‘Real hands-on history’ on TV

2011-09-05 00:00

STEVE Brooker and Johnny Vaughan describe what they do as “guerrilla archaeology” and viewers can find out just what that means when they tune in to Mud Men on History (DStv channel 254) on Fridays at 8.30 pm.

In the show Brooker and Vaughan hunt for artefacts along the banks of the River Thames and in doing so offer a unique and original perspective on London’s rich history.

Brooker is a “mudlark” — an amateur archaeologist who is licensed by the Port of London Authority to scavenge the banks of the Thames for historical artefacts — and one of only 51 people allowed to excavate the historically rich north side of the River Thames.

This area has since 50 AD provided docking points for Roman, Saxon, Viking and Norman occupiers and more recently for British trade boats and royal ships.

It’s a rich hunting ground.

Brooker said, “Every time I find an item which hasn’t been seen before, it’s very valuable.

“All objects more than 300 years old are taken to the Museum of London to be logged, which means we’re able to learn about people’s trades, where they lived and about their families. It’s real hands-on history.”

Given his passion for history and archeology, it’s surprising to learn that Brooker had no real interest in the subject at school.

His interest in digging up the past was sparked initially when he bought a metal detector and starting finding objects. Later he met a mudlark who introduced him to a fascinating new world.

Asked what the weirdest object he’d found was, Brooker said, “A ball and chain. I found it when I was walking over a very skinny bridge. I was with someone who was interested in finding out what I did. He saw this object and I thought it was a cannonball — we usually find four or five of them a week. But when we picked it up it had a chain attached to it with a handle. Then I saw it had a barrel lock. It was a ball and chain from the 1700s.”

Among the funniest items he’s found are coins which have been inscribed with swear words.

Brooker said, “These are words we use now, the worst ones you can think of, but they actually date from Anglo-Saxon times.

“The River Thames has supported London for thousands of years. It was a major site for trade, crime, industry, war, for food, drink, death and debauchery, and even as the capital’s rubbish bin. What we do is uncover its history on the foreshore.

“It’s a great way to look at the past and because we’re two ordinary guys, everyone can relate to it.”



• 19th century Millbank prisonbutton

• WW2 ammo shell

• 1700s pewter syringe

• 19th century light infantry cap badge

• 17th century tallow chandler’s (candle maker’s) trading token, traced to Bow Lane

• Early 20th century clay pipe bowl from the Enniskillen Fusiliers

• James II tin farthing

• 17th century Rose farthing

• 17th century ivory comb

• 18th century doll’s house frying pan with three fishes in it.

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