Thames estuary shipwrecks in spotlight at pop-up museum

Museum of the Thames Estuary, among the arcades and fairground rides in Southend, is part of a new arts festival

A spectacular drawing by the artist Adam Dant featuring dozens of known Thames estuary shipwrecks – including of the warship London – will go on display for the first time in a pop-up museum housed in a shipping container.

It is hoped that many finds from the London and other wrecks will be put on permanent display in a proposed new museum in Southend. But meanwhile the temporary Museum of the Thames Estuary on the seafront among the amusement arcades and fairground rides will be a feature of a new biennial arts festival, Estuary, launching next month.

The London blew itself up in 1665, apparently as a 21-gun salute was being prepared. Maritime archaeologists have been working on the ship for several years, led by Steven Ellis, a local fishmonger, diver and amateur historian.

Last year the team brought up an extremely rare intact 17th-century gun carriage. The wreck lies in shallow water almost within sight of Southend pier, where the timbers had been protected for centuries by the deep estuary silt, but are now becoming exposed and breaking up because of changing tidal patterns.

The shifting sand bars of the estuary, including the dreaded Goodwin Sands, nicknamed the Ship Swallower, spelled disaster for thousands of sailors and their vessels. Dant’s intricate pen and ink drawing shows scores of the known victims, from little fishing boats to grand sailing ships such as the London.


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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