OUR TOP FIVE LESSER-KNOWN MARITIME ARCHAEOLOGY SITES
Over the decades, we have had the privilege of exploring, excavating and researching some of the UK’s most fascinating maritime archaeology sites. But despite the abundance of discoveries and the history that has been unearthed, we feel that some of these sites and their associated stories haven’t had the profile they deserve. With this in mind, we thought it was time to put some of our favourite ‘lesser-known’ maritime archaeology sites under the spotlight. We hope you enjoy our rundown.
NO 1: CADUCEUS
On the morning of 28th November 1881, during a heavy gale, the composite sailing barque, Caduceus, was wrecked upon Chichester Folds, south of Hayling Island in the eastern Solent. In the days that followed, the vessel was badly torn apart and some of it washed ashore, including the ship’s cargo of coal, which was later sold. The wreck site was first discovered in August 1966 and identified by Alexander McKee, a local diver and historian who carried out a number of dives to recover parts of the ship. The site was then rediscovered in 2010 and surveyed as part of the Archaeological Atlas of the 2 Seas project. Although many of the site’s reported features were missing, survival of the construction method used to build Caduceus means we have great scope for future research into mid 19th century British shipbuilding practices.
DID YOU KNOW? Alexander McKee also found the Mary Rose, King Henry VIII’s warship, which served in the English Tudor navy for 33 years before being sunk on 19 July 1545.
NO 2: LANDING CRAFT TANK (ARMOURED) 2428
Landing Craft Tank (Armoured) 2428 (LCT(A) 2428) was the leader of the 105th Flotilla of Assault Group J1 Support Squadron, assigned to carry tanks that would provide heavy firepower during the Normandy landings. On the evening of 5th June 1944, while on passage to Normandy, LCT(A) 2428 experienced engine trouble and consequently capsized, losing its cargo in the process. To remove a potential hazard for other vessels involved in the crossing, LCT(A) 2428’s upturned hull was fired upon until it sank. This unusual sequence of events resulted in two separate sites on the seabed, one consisting of vehicles and other equipment at the point of capsize, the other comprising the landing craft.
In 2010, joined by divers from Southsea Sub-Aqua Club, we visited both of LCT(A) 2428’s sites. This resulted in the development of a three-dimensional site plan, an archaeological report, and an oral history podcast. The ‘vehicles’ part of this wreck was given formal heritage protection as part of the D-Day 75th commemorations. Find out more.
NO 3: FENNA
Three nautical miles west-south-west of the Needles lies the wreck of the Fenna, a two-masted sailing schooner that was built in Hoogezand, the Netherlands in 1862. Resting on a flat gravel and sand seabed, the vessel lies in an upright position and, despite much of it degrading away, has become an oasis for marine life. Its most profound feature is its cargo, which rises 2.5m from the seafloor and includes a number of fascinating artefacts, including railway lines, glass sheets and concrete barrels. These can help to inform us of the types of materials that were shipped around Europe in the mid to late 19th century and the reasons specific materials were shipped to specific locations. Furthermore, the way in which the cargo is stowed in relation to the vessel and its intended ports of call offers a rare and uniquely detailed record of what is usually a poorly represented area of maritime activity.
NO 4: SS EMPRESS QUEEN
The Empress Queen, a 360 ft long paddle steamer built in Glasgow by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, started life as a passenger ship that connected the Isle of Man to Merseyside before being conscripted as a troop transport ship during the First World War. When the vessel first came into service, it was one of the fastest and most powerful paddle steamers on the seas and proved to be a valuable asset to the war effort, transporting many thousands of troops between Southampton and Le Havre for almost a year before running aground off Bembridge on the Isle of Wight. After running aground, an attempted rescue mission to save the vessel was made but later abandoned due to gale force winds sweeping across the Solent.
Would you like to see some of the artefacts that have been recovered from the Empress Queen’s dive site? If so, you might like to visit our Shipwreck Centre & Maritime Museum.
NO 5: SMYRNA
On the morning of 28th April 1888, after entering a fog bank where it collided with another vessel, the Smyrna, with just one of its lifeboats deployed, heeled over and sank stern first into the Solent. The vessel it collided with was the Moto. Just 20 minutes after the collision, the Moto had lowered its lifeboats and returned to the scene, but by then, 12 of the Smyrna’s 18-man crew had drowned, including the ship’s captain, Henry Digman. Today, the Smyrna’s resting place is a popular dive site. In the past, over 150 artefacts, including crockery, glass bottles, candlesticks, a chamber pot, a brass alarm clock, and many other intriguing items have been salvaged. There is further survey work to be done to fully record the seabed remains of this fascinating site.
Do you have a favourite ‘lesser-known’ maritime archaeology site that you think should be included in our list? If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Please get in touch.