Florrie, Ceci & Nicola on the Thames Foreshore

A Whale of a Time on the Thames Foreshore with Friends

Let me tell you about a recent Thames mudlarking find which was gifted to me by a fellow mudlark. A few weeks ago, I met up with friend Florrie Evans and her nine-year-old daughter Ceci.

Florrie, Ceci & Nicola on the Thames Foreshore

We spent a wonderful two hours searching the Thames foreshore and even though the low tide was actually quite a high one, we came up with some interesting pieces of London’s lost history. These include an old Victorian barge padlock, a marble, a 19th century slate pencil and an 18th century clay tobacco pipe. The star find of the day though was made by Florrie who spotted what we first thought was an old penny, perhaps Victorian or Georgian. When Ceci rinsed it off in the river however, we made the most unexpected discovery. There before us on one side of the penny was the head of King Neptune along with a trident leaning on his shoulder. 

John Fowler Whale Fishery token

We were all needless to say, excited about this find and on turning it over we could see a depiction of what looked like several men in a boat who appeared to be harpooning a whale. The text on the coin confirmed this – and reads “halfpenny, Payable at I. Fowler’s, London. Whale Fishery - 1794”.  Wow, such an incredible piece of history from London’s past.  A really brilliant find.  When we came to the end of our mudlarking expedition, Florrie very generously gifted me the token. I could hardly believe it and couldn’t wait to find out as much as possible about I. Fowler.

Reverse side of John Fowler Whale Fishery token
When I arrived home, I set to work to do some research. This is what I found out. The token is what is known as a “condor token” a coin which was privately minted by a business or individual in the 18th century. Florrie’s token, emblazoned with Neptune’s head and trident was issued by John Fowler, a whale oil merchant and tin plate worker in the late 18th century. John had his premises in Long Acre London and he also owned a few whaling ships. For most of the 18th century, London was actually a leading whale port and during this time, thousands of whales were caught and killed in the Atlantic and then brought back to London to satisfy the demands for whale products.  Whale blubber and oil were used for street lighting, soaps, candles, perfumes, paints, and varnishes. whale bone was used in corsets, parasols, and whips for horses and carts. The demand for whale products declined by the middle of the 19th century, and fortunately we now no longer have whale fisheries in London. But how wonderful to discover this token and find out about a part of London’s history that I had never learned about before.
Both sides of John Fowler Whale Fishery token

I am so grateful for this special gift and will take it to the Museum of London to be recorded. I would love to know whose pocket this token was last in and who dropped it. Maybe it was lost by someone who was on their way to buy some oil to light their lamp at home. Maybe it slipped out of the pocket of someone who was planning to buy some oil from John Fowler to be used to make soap. We will never know, but it certainly gets the imagination going!

If you would like to see the moment Florrie discovered John Fowler’s whale fishery token and find out what else we discovered, you can watch the video here.

About Tideline Art

Meet Nicola White, mudlark and creator of Tideline Art. Nicola regularly posts videos to her YouTube channel, showcasing her incredible treasures and finds. Over the course of the next 12 months, Nicola will be sharing her fascinating stories and finds with us on the Muck Boot blog!

When I first moved to London over twenty years ago from Cornwall, I had no idea that the River Thames would open up such a fascinating and magical world, and that when the tide went out, its muddy banks would reveal to me a wealth of historical secrets and characters from the past. I was used to beachcombing on windswept beaches in Cornwall, but it never occurred to me that something similar might be possible in an urban setting such as London.

Follow Nicola White

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/tidelineart/?hl=en

 

More on Mudlarking

Stories from the River Thames
A Rare Tudor Coin
An Ancient Bottle
The Smallest Finds
The Story of the Thames Pewter Mug

 

Related Product

Nicola’s Muck Boots
Florrie’s Muck Boots


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