Most mudlarks and beachcombers have a large collection of padlocks, but it’s rare to find one which isn't heavily corroded. I had wandered up the beach to the back wall to see if any large items had been washed up there, and spotted this straight away. I’ve never seen one before with a date on it. It would have been used to lock up one of the warehouses or dock yards along the Thames in the 19th century.
This was one of those finds that I just chucked in my bucket. I thought it was a quirky pair of scissors or something. I think it sat in my hall for weeks before I got round to cleaning it. One of the best things about beachcombing is when something ends up being completely different to what you expected. I delicately cleaned this item, and tied it back together because it was in two pieces. I noticed that the end of the scissors were scooped, and there were notches on the handle. Slowly, the penny dropped. A quick Google search revealed they were musket ball retrieving tweezers. How they work is ingenious: the scooped ends bite on to the musket ball and grips it, so that the surgeon can let go of the handles, and work at getting the musket ball out.
One of the holy grails of beachcombing is to find a worked piece of flint. I was walking along the foreshore at not-particularly low tide and when I saw this I knew instantly what it was. It is a ‘Thames pick’, and would have belonged to one of the very earliest Londoners. After the last ice age, 12,000 years ago, the melting ice cut deep river valleys into the chalk downs. Flint nodules, eroded from the chalk and deposited by glacial meltwaters, were found and used by hunters as weapons and tools.
This is the neck of a Bartman or Bellarmine jug, and finding one is on every mudlark’s hit list. They were originally made in the Rhineland to carry beer, wine or water, and were nicknamed Bellarmines in the 17th century after Cardinal Bellarmine who was a fierce opponent of Protestantism and wanted to ban alcohol. The jugs were also used as witch pots. This involved placing items inside the bottle to create the spell and sealing and burying it. Excavated examples have been known to contain nails, pins, human hair and even heart shaped pieces of felt pierced with pins. You have to be quite lucky to find a complete beardy man face. This was in a few sections, so it took a bit of delicate digging when I pulled out the first bit. They are bizarre objects, and the beauty of them is that every face is different. It was great to wipe off the mud and look into his eyes.
I found this working on the Tower of London foreshore for an archaeological project. We weren’t allowed to dig, so I was searching eyes only, with my face very close to the surface. Medieval dice are small, compared to modern ones, and most are made of bone, as it was known to fall equally on any surface. Some – known as ‘Fulhams’ - had mercury weights inside them so they always landed on a particular number. Holding this die in my hand, I could imagine the hustle and bustle of medieval England, where gambling and games were common. This might have come off a ship that travelled all over the world. It would have had consequences – legend has it that King Henry VIII lost the bells of old St Paul's church on a throw. Maybe someone didn’t eat that night because of this die.
This is known as a crotal bell, and would have been worn by livestock in the 18th-19th century. I have found bells before while metal detecting in fields, but they have always been heavily corroded. The Thames mud is anaerobic, which means there is no oxygen, and metal won’t rust in it. That’s why this bell is in such good condition. When I found it, it was full of mud, so I had to dislodge that to find out if the pip was still inside and it would ring. I was crouching down at the water's edge, and I rang it and thought, wow. I am the first guy in 200, 300 years to hear that sound.