There's a lot to love about London. I could spend a month just going to its museums. But it's all those strange social institutions that give that city its peculiar flavor. Some of them go back for centuries. The Worshipful Company of Bakers, for example, who in 1986 held a ceremony in Pudding Lane to offer a formal apology for accidentally causing the Great Fire of London in 1666. Others are more recent. The Society of Thames Mudlarks has only been in existence for twenty years.
And exactly what is a mudlark? I'm glad you asked. In Victorian times, they were generally children, ages eight and up, who, when the tide went out, waded into the mud of the Thames, looking for chunks of coal, bits of metal, or tools dropped off of boats and lost. If they saw a chance to steal coal, scrap, or anything else of value directly from the boats, they took it. You can read Henry Mayhew's account of their lives here.
It sounds like good fun. Filthy, dangerous fun, mind you. But fun nonetheless. You can read about these guys here.
And that reminds me of a story I heard back when I used to hang out with American archaeologists . . .
In colonial times, cheap clay pipes were everywhere. When you bought tobacco in a tavern, there was row of tavern pipes for your use. You simply snapped off the end of the very long stem (for hygienic purposes, the same way you used to wipe the top of a shared soda bottle with your hand before drinking from it) and threw the shard away.
Because the smaller the passage for the smoke was, the cooler the smoke, and because the technology for making those passages smaller steadily improved, these pipe shards serve an important function in Colonial American archaeology. You find a shard, measure its thickness and the thickness of its bore, plug the two numbers into a rather clever formula, and voila! You've got a reliable date for it.
Pipe stems also have the advantage of not degrading very fast. They've got the lifespan of a pebble.
A Virginia archaeologist went on vacation to England, back in the early 1970s, and while getting a tour of a major British castle, noted that the grounds surrounding it were speckled white with clay pipe shard. "My god!" he exclaimed. "Somebody should do something about them!"
"We'd like to, sir," said the guide apologetically. "But we simply don't have the budget to properly clean up after the tourists."