, that once upon a time, seeing a city like London appear through the fog while sailing would have been a life changing event for someone.

The Thames is one of my favourite things about London. It is majestic, it is romantic, it is the artery of life which has sustained millions upon millions of people over the last few millennia. That’s why Mudlarking, by Lara Maiklem, appealed to me as soon as I saw it on the shelves.

Maiklem started sharing her activities on social media before translating her work to the page. Her pictures of the curios and artifacts that she has rediscovered on the shores of the Thames have long fascinated me. 

My own favourite place to wander the shore is under the watchful eye of the Captain Kidd pub in Wapping, a brilliant Sam Smith’s boozer where you can watch the world go by. I found most of a pipe down there, one of the ones you will undoubtedly imagine when you hear the word mudlarking, and it’s now pride of place on my mantelpiece.

Maiklem takes her readers on a journey from the south west of London, beyond where even the tide reaches, as she digs into the sand and silt. From there she walks you back through London, marking each stage of the journey with her finds, with in depth and very personal stories of adventures from other mudlarkers, and indeed, personal anecdotes of her own. Each chapter discusses sections of the river and the delights that she has uncovered from the mud – from Teddington, to Hammersmith, to London Bridge, and beyond, you will find something new and exciting in all of the chapters. 

It is non-fiction, but it reads like the most gorgeous literary fiction and a lyricism pouring through it, with the language delighting on every page.

This book is one for the exhausted I think, one for the person who feels a bit tired of looking for adventure, because of the way it illuminates the city in a way I’ve not quite seen before and reinvigorates you. It somehow manages to lift the lid of the mysteries of the city, while also making you acutely aware that there is so much more to discover. 

As Maiklem takes you through London, you can’t help but fall further in love with the city. Yes, it’s changing, and yes, we all have a ‘favourite’ time in London that we hark back to, but this book fills you with hope that as the city continues to evolve it will offer more mysteries for us to unearth.

As always, you can buy Mudlarking from your local independent book shop to make sure the London you love stays alive and thrives.

About Dominic Stevenson (19 Articles)
Writer, Humanist and creative educationalist