Tudor shipwreck discovered by local group on Kent beach

The government has listed the vessel as the only wreck of its kind in south-east England

A Tudor shipwreck, discovered by members of a local history group surveying Tankerton beach, near Whitstable, in Kent for second world war pillboxes, has been given official protection by the government as the only wreck of its kind in south-east England.

Another ship believed to date from the 19th century, gradually being exposed at low tides at Camber Sands near Rye harbour in East Sussex, is also being listed.

The group in Kent was astonished to spot the outline of a ship at low tide in the mud flats, preserved by silty sand for more than 300 years. They reported it to Historic England who commissioned Wessex Archaeology to investigate. Trenches dug along the sides have revealed well preserved curved hull timbers.

Volunteers show the outline of the newly discovered Tankerton shipwreck near Whitstable in Kent
Volunteers show the outline of the newly discovered Tankerton shipwreck near Whitstable in Kent. Photograph: Chris Redgrave/Historic England

Archaeologists are hoping to recover evidence for the cargo and possessions of the crew, but initial results of dendrochronology and other tests suggest the tree which supplied one oak plank was felled in 1531, and a possible 16th-century date for other elm, larch and beech timbers.

The ship is believed to be a single-masted, carvel-built merchant ship of up to 200 tons, precious because the humble working vessels of shipping history are far less likely to survive than gorgeously carved state barges. It may have been carrying copperas, also known as green vitriol – hydrated ferrous sulphate – extensively used as a dye fixative to make ink and known to have been produced around Whitstable from 1565.

Mark Harrison, director of Timescapes, a local history group, said: “Our group of volunteers was looking for exploded world war two pillboxes along the Kent coast. Adjacent to a lump of exploded concrete, we were amazed to see the timbers of a ship appearing out of the sand.

“We reported the find to Historic England and are pleased that what turned out to be a medieval wreck has been given protection and that this excavation could tell us more about its story.”

The Camber Sands wreck was reported by a member of the public who first saw a single stump of timber showing at low tides, but in autumn 2016 realised the outline of a ship was emerging. It is gradually being scoured free of the silt which protected the heavily built vessel 47.2 metres long by 9.5 metres wide, lying parallel to the beach. It is believed to date from the late 18th or early 19th century.

It may be the Avon, built in Nova Scotia in 1843, reported to have “stranded and drifted alongshore to the east of Rye harbour and received considerable damage” in August 1852, while returning from Le Havre with a cargo of timber.

Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, said the two ships were very different but equally fascinating. “Many of the ships that Historic England protects are accessible only to divers but when the sands shift and the tide is right, visitors to these beaches in Kent and Sussex can catch a glimpse of these incredible wrecks.”


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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