Mudlarker reveals extraordinary items he has unearthed from shoreline of the River Thames


In centuries past, the River Thames became London’s sewer as industrial waste, human excrement and even murdered bodies were dumped into its murky waters. 

But along with the mounds of foul-smelling rubbish which caused the Great Stink of 1858, historical treasures have also sunk to the river’s depths.  

Simon Bourne, 39, has spent nine years unearthing these riches by ‘mudlarking’ along the banks of the Thames, and has revealed his extraordinary haul. 

His findings span items from recent memory, such as a revolver found in once gangster territory East End, to artefacts from antiquity such as a 2,000-year-old Roman pot. 

Many of the items display the rich history of the capital such as pennies from WW1 and even include a live Second World War grenade which had to be detonated by a bomb disposal unit.

Simon Bourne, 39, who has spent nine years unearthing riches by ‘mudlarking’ along the banks of the Thames, reveals the 2,000-year-old Roman pot he found. The graphic designer, from London, explained how his interest in mudlarking piqued after stumbling across some pottery by accident

A muff pistol manufactured by Harrington and Richardson of Massachusetts was made around 1900

The gun has been worn down by years of water damage from the Thames

A muff pistol manufactured by Harrington and Richardson of Massachusetts was made around 1900. The firm were a firearms company established in 1871. The gun has been worn down by years of water damage from the Thames

Standing on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, with the iconic landmark Tower Bridge looming large, Mr Bourne holds an iron axe found while mudlarking

Standing on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, with the iconic landmark Tower Bridge looming large, Mr Bourne holds an iron axe found while mudlarking

A human skull found by Mr Bourne during one of his mudlarking sessions. It is believed to be the skull of a prison from one of the hulks used some 200 years ago. Hulks were decommissioned ships floating prisons used in the 18th and 19th Century

A human skull found by Mr Bourne during one of his mudlarking sessions. It is believed to be the skull of a prison from one of the hulks used some 200 years ago. Hulks were decommissioned ships floating prisons used in the 18th and 19th Century

An impressive collection of coins found by Mr Bourne on the banks of the Thames. The old money is still readable, and includes sixpences from 1907, 1919 and 1930. Two other coins bear the faces of monarchs Queen Victoria and King George V

An impressive collection of coins found by Mr Bourne on the banks of the Thames. The old money is still readable, and includes sixpences from 1907, 1919 and 1930. Two other coins bear the faces of monarchs Queen Victoria and King George V

Six years ago, Mr Bourne successfully reunited a man with a dog tag belonging to his grandfather that he had found on the banks. The tag bore the name N Posenerand was emblazoned with the Royal Flying Corp service number 19385 from the First World War

After sifting through the archives to find Nathan Posener in the 1911 population census aged 18, he found that he had lived at 292 Commercial Road in Whitechapel, close to the spot he found the dog tag

Six years ago, Mr Bourne successfully reunited a man with a dog tag belonging to his grandfather that he had found on the banks. The tag bore the name N Posener (left) and was emblazoned with the Royal Flying Corp service number 19385 from the First World War. After sifting through the archives to find Nathan Posener (right) in the 1911 population census aged 18, he found that he had lived at 292 Commercial Road in Whitechapel, close to the spot he found the dog tag 

The graphic designer, from London, explained how his interest in mudlarking piqued after stumbling across some pottery by accident. 

He said: ‘In 2011 I went to the Thames foreshore after a bike ride and started finding pottery. My interest increased from that moment and I returned and met up with like-minded people and realized there was much more to be found and it grew from there.

‘I usually go mudlarking with one or two close friends. Sometimes on my own but I prefer the company. I use my eyes, a metal detector, Wellies, a trowel or spade, and a Pinpointer, and spend four to eight hours a week searching.’

Mudlarks were poor people around the Victorian era who trawled the mud banks of the Thames hunting for valuable items.

Nowadays, modern mudlarks like Mr Bourne must obtain a licence: ‘I have a permit from the Port of London Authority to meet the requirements, this is basically an agreement – permission from the landowners to search the foreshore.

‘There are certain places that are out of bounds and limits to the depths you can dig (10cm), but to be honest most people find some great stuff just by using their eyes only.

‘It depends on how far you take it. You can walk down there on a sunny day in trainers and find a clay pipe stem, or you can put some wellies on and venture further out in the deep mud.’

A Dutch tobacco tin found by Mr Bourne while mudlarking on the banks of the River Thames

The engraved brass box is believed to have belonged a wealthy sea merchant trading in the capital, most likely in the 18th Century

A Dutch tobacco tin found by Mr Bourne while mudlarking on the banks of the River Thames. The engraved brass box is believed to have belonged a wealthy sea merchant trading in the capital, most likely in the 18th Century

A collection of more modern bits and pieces found by Mr Bourne. It includes a vintage Pepsi tin, some old bottles and other small belongings. Mr Bourne said: 'I'm open to finding anything, I love decorated clay pipes, old bottles, buttons, coins, and buckles'

A collection of more modern bits and pieces found by Mr Bourne. It includes a vintage Pepsi tin, some old bottles and other small belongings. Mr Bourne said: ‘I’m open to finding anything, I love decorated clay pipes, old bottles, buttons, coins, and buckles’

