Mudlarking before Mudlarking
Guest post by Malcolm Russel.
Content warning: Please be aware that this blog includes details of historic domestic violence.
Mudlarks in published sources
Edited by Andrew Chapman, “Mudlarking: A Historical Sourcebook” is a useful compilation of primary sources describing London’s mudlarks. These all date to a time when mudlarking—searching the Thames foreshore at low tide—was a means of survival for London’s poor, rather than the amateur intertidal archaeology of today. The earliest text included is an extract from Patrick Colquhoun’s “Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis”, published in 1796. Colquhoun, who would go on to establish the Thames River Police, rails against mudlarks, who, under the pretence of looking for anything they could sell for a few pennies, were receiving small quantities of stolen cargo from ships that had arrived from the West Indies. (1)
This is described as the first known description of mudlarks, but it has always seemed likely that people searched the Thames foreshore prior to the appearance of the term ‘mudlark’ in the archives. But what was this practice called, and who engaged in it? I had drawn a blank in attempting to answer these questions until I chanced upon Catherina Lutolph and Mary Goynes. This was while searching the records of London’s Old Bailey Court, described as “the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published.” (2)
Catherina appears as a witness at the trial of Edward Goynes of Stepney. This took place on December 21st, 1739. Goynes was accused of murdering his wife, Mary, by administering a bloody and brutal beating before strangling her. She was left with a “mortal Bruise”, and died after five days languishing in bed. Neighbours and Mary’s daughter from a previous marriage, Mary Spalding, testified that Goynes would regularly beat his wife. One of these witnesses was Catherina Lutolph, referred to by Goynes (during an attempt to intimidate her from the dock) as a “Dutchwoman.” This suggests she was an immigrant from the Low Countries or had Dutch heritage. (3)
Catherina appears to have enjoyed a close relationship with Mary, testifying that “she had nobody but me she could tell her Secrets to.” Due to sickness, Catherina was not able to come to Mary’s aid on the day she was beaten. The following Tuesday, however, Mary sent for her. Catherina came to her bedside, and Mary told her that Goynes had strangled her and hit her head against a brick wall. She was also suffering from a broken arm. This, Catherina told the court, Mary had sustained while “shoring,”, a practice poor people, such as themselves, engaged in. She went on to explain that this involved “picking up what she could find upon the Shores, when the Tide was down, for Firing.” (4) Mary’s description of shoring suggests it was analogous to what later became termed mudlarking. But what might she have meant by “for Firing”? Looking at other period trial records reveals “firing” meant setting alight to or burning. (5) Later mudlarks are described as looking for lumps of coal to sell that had fallen from barges. Mary and Catherina may well have been doing the same. (6)
The identification of Catherina Lutolph and Mary Goynes pushes our knowledge of early foreshore searchers back by almost sixty years. It sheds light on what the activity of searching was called – “shoring” – before the emergence of the term mudlarking. Fittingly, during Women’s History Month, it also reinforces the strong presence of women in this gruelling practice. Catherina Lutolph and Mary Goynes now join the list of impoverished women who scratched out a living on the foreshore, including Katherine Macarthy, the legendary Peggy Jones, the unnamed “Tide Waitress” of 1853, and numerous anonymous women and girls referenced in accounts later that century. (7)
Finally, if you’re wondering what happened to Edward Goynes, well, he was sentenced to death and hanged at Tyburn.
(1) A. Chapman (Ed.), Mudlarking: A Historical Sourcebook (Heritage Hunter, 2020), pp. 1-2
(3) Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 15 March 2023), September 1739, trial of Edward Goynes, alias Joynes (t17390906-6).
(5) For example: Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 15 March 2023), April 1675, trial of young Lad (t16750414-2)
(6) For example: Chapman, p.25
(7) Chapman, pp.3-18, pp.20-22