The Rare Tudor Coin I found between my boots!
The original Thames mudlarks were often very poor young children back in Georgian and Victorian England. They scoured the Thames mud in the hope of finding anything they could sell to make a few pennies in order to feed their families. These children could be seen in large groups wading around up to their knees in the thick mud at low tide. It has been said that some wealthier people found it greatly amusing to throw coins into the mud from bridges to then watch and laugh as the ragged and hungry children fought over them. As a modern-day mudlark, I have now found a wealth of different coins in the Thames, spanning the centuries from the Iron age right up to the 21st century. It’s quite magical knowing that you are the first person to touch a coin since it was lost or thrown in the river sometimes centuries ago. Did the person who lost it have to go hungry that evening or was it deliberately tossed into the water? It certainly gets the imagination going.
Let me tell you about one of my favourite coin finds of all time. Unbelievable as it seems I had actually stopped searching the foreshore for the evening and had put my trowel and kneepads away. The sun was going down and I was deep in thought looking out over the Thames. I glanced down at one point and in between my boots. I noticed a small round object. I stooped to pick it up although I was pretty certain it was going to be a rivet or a piece of industrial waste. But it wasn’t! As I squinted at it in the fading light I could just make out the faint silhouette of a queen and a sceptre.
I posted a photo of it on twitter and shortly afterwards it was confirmed as a Queen Elizabeth I silver half crown minted in 1601. It is particularly special as it was found not far from Greenwich, which is where Queen Elizabeth I was born and where her favourite palace was. It is also the only Elizabethan half crown that has been found in the Thames. As always, I have spent much time musing on who lost it and how. I doubt in this case that anyone threw it in the river deliberately. It would have been worth a lot in its time and could certainly have paid for a large group of people to go to see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe on the Southbank! Queen Elizabeth I was known for her opulent parties in Greenwich Palace. Could someone have staggered out of one such party, slightly inebriated, only to drop their pouch of coins in the Thames? One thing is certain. Any poor mudlark back in the day would have been thrilled to find this Elizabethan coin. It would have fed the family for a couple of weeks. It was not to be however and this coin lay undiscovered in the mud for a few hundred years before I came along and found it between my boots.
My Queen Elizabeth I silver half crown is the first mudlarking find that I recorded with the Museum of London and it is now registered on the Portable Antiquities Scheme Database ( finds.org). All mudlarking finds which are over 300 years old or are of significant historical importance must be recorded with the Museum.
It is now proudly displayed in one of my cabinets and is my favourite coin find.
About Tideline Art
Meet Nicola White, mudlark and creator of Tideline Art. Nicola regularly posts videos to her YouTube channel, showcasing her incredible treasures and finds. Over the course of the next 12 months, Nicola will be sharing her fascinating stories and finds with us on the Muck Boot blog!
When I first moved to London over twenty years ago from Cornwall, I had no idea that the River Thames would open up such a fascinating and magical world, and that when the tide went out, its muddy banks would reveal to me a wealth of historical secrets and characters from the past. I was used to beachcombing on windswept beaches in Cornwall, but it never occurred to me that something similar might be possible in an urban setting such as London.
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