Exhibition ‘Mudlarking: Unearthing London’s Past’ opens at Emery Walker’s House, Hammersmith

Image above: Mudlarker on the foreshore of the River Thames at Hammersmith

Thames Treasures revealed in new exhibition

The spring exhibition at Emery Walker’s house in Hammersmith will be of treasures retrieved from the River Thames by mudlarkers. Principal amongst the treasures, there is a full set of the famous Doves Type, the typeset developed by Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker at the end of the 19th century, with which the two partners created many beautiful books.

The printing press was not only known for the beauty and quality of what they published, but for the spectacular way in which the two Victorian gentlemen fell out. The type was dumped in the river and it was thought the type would neversee the light of day again, but it thanks to the activity of mudlarkers, a full set has been recovered from the mud.

Lukasz Orlinski, who takes time out from his demanding career as a nurse at the Royal Marsden Hospital to explore the Thames as a licensed mudlark, has recovered over 500 pieces of the long lost Doves Type, the largest haul of the “Holy Grail” of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Lucinda MacPherson interviewed Lukasz and discovered how an oncology nurse from the foothills of the Beskid mountains in Poland found himself knee-deep in the mud along the Thames, discovering ancient artifacts and the largest haul of the legendary, long lost Doves Type.

Image above: Lukasz Orlinski

Lucinda MacPherson interviews  mudlarker Lukasz Orlinski

“It all started back in 2015 when my wife and I bought a flat near Wandsworth Park” Lukasz told me. “Being close to the river, I often saw people metal detecting and mudlarking. Intrigued, I took the plunge and found an animal tooth, sparking my curiosity. But it’s not what you find, but what you find out about the items.”

These questions led to a humble metal detector purchase on eBay, and the rest, as they say, is history. His new hobby became a passion, with Lukasz upgrading to a high-tech Deus XP for £1,000.

“I used to spend every free moment. It’s really addictive. There are occasions you don’t find anything interesting but there are days that you find a Bronze Age spearhead, 3,000 years old like the one I found in Fulham.”

Lukasz’s favourite hunting ground is West London.

“Hammersmith, especially near the bridge, exudes history. The pictures from the boat race, (makes the bridge) looks like a Christmas tree decorated with people, so imagine every one of these people maybe throwing a little coin into the river for good luck or for a broken heart, all these people using it as a wishing well – it’s a treasure trove of stories.

“My first coin was an Elizabethan silver coin, a chance find with my first, cheap metal detector. It is called a ‘hammered’ coin because they were made from a metal sheet which would be struck with a hammer. Then, there’s the Iron Age sword found in Putney, now in the Museum of London. It’s not about getting rich; it’s about understanding the history behind each artifact. The stories they tell are priceless.”

Images above: Lukasz holding some pieces of Doves Type

Lukasz was completely unaware of the dramatic story of the Doves type when he first stumbled across it. Individually these dark, small pieces of metal don’t look impressive and in themselves aren’t of great value unless you know the background story. So Lukasz just chucked them back into the river. But then he came across a huge collection, which struck him as unusual.

“Then I read about Dove’s Bindery and Dove’s Press in a Mudlarking book. The significance hit me when I found a considerable number.”

Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson fell out with Emery Walker, his business partner in the Doves Press, in the early 1900s. Despite a gentleman’s agreement that he should leave the Doves Press to Emery Walker on his death, TJ Cobden-Sanderson decided instead to bequeath it to the Thames.

The now elderly man lugged the punches, matrixes and type under cover of darkness, on 170 separate trips to Hammersmith Bridge. He believed no one would ever find it, but now, over 100 years later, the entire alphabet will be on display at the house he once called home, and then became Emery Walker’s House at  7 Hammersmith Terrace.

Image above: View of the River Thames from Emery Walker’s garden

Not just an exhibition, but walking tours, guided mudlarking experiences and a scavenger hunt, starting Saturday 2 March

This extraordinary exhibition which includes other treasures found in the Thames is thanks to the persistence and passion of two mudlarkers and a typographer who have recovered over 600 pieces of the type, and generously loaned them to Emery Walker’s House for their exhibition.

Although the Doves Type is the most important exhibit for Emery Walker’s House because of its very personal connection to the former residents, the exhibition will also include fossils, prehistoric flint tools, Roman coins and pottery, Medieval pilgrim badges, Tudor fashion accessories, 17th century children’s toys, Georgian personal adornments and Victorian curiosities each exhibit revealing their own intriguing story of London’s past.

A programme of events to support the exhibition includes walking tours, guided mudlarking experiences, a scavenger hunt and additional open days and candle-lit tours at Emery Walker’s House throughout March and April.

The spring exhibition and events programme have been guest curated by Jason Sandy, an architect, author and member of the exclusive Society of Thames Mudlarks who lives in Chiswick. He persuaded Lukasz to lend his find and he and his family have now had a tour of the fine Arts and Crafts interiors of Emery Walker’s House.

“I like the smell and how well it is preserved…It’s not staged. It’s like you are stepping back a hundred years.”

“Nothing has changed. Yeah, nice property just by the river. I wouldn’t mind living there!”

The exhibition, Mudlarking: Unearthing London’s Past  is on from March 2nd – April 27 2024 at Emery Walker’s House, 7 Hammersmith Terrace, W6.  Tours must be prebooked via emerywalker.org.uk

Pictures and text, Lucinda MacPherson.

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