Former Portsea mudlarker Dave gets down and dirty in public demonstration

PERFORMING handstands, singing songs and panning for spare pennies – all in the comfort of a squelching mudflat.

That was the typical pastime of the mudlarks, a group of city youngsters who grew up entertaining passers-by in the mudflats of The Hard.

Former mudlarker Dave Gisby, 61, poses with the Mudlarker Statue outside Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to illustrate what a true mudlarker would have looked like in action Picture: Garry Shipp garry.shipp@ntlworld.com

As they carried out their antics, passing holidaymakers and city day-trippers would throw them money for their efforts – before they rounded off their shift with a steak-and-kidney pie from a nearby cafe.

On Saturday, the mucky face of this wacky weekend pursuit re-emerged as Dave Gisby – a former mudlark – returned to his old stomping ground.

Now a decorator, 61-year-old Dave stripped down to a pair of shorts and caked himself in mud, in a quirky demonstration at the Mudlark statue, which was installed outside Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in 2010.

Speaking about the inspiration behind the act, he said: ‘I love the statue – it’s great. But what you can’t see from it is the way a mudlarker would’ve really looked when they’ve been in the mudflats.

‘So I decided I’d go down there, cover myself in mud and show people what it was all about. We had a crowd of about 40 people at one point – it brought tears to my eyes.’

Dave, who started mudlarking at the age of eight with his brother, says he used to make about £6 a day.

He said: ‘It was fantastic. I would put mud all over my face and look up to the people watching – singing and performing for them. They loved it and so did we.

‘I’ve always liked to have fun and it definitely made me more confident as a person.’

Mr Gisby’s display came just under a week after a fourth plaque of names commemorating former mudlark was added to the statue – including his own.

Former child mudlark and city councillor, Margaret Foster, 65, was part of the team who fought to see this gesture come to fruition.

Her book, The Mudlarkers, tells the story of the hundreds of city youngsters who grew up working and performing in the mudflats of The Hard.

She said: ‘What Dave did down at the statue was absolutely fabulous. This is our history after all.

‘It’s wonderful knowing that so many people’s names are on those plaques. We have lost a lot of people since the mudlarking days, but along with the statue they will be there for a long time after they have gone.

‘Thank you to the council for making this all come about.’

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