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Christie’s Education staff publishes acclaimed book, London in Fragments

20 Sep 2016

Mucking About by the River

London’s History Revealed in New Book

London in Fragments: A Mudlark's Treasures

London in Fragments is a new book by Christie’s Education Content Editor, Ted Sandling. It has just been published to glowing reviews: The Evening Standard described it as exhilaratingly curious and entertainingly knowledgeable; The Spectator as hypnotic — yet infectiously jolly and The Daily Mail as a beautiful book. It was also recently the subject of a feature in the FT Weekend Magazine. We ask Ted a few questions about the passion behind the book.

What is London in Fragments about?

It’s about objects that I’ve found by the River Thames doing something called mudlarking. I have pieces that cover the full span of London’s history: from Stone Age to Roman through to post-Mediaeval and the present day. But it’s not just a catalogue of objects, it’s telling stories of London’s history through them as well as what it is like to encounter London today.

Mudlarking sounds unusual?

It’s an old word: it used to refer to some of London’s untouchables, extremely poor people who scraped a living finding scrap by the river. Those Victorian mudlarks were looking for bits of coal or metal, even wood, and they had to wade through a filthy river to do it. Today the name has been taken by people who walk along the river looking to find objects that connect them to London’s history. The Thames is a lot cleaner.

What sort of things do you find?

Amazingly, my collection looks a lot like Christie’s Education’s London museum room! I find really beautiful 17th century English delftware pottery, 18th century clay tobacco pipes; Maiolica from Italy, forest glass from Germany (in the shape of an exquisite raspberry prunt) and porcelain from China. I’m deeply fascinated by the aesthetics of my finds.

What do you most want to find?

A bartmann. That literally means a bearded man, but it’s a depiction of a woodwose, or wild man of the woods. The face was applied to stoneware jugs that were imported in huge numbers from Germany in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I love the figure because it was so appropriate for the object: the jugs were often used for holding beer, and the woodwose was a figure without restraint: pure id. The two go so well together, and I would love to find a face.

It all seems very exciting. Can anyone go mudlarking?

Anyone in London can go down to the river when the tide is out and walk along the foreshore. Wear wellies, is my advice. And be safe: don’t get yourself drowned. You can walk freely almost anywhere, but you can’t dig without a permit. If you want to find out more about regulations or tides, take a look at the Port of London Authority’s website.

London in Fragments is available here.


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