This coin is believed to be from Antwerp, Belgium, in 1576. It shows a Gelderse rider which is associated with the Low Countries and the palm of Antwerp

Used to weigh gold coins, the star on the obverse is the King's approval mark

This coin is believed to be from Antwerp, Belgium, in 1576. It shows a Gelderse rider (left) which is associated with the Low Countries and the palm of Antwerp. Used to weigh gold coins, the star on the obverse (right) is the King’s approval mark

Mudlarks were poor people around the Victorian era who trawled the mud banks of the Thames hunting for valuable items. Nowadays, modern mudlarks like Mr Bourne must obtain a licence: 'I have a permit from the Port of London Authority to meet the requirements, this is basically an agreement - permission from the landowners to search the foreshore'

Mudlarks were poor people around the Victorian era who trawled the mud banks of the Thames hunting for valuable items. Nowadays, modern mudlarks like Mr Bourne must obtain a licence: ‘I have a permit from the Port of London Authority to meet the requirements, this is basically an agreement – permission from the landowners to search the foreshore’

Although he is intrigued by every item in his impressive collection, Mr Bourne is especially fascinated in trying to piece together the history behind the belongings.

Six years ago, he successfully reunited a man with a dog tag belonging to his grandfather that he had found on the banks. 

The tag bore the name N Posener and was emblazoned with the Royal Flying Corp service number 19385 from the First World War.         

After sifting through the archives to find Nathan Posener in the 1911 population census aged 18, he found that he had lived at 292 Commercial Road in Whitechapel, close to the spot he found the dog tag.

Mr Bourne contacted the East London Advertiser newspaper, hoping any relatives or old friends might still be in the area.

He recalled: ‘After a year-long mission, on a warm summer’s evening, I finally met Nathan Posener’s grandson, John, in north London and returned his dog tag.

‘John, by chance, had spent a year researching his own family tree and the dog tag would take pride of place in his collection of memorabilia. 

‘It was a great feeling returning something that had been lost for so many years… It’s always an excitement’

‘Whenever I see the edge of a coin or the orbit of a pipe stem, my heartbeat increases with anticipation and gets a buzz of finding something centuries-old and being the first person to touch it in all that time.’ 

His findings span items from recent memory, such as this magnum revolver found in the East End, which was in the throngs of gang violence in the early 20th Century, notoriously controlled by the Kray twins

His findings span items from recent memory, such as this magnum revolver found in the East End, which was in the throngs of gang violence in the early 20th Century, notoriously controlled by the Kray twins

Simon Bourne with John, Nathan Posener's grandson who he returned his grandfather's dog tag to. Mr Bourne contacted the East London Advertiser newspaper, hoping any relatives or old friends might still be in the area. He recalled: 'After a year-long mission, on a warm summer's evening, I finally met Nathan Posener's grandson, John, in north London and returned his dog tag

Simon Bourne with John, Nathan Posener’s grandson who he returned his grandfather’s dog tag to. Mr Bourne contacted the East London Advertiser newspaper, hoping any relatives or old friends might still be in the area. He recalled: ‘After a year-long mission, on a warm summer’s evening, I finally met Nathan Posener’s grandson, John, in north London and returned his dog tag

This rifle found by Mr Bourne in the mud banks of the Thames has been seized up because of all the rust damage it has endured over the years

This rifle found by Mr Bourne in the mud banks of the Thames has been seized up because of all the rust damage it has endured over the years

A penny from 1903, when Edward VII ruled after ascending to the throne following the death of Queen Victoria

A penny from 1903, when Edward VII ruled after ascending to the throne following the death of Queen Victoria

A penny from 1903, when Edward VII ruled after ascending to the throne following the death of Queen Victoria 

A collection of coins and medals found Mr Bourne, who said: 'I use my eyes, a metal detector, Wellies, a trowel or spade, and a Pinpointer, and spend four to eight hours a week searching'

A collection of coins and medals found Mr Bourne, who said: ‘I use my eyes, a metal detector, Wellies, a trowel or spade, and a Pinpointer, and spend four to eight hours a week searching’

The pot crafted in Roman times - about 2,000 years ago - is laced with barnacles latched on to the other rim

A hole has also been made at the bottom where it has been in the Thames, but is otherwise intact

The pot crafted in Roman times – about 2,000 years ago – is laced with barnacles latched on to the other rim. A hole has also been made at the bottom where it has been in the Thames, but is otherwise intact

Among Mr Bourne's impressive haul are a pipe stem thought to show Alexandra and Edward VII

A Jetton coin, struck between 1586-1603 showing Hans Schultes II with St Marks Lion of Venice

Among Mr Bourne’s impressive haul are a pipe stem thought to show Alexandra and Edward VII (left) and a Jetton coin, struck between 1586-1603 showing Hans Schultes II with St Marks Lion of Venice (right)

Mr Bourne found an old milk churn on the banks of the Thames. The cylinder cans were used to transport milk

Mr Bourne found an old milk churn on the banks of the Thames. The cylinder cans were used to transport milk 

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