Conservators begin work on HMS London's "absolutely beautiful" gun carriage

By Ben Miller | 30 October 2015

Conservation experts have had the first chance to examine the HMS London's gun carriage, excavated off Southend Pier

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
The gun carriage of the HMS London on deck© Historic England
Conservation work has begun on the “incredibly rare” gun carriage of the 17th century warship HMS London. Archaeologists used a custom-made box to transport the unique artefact to York from the Thames Estuary, where it had been perfectly preserved by silts after exploding 350 years ago off of Southend-on-Sea.

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
© Historic England
Divers reported a “fantastic” array of well-preserved finds when they excavated the gun carriage, which was at risk of erosion, and lifted it from the seabed aboard a boat, Jumbo, in August. Conservation experts, archaeologists and an ordnance specialist have inspected the carriage at the York Archaeological Trust’s Resource Centre.

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
© Historic England
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” says Alison James, a maritime archaeologist for Historic England.

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
© Historic England
“The wood is in excellent condition. You can see where it’s been exposed and the parts that have attracted organisms, but that’s only the very top of the carriage.

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
© Historic England
“Below that, it’s in as good a condition as it was 350 years ago. You can see the maker’s mark.

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
© Historic England
“Our work is looking at how the gun carriage works. These things don’t exist out there – it’s a really rare opportunity to study it.

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
The dive team and boat crew pose with the gun carriage following its successful recovery from the seabed© Historic England
“It’s incredibly rare. As far as we’re aware it’s the only 17th century gun carriage anywhere that’s been under water on the sea bed and recovered.

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
Steve Ellis, the London's licencee, guides the axle of the gun carriage on to shore© Historic England
“We have also got all the gunners’ implements to make cannon fire which were found next to it. It’s a real snapshot into the work that went on firing the cannon.”

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
Photo 2 A base off a glass vessel found during the excavation© Historic England
Large numbers of linstocks, used for lighting the cannon and said to be in “pristine” condition, were found on the seabed alongside large timbers, fragile glass vessels, tampions used to plug the muzzle of the gun, hand sticks and rope.

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
A selection of the linstocks found during one dive session© Historic England
A wooden shoe sole and a decorated tile were also found during a single week of searching when the team worked into the night to recover around 140 fragile artefacts.

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
The gun carriage emerges from the Thames© Historic England
“Its really exciting to be working on a complete and intact gun carriage dating from Cromwell’s time,” says Ian Panter, the Head of Conservation at the trust.

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
An image from one of the night dives© Historic England
“I’ve conserved fragments of gun carriage over the years, but this is my first complete one in over 35 years in the profession.”

A photo of part of a stone gun carriage from the ancient HMS London warship
© Historic England
The carriage could go on public display before returning to Southend-on-Sea next year.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three museums to see marine archaeology in

Tower Museum, Derry
The permanent exhibition, Armada shipwreck – La Trinidad Valencera, narrates the story of La Trinidad Valencera, one of the largest ships in the Armada Fleet. In 1588 it foundered in Kinnagoe Bay in Co. Donegal during a violent storm and was discovered nearly 400 years later by divers from the City of Derry Sub Aqua Club.

National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War provides a rare opportunity to find out about the shipwrecks along the south coast of England that date from the First World War. Until March 21 2016.

Weymouth Museum
Located on the first floor of Brewers Quay, the home of the Borough Collection, reflects the physical, cultural and economic history of the area, including Archaeology, Maritime, Trade and Commerce collections.
Latest comment: >Make a comment
It's an important discovery, being meticulously studied and expertly conserved (and yes, conservators do merit a big slice of the praise). It's not true however that it is the first of its kind to be recovered from a wreck. One was found on the Swan, a small warship lost off the west coast of Scotland in 1653. It's now in the National Museum of Scotland, has been expertly conserved, and published eleven years ago in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology .
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