Sea divers to excavate Charles II shipwreck left at bottom of Southend sea for 350 years

By Ben Miller | 22 May 2014

One of England’s most important shipwrecks, the London, has sat on the seabed off Southend for 350 years since mysteriously exploding on a journey between Chatham and Gravesend during the mid-17th century

Click on the picture to launch the gallery

When it was built, at some point between 1642 and 1660, it became one of three completed wooden Second Rate ‘Large Ships’ – it remains the only example to have survived. Part of an English Squadron sent to collect Charles II in 1658, the potentially remarkable artefacts from its two sections will be recovered by underwater divers in a two-year, English Heritage-commissioned salvage operation.

“We are hoping to recover some rare and well-preserved items,” says Mark Dunkley, English Heritage’s marine archaeologist.

“They will provide a great insight into the English Navy during an unsettled time when Britain was emerging as a global power.

“While the hull of the ship will remain on the seabed for the foreseeable future, the recovery and display of vulnerable artefacts will aid our understanding of life on board ship in the late 17th century and enable us to remove the wreck from our Heritage at Risk Register.”

Three trenches in the bow of the wreck will give excavators access to the hold, main gun deck, carpenter and boatswains store rooms and the anchor cable-carrying orlop deck.

Test dives have found leather shoes, buckets, pots, cooking utensils, fixtures and fittings, ordnance and navigational dividers on a vessel once charged with helping restore Charles to the throne following the anarchic aftermath of Oliver Cromwell’s death.

“This hidden wreck lies just off Southend Pier, which is visited by thousands each year,” says Clare Hunt, the Curatorial Manager at the local council’s Museums Service.

“Yet the wreck remains largely unknown. It’s part of our local as well as national history and we’re inviting local people to get involved in recording these ship finds.”

The ship was rediscovered during port development works in 2005, and placed on the at Risk register as shifting sediment levels damaged its fragile remains.

Steven Ellis, an experienced Thames Estuary diver who has been granted licence to dive the wreck, said the team expected “exciting” finds despite conditions which are “difficult with limited visibility”.

The Museums Service will curate the recovered finds and create a permanent display at its headquarters.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More from Culture24's Archaeology section:

Archaeological "Aladdin's cave" opens to public at English Heritage's Wrest Park

Archaeologists say Stonehenge was "London of the Mesolithic" in Amesbury investigation

Sutton Hoo and Europe galleries exert magnetic pull in British Museum display
Latest comment: >Make a comment
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share
    Back to article
    Your comment:
    DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted at are the opinion of the comment writer, not Culture24. Culture24 reserves the right to withdraw or withhold from publication any comments that are deemed to be hearsay or potentially libellous, or make false or unsubstantiated allegations or are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted.