Jason Sandy, Thames treasure hunter
Profile by Lucinda MacPherson
Photographs: Jason with a piece of pottery he found near William Morris’s home in Hammersmith and Jason’s finds from the west London foreshore
If the term “mudlark” conjures up an image of a mucky urchin with rolled up breeches and a flat cap, digging in the Dickensian dirt, think again. Chiswick resident Jason Sandy, a debonair architect turned developer is one of a new, elite band of mudlarks. In just six years, he has made some major discoveries in the Thames around West London and beyond, some so significant that they are now on permanent display in the Museum of London.
Jason’s day job involves him overseeing the £1 billion development of the former US Embassy in Grosvenor Square into a luxury hotel, for which his weekday dress is a designer suit and tie. But once out of his affluent, Mayfair office, Jason is happiest strapping on his kneepads, pulling on protective gloves and wellies and getting down and dirty with a stinking load of rubbish in the Thames. “The terrain is very dark, so to distinguish the finds you have to get down on all fours, and wear rubber gloves for protection from a lot of rusty nails and broken glass.” Jason explains. “Thames Clippers race by creating large washes, and I do get soaked quite a bit, but the waves are good as they erode so much of the foreshore and you can find things.”
Jason’s most thrilling find is a Roman hair pin, made of ornately carved bone, and dating back to 50-100 AD, just seven years after the foundation of the Roman settlement in London. It is now on permanent display in the Museum of London. ”It was lying face up on the top of the foreshore. I thought it was medieval, but a mudlark nearby guessed it was older. It was such a thrill to know I was peering into the face of a Roman”! “My dad was with me. He brings me luck. We’ve only been mudlarking twice together, but each time we found two things that are now in museums, which is very rare!” Jason’s father, a former Professor of Ancient Greek in the United States, sparked his original interest in archaeology.” He was always jetting off with his students to Greece, leaving me and my brother, who only got to see the slide show; so it was always my dream to go on an archaeological dig.”
“I moved to Chiswick 11 years ago with my wife. When our children were small, (they are now aged 9 and 10) we’d go to the steps at Black Lion Lane, near Emery Walker’s House and turn over rocks and find little crabs and baby eels. We became fascinated by the river, but I was completely oblivious that you could find antiquities down there. Then I saw a show on the telly about Thames treasure hunters. The next weekend I went down by myself, and the first thing I found were clay pipes. My interest spiralled from there; it’s very addictive.” … “Now, I usually go into Central London as there is more to find, especially on the North Bank, but there have been some amazing finds in West London.” Indeed, in the London before London gallery at the Museum of London, a pristine Neolithic mace-head, made from a Norwegian stone dating back to 2,900-2,100 BC, and found just downstream under Hammersmith Bridge, is described as “one of the best artefacts found in the Thames”.
Photographs: Dove’s type found under Hammersmith Bridge where it had been thrown into the river by T.J. Cobden Sanderson so his former publishing partner Emery Walker couldn’t inherit it. Jason holds a 2,000 year old Roman pot. Jason models a fourteenth century knuckle duster once worn by a mediaeval knight.
Having waited patiently on a six year list, Jason has now joined the esteemed ranks of The Society of Thames Mudlarks, a select group of specialists who have been officially approved by the Museum of London and granted licenses from the Port of London Authority. Membership of the society is capped at only 50 in London, so someone has to drop out for wannabes to step into their wellies. ”I finally made it in this year. Now I’m allowed to scrape in most areas and dig and metal detect on the north side, which has the best finds.”
His home now hosts a cabinet of curiosities, as, despite the best of these being offered to museums, they simply don’t have the space. Jason and his other mudlarking companions are keen to share their treasures and are working to set up a museum dedicated to the fascinating flotsam and jetsam found by the river “Where history changes twice a day.” You can uncover their plans and finds from the comfort of your home here. But if inspired to have a go yourself, here are Jason’s top tips.
Tips for Treasure Hunting in the Thames
Get a mandatory mudlarking permit from the Port of London Authority and follow the rules listed on the PLA website
Don’t mudlark in the restricted areas illustrated in the maps published by the Port of London Authority.
Book an appointment with the Finds Liaison Officer at the Museum of London and take any objects 300+ years old to the museum to be recorded on the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme.
The best finds are made at the lowest tides, so get a tide table or look online to plan the best time to go.
Make sure you know where your exit route is as the tide can come in fast!
Photographs below: Jason’s collection of clay pipes. A child’s play watch from Georgian times.