Archaeologists reveal Mary Rose-style shipwreck finds from The London on Southend Pier

By Ben Miller | 08 August 2014

A dive to excavate the blown-up shipwreck of a war vessel built in 1656 has allowed the public to see its spoils within the unlikely setting of Southend Pier

Click on the picture to launch the gallery

Southend’s pier – the longest pleasure pier in the world – might be better known for its train rides and frivolities than as a place to see the remains dredged from a 350-year-old warship wreckage off the Thames Estuary, but the culmination of 10 planned dives by a specialist team investigating the only surviving wooden Large Ship of the mid-17th century changed that this week.

A photo of people looking at archaeological artefacts on a table outdoors
The community project has seen volunteers, archaeologists and museum experts presenting finds from The London to the public© Luke Mair
English Heritage and underwater excavators from Cotswold Archaeology introduced the spoils of three trenches from the ship to the public on the pier, clambering onto its deck to offer ingots, pewter spoons and coins recovered from a vessel made as one of ten for the Anglo-Dutch war.

“We haven’t done anything like this on the pier,” says Luisa Hagele, the curator for Southend Museums and leader of 15 volunteers on the project, trained alongside the Nautical Archaeological Society as part of a discovery which has attracted interest across the world.

“We’ve done handling sessions and things involving objects, but nothing like this where the divers are bringing them directly from the excavation and they’re being shown straight away to local people.

“They had everything in their buckets and tubs and containers and I sent some of my volunteers to bring those up.

“I organised them kind of like a production line, with the tables laid out in front of the audience, the people.

“We advertised it, so some people came specifically, but there were a lot of people who were just visiting and happened to be there on a good day when we were doing something exciting.

“We’ve got a real mix of the sort of things you would expect to find. Generally there are personal items, ordnance, fixtures and fittings consistent with a 17th century warship.”

A photo of an ancient green and black glass bottle recovered from a shipwreck
This glass bottle from the ship is in a very good condition apart from a small chip on the neck. The surface is still covered in marine encrustations which will be removed© English Heritage
This was the final week of dives in the first of a two-year attempt to salvage a ship rediscovered in 2005 during work to create the London Gateway Port. Its fragile remains – exposed by shifting seabed sediment levels – caused English Heritage to immediately place The London on the At Risk register, and the Museums Service and lead diver Steven Ellis have won award nominations for their work to protect this eerie piece of maritime past.

“It was very interesting from my perspective,” says Hagele, reflecting on her own visit to a ship which Mark Dunkley, English Heritage’s Maritime Archaeologist, believes blew up before sinking.

“It’s nice to see what they brought up – lots of musket shots and pistol shots.

“The visibility was so poor. I think they said you can only see your hand in front of your face really, unless it’s a really good day.”

A research meeting will take place at the museum next week, when the team will draw conclusions from the documents, recordings and data while the objects are cared for by conservators.

“It’ll be installed for permanent display once all that is done. Until everything’s back with us and stabilised I won’t know which ones I want to display, but it’ll come to me – I’ve a few ideas.”

“The artefacts that we can recover may be similar in scope to those recovered from the Mary Rose, but 120 years later in date,” says Steve Webster, the Project Manager for Cotswold Archaeology, who were commissioned to take the plunge.

“This will allow us to better understand a whole range of changes that occurred between the first half of the 16th century and the second half of the 17th century – a period that saw the expansion of Britain's sea power and marks the start of the British Empire.”

Pics: Luke Mair / English Heritage

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