Madeleine Marsh – Refashioning pieces of history
by Matt Smith
Images above: Madeleine Marsh, Madeleine with the ‘Madlark’ Mirrors and jewellery
Madeleine Marsh is one of the artists showing her work in the Chiswick in Pictures exhibition at the Clayton Hotel Chiswick, now extended until 24 January 2021. Madeleine makes jewellery, sculptures and the frames of mirrors from bits and pieces she has ‘mudlarked’.
A ‘mudlark’ is someone who scavenges in river mud for items of value. The term originated in London and was common in the late 18th and 19th centuries. For the original Mudlarks, searching the shores of the River Thames at low tide for anything that could be sold was a pretty unsavoury way to make a living. These days it tends to be more of a hobby, made more popular recently by Lara Maiklem’s book, Mudlarking, a Sunday Times best seller which was featured on BBC Radio 4 in 2019.
Madeleine’s interest pre-dates the current trend. She has lived within walking distance of the Thames her entire life, and describes the river as the heart of London. She has refined scavenging into an art form, repurposing the items she finds into beautiful pieces whose historic provenance is fascinating.
Images above: Madeleine Marsh
‘There’s acres of history in the Thames’
“When you pick up these fragments, they just tell you about human life” Madeleine told me.
“There’s acres of history in the Thames, because for centuries it has been the rubbish bin of London. What wouldn’t burn was lobbed into the Thames, and if you go down onto the foreshore initially you’d think it’s just all stones and mud, which indeed it is, but when you look amongst the stones – there’s little bits of Londoners from Roman times to the present day”.
It can take literally years to find enough matching pieces to make something as small as a necklace. Sifting through the discarded fragments of past Londoners is painstaking work, but it offers a truly unique insight into the city’s history.
“Each piece takes you on a journey, and each piece is unique – which is a most overused word but it is genuinely unique and British!”
In today’s world where many worry about waste and over consumption, Madeleine says that rescuing and recycling these broken pieces can be truly satisfying.
Images above: Madlark Mirror 1 , Madlark Mirror 2
The ‘Madlark Mirrors’ are made from finds Madeleine has mudlarked over the last 30 years from the Thames and waterways of west London. The designs are inspired by the “random nature of the foreshore, where fragments representing the story of London across the centuries are brought together by the ebb and flow of the tide”.
The mirrors provide a literal reflection of the diversity of London and the wealth of history that is concealed and sometimes revealed by the endlessly moving waters.
Objects shown on the first mirror range in date from a fossilised shark’s tooth (circa 50 million years old), to a tiny plastic footballer. If you went down the pub in the 17th century, you would have eaten off a charger made from stripy trailed slipware (see left side).
Sitting above this is the broken base of a teapot from the ABC tea rooms, which opened in 1864 and provided one of the first public places where a respectable Victorian lady could eat without a male escort.
The second mirror ranges in date from a Constantinian Roman coin (4th century AD), to a Manchester United enamel badge.
“My apologies to supporters of other football teams but the river knows no prejudice” said Madeleine.
“These lost and broken fragments provide an intimate history of the everyday lives of Londoners, and many relate to food and drink. Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade (bottom) was a Victorian breakfast favourite, Sainsbury’s Potted Meat was another Edwardian best seller”.
London has always been a centre of eating out and this mirror includes tableware remnants from the Devonshire Club, established in 1874 for Liberal voting men and White’s club (est. 1693) which was the oldest gentleman’s club in London.
Madeleine’s jewellery also reflects her passions for Mudlarking and beachcombing; for history, art and vintage fashion. Much of it tells a story, and this is jewellery that is designed to be a conversation piece as well as being lovely to wear. Her original designs make great presents for people who appreciate history and don’t want to look like everyone else.
Each piece is handmade by Madeleine, and her works are either one-off or made in small limited editions. You can see her work in the Chiswick In Pictures exhibition at the Clayton Hotel Chiswick, 626 Chiswick High Rd, Chiswick, London W4 5RY, which has been curated by The Chiswick Calendar.
Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar
See also: Ted Sandling on Mudlarking
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