Sunday, February 06, 2011

Vintage Swim: Mudlarks

One of my regular vintage swimming posts but this time you get a little social history too. These are 'mudlarks' in a photo taken on The Hard at Portsea in the late 1930s. The term mudlark, I think, originated on The Thames and referred (and in some circumstances still does) to people scratching things from the mud on the banks of the Thames at low tide. Originally, these were the poorest of the poor but nowadays it's more a matter of people digging up Roman coins and so on...

In Portsmouth, mudlarking is a long tradition involving the boys of Portsea wading into the mud off The Hard, where HMS Warrior 1860 is now moored, and entreating the ladies and gentlemen on passing ships to throw coins which they would they retrieve. It's common enough in Portsmouth to meet people who claim to have been mudlarks: in fact, so common that one wonders if perhaps memories haven't been a little coloured over time. In particular, I've heard at least two local politicians add mudlarking into their supposed biography - it's a way of saying you belong I suppose. Nowadays you'd die a foul death of blood poisoning from the scratches you would sustain from old bikes and shopping trolleys, or you'd get mown down by continental ferries and naval aircraft carriers, or you'd get pulled out to sea in an extremely strong current... all-in-all, not to be advised really and, in fact, I think it is now illegal to swim in that area at all.


Catholic Boy said...

Very cute picture! Thanks for the interesting note!

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing the mudlarks on a day trip to Portsmouth in the late 1950s and am horrified that adults stood around cheering them on when clearly it was a cry for hel and support. It is a subject that I often think of as I remember crowds of adults egging them on to delve in the mud. I still haven't concluded whether the children really had fun; whether it was merely a tradition or even excusable in that it brought extra pennies to th table. Whatever. I do know it is uncivilised and happened not that long ago.

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