A century-old First World War minesweeper lies well preserved at the bottom of the sea off the Dorset coast

By Lauren Cox | 18 August 2016

An untouched World War One vessel has been granted special protection on the seabed of Dorset

Diver looking at the engine of the Arfon - the First World War minesweeping trawler which has been given protection by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. © Swanage Boat Charters Ltd
A rare steam fishing trawler, left undiscovered on the seabed off St Alban’s Head in Dorset for a century, has been given protected status by the Department for Culture Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.

The shipwreck, fitted out as a minesweeper for the Royal Navy during the First World War, is said to be "uniquely well-preserved" by archaeologists.

The Fleetwood-based trawler ‘City of York’, a comparable vessel to the First World War trawler and minesweeper ‘Arfon’© Swanage Boat Charters Ltd
“The Arfon is a rare survivor of a type of vessel once very common around the coastline of Britain but which has now entirely disappeared, surviving only in documents and as wrecks like this one,” says Joe Flatman, the Head of Listing Programmes at Historic England.

Built in 1908 in Goole, in East Yorkshire, the minesweeper worked out of Portland Harbour Naval Base for three years during the war until it struck a mine in 1917, resulting in the loss of 10 of its 13 crew.

Mine damage on the Arfon© Swanage Boat Charters Ltd
“Trawlers, minesweepers and other coastal patrol vessels played a crucial role in keeping the sea lanes around the British Isles open during both World Wars, a part of the war effort that is often overlooked," says Flatman.

“The crews who served aboard such vessels faced tremendous dangers with unstinting bravery and devotion to duty."

A gun from the wreck of the Arfon© Copyright Swanage Boat Charters Ltd
Martin and Bryan Jones, who run a family dive charter business, found the wreck off the Dorset coast in 2014 while diving.

They are now planning a special commemoration to mark the centenary of its sinking next April.

The brass lubricator from the wreck of the Arfon before it was recovered and cleaned up© Swanage Boat Charters Ltd
© Swanage Boat Charters Ltd
The Arfon is considered to be at risk from uncontrolled salvage for fixtures and fittings and vulnerable to souvenir hunters. But the trawler’s key features, such as its mine-sweeping gear, deck gun, portholes and engine room, are remarkably still intact.
 
Access to the shipwreck is now granted only to divers with a licence from Historic England under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.

The Telegraph engine room from the wreck of the Arfon © Swanage Boat Charters Ltd
Underwater image of the engine dials on the First World War minesweeping trawler the Arfon© Swanage Boat Charters Ltd
A diver at the stern of the wreck of the Arfon© Swanage Boat Charters Ltd
What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three places to see maritime history in

National Maritime Museum, London
As part of the museum’s commemoration of World War One, a new gallery, Forgotten Fighters: the First World War at Sea, explores the naval and maritime dimensions of the conflict.

Maritime Archaeology Trust, Southampton
Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War is a Heritage Lottery-funded four-year project devised and delivered by the Maritime Archaeology Trust to coincide with the centenary of the Great War. Visit forgottenwrecks.org.


Liverpool Biennial, 14–18 NOW WW1 Centenary Art Commissions and Tate Liverpool have co-commissioned one of the major figures of British pop art, Sir Peter Blake, to ‘dazzle’ a Mersey. Until December 1 2016.
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