Monday, September 6, 2021

Mudlarking Along The River Thames: A Clay Pipe Focus

lo-fi & lovely

Mudlarking Along The River Thames: A Clay Pipe Focus


Mudlarking is a thing a mudlark does as one actively mudlarks. A mudlark is a river mud scavenger; a beachcomber of a different body of water. While the term is still used today, it serves a bit differently than it did in its first usage in 18th and 19th centuries London. At that time, mudlarks would scour the Thames muddy shores for anything they could possibly sell. A living, of sorts, could be eeked out in this way. Sometimes by orphaned kids, sometimes by abandoned elderly or handicapped.

Now mudlarking is mainly seen as a pastime akin to many other metal detecting activities. A hobby for those with extra stores of both scratch & time, more-so than a hand-to-mouth necessity. The funny thing is, with this metal detecting tech that these new mudlarks can afford, they often find more valuable washed-ashore items than their poorer thru-the-ages counterparts & darned if that doesn't sound about right. But we won't discuss that further--because it doesn't pertain. For clay pipes are not metal, and they are our focus.

... & there are a lot of them in the muddy beds of the River Thames. A LOT. According to mudlarks, they can be plucked from the shore at almost will and at quite decent clips of such. Some are even whole, which amazes me because I drop an Old German Clay on my wood deck and it's done to the tune of smither-fucking-eens. Then here these are--hundreds of years old. So far, not a lot seems fair about any of this. Let's keep looking.

But first, an endorsed reminder to peruse my thoughts on ADVentura Cigars HERE.


Good question. Because 18th & 19th century pre-packed clay pipes were the cigarettes of their day. Purchased at tobacconist shops as single-use smokes, then discarded. Rinse and repeat. This, daily, by the thousands of workers along the River Thames who would smoke as they labored away their hours. Georgian & Victorian era ports are still to this day, marked by the presence of a greater amount of clay bowls, stems, and whole damn pipes--I swear I once dropped one on my carpeted living room and it virtually imploded. Another time, same circumstance: mushroom cloud. I digress.


Clay pipes in the 16th & 17th centuries were pretty plain. Unadorned. But come the 18th century, molds came into use. In no time, those molds would become more and more ornately ornamented, a thing which became quite a vogueness. Of particular note is that between the years 1730-1770, a popular London motif was to have an English lion on one side of the bowl, a Scottish unicorn on the other... this based on the Royal Coat of Arms of the British monarchy, pip-pip. Cheerio. That sort of rubbish. & so on.

Also popular during that time was the inclusion of Prince of Wales feathers. & THEN OMG THE VICTORIAN ERA HIT & PIPE MAKERS WENT FUCKING NUTS. Military crests, Masonic symbols, mythological scenes, & that's just what's filed under the letter "M!" There were also themes of sports, ships, & shamrocks "S!" Basically, you name the "S"ubject "M"atter, there was a pipe for that. Plus, the usual tree branch and leaf patterns. Floral, foliage, and filigree "F.". Classic. Less classic? How's about cartoon characters & celebrity faces? ("C!")

[I really wanted those letters to spell out something dirty but I got lazy.]


[WARNING: unresearched speculation ahead will be italicized for your safety.] If you lived in or near London in the late 16th century, you could afford tobacco only if you were quite well-to-do. This due in large part to only small quantities being imported. My guess is these were predominantly Orientals in varietal as well as geography. Nevertheless, only moneybaggers & slverspooners could smoke and even-so, the pipes of that time had much smaller bowls.

Then came the 17th and 18th centuries and their increased amounts of imported leaf. These increases soon saw prices drop, bowls grow larger, and common folk lighting up like lighting up was going out of style--but really, lighting up was actually coming into style because of things I've already mentioned. I barely feel the need to italicize this because I'm 99% certain but this was probably due to new trade routes w/ the American Colonies for their Burleys & Virginias. [END OF ITALICS AS SIGNIFYING UNCERTAINTY]

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"Starting as a small trickle in the Cotswolds the River Thames travels over 210 miles through the heart of some of England’s most picturesque towns, right into the centre of London and eventually, out into the North Sea." - the Visit Thames website

"In Celtic mythology the unicorn was a symbol of purity and innocence, as well as masculinity and power. Tales of dominance and chivalry associated with the unicorn may be why it was chosen as Scotland’s national animal." - the Visit Scotland website

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