Latest News


HMS Campania, Firth of Forth

Few ships can lay claim to a career as eventful as that of HMS Campania. The ship began life as one of Cunard's first great liners. Constructed by Fairfields at Govan, and launched in September 1892, at nearly 200m long and displacing 18,000 tons the Campania was an enormous ship by the standards of the time. Campania was the first Cunard ship to completely dispense with sail and have twin propeller shafts.
In 1893, after an impressive maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York, the Campania broke the record for the passage from New York to Queenstown (now Cobh in the Republic of Ireland), making the journey in 5 days 17 hours and 27 minutes. Later that year it took the Liverpool to New York record. Intense rivalry meant these records did not stand for long and the Campania's sister ship Lucania took the record for itself not long after.
After little more than a decade of Atlantic crossings the Campania was due to be scrapped, but the First World War (1914-1918) saw the ship brought back into service to replace the more modern Aquitania, which had been requisitioned by the Admiralty. After three more return crossings, the Campania was sold to a breaker's yard in 1914, its working life seemingly at an end.
However, the pressures of the war led the Admiralty to buy the ship, and they converted the liner into a seaplane carrier and armed merchant cruiser. After a conversion at Cammell Laird's in Birkenhead, HMS Campania was commissioned in February 1915.
The first of the Royal Navy's large carriers, the original passenger accommodation was converted into a huge hold to carry 14 folded-wing seaplanes. The planes were hoisted out of the hold using cranes, their wings unfolded and they were then placed in the sea.
Shortcomings were noted with the ship after manouevres in Scapa Flow, and it was returned to Cammell Lairds where it had a forward flightdeck fitted. The flightdeck allowed the Campania to launch an aircraft directly from the ship into a headwind. In May 1915, back in Scapa Flow, the Campania successfully launched a Sopwith Schneider seaplane from its deck into a force 4 wind. This was the first time this had been done, and the event heralded the advent of the modern aircraft carrier.
After further trials the ship underwent a third refit to lengthen the flight deck. The forward funnel was replaced with two smaller funnels and its after-deck was was cleared to carry an observation balloon. The ship was now ready to join the war.
The Campania sailed with the Grand fleet for Jutland, where it was intended to provide spotting aircraft for the Fleet. However, the ships age now began to tell and it was unable to keep up with the 27 knot speed of the Fleet, HMS Campania was ordered to turn about, and so missed possible destruction at the Battle of Jutland.
The Campania was mostly stationed in Scapa Flow for the remainder of the war, but only six days before the armistice it was anchored off Burntisland with several other warships in the Firth of Forth. A gale struck the anchored ships early on the 5th November, and one of Campania's anchor chains broke. The ship began to drag along the Firth out of control and it struck some of the other vessels anchored nearby. The bow of HMS Revenge pierced the port side of the Campania and slowly it began to settle by the stern.
All of the crew were able to abandon ship, but at 08:35 am one of the ship's boilers exploded and Campania sank. The ship's masts were visible for the next five years, until the Admiralty decided the ship presented too great a navigational hazard. A salvage company placed charges on the wreck of the ship and it was blasted to a safe clearance depth.
For a long time after the wreck was cleared, it was thought the Campania lay broken in two on the seabed, but a survey of the wreck in 1999 showed the wreck has remained in one piece and survives as a large upstanding structure.
HMS Campania was designated as a protected wreck under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) in 2000.

Wessex Archaeology Investigations

In 2004 Historic Scotland asked Wessex Archaeology to undertake a new geophysical survey of the Campania. Wessex Archaeology geophysicist Paul Baggaley, working with a team from St Andrew's University, surveyed the wreck with sidescan sonar equipment to produce a single properly positioned image of the wreck and any material from it that lay on the seabed around it.
The team also used sub-bottom profiling survey equipment on the wreck site to see what the seabed around the wreck was like.

Sidescan image of HMS Campania

The sidescan survey showed that despite the clearance of the wreck to make it safe for navigation, the wreck has survived in a good condition. The images obtained from the survey showed that some of the upstanding features removed from the wreck during clearance like the main mast now lie at an angle from the deck to the seabed. The experimental and distinctive lobe shaped forward flight deck still survives on the vessel and parts of the ships cranes are still in place.
You can download the full report of Wessex Archaeology’s investigations as a PDF: HMS Campania, Designated Site Assessment, Full Report.

Map showing the location of the protected wreck HMS Campania

Javascript is required to view this map.

Iona II, Lundy

The Iona II was lost in 1864 on its way to America where it was to embark on its new occupation as a Confederate blockade-runner during the American Civil War (1861-1865).
The Iona II started life as a fast ferry paddle steamer for the Clyde. When it was built in 1863 it was fitted with a specially designed twin cylinder oscillating engine that was reputed to have given it a top speed of 24 knots.
The ship was bought by Charles Hopkins Boster of Richmond, Virginia, but on its way to cross the Atlantic it sank east of Lundy on the 2nd February 1864. Following its loss the wreck was reported to have been heavily salvaged, although it is still unknown what the salvors were looking for and what they may have recovered.
The Iona II was discovered in 1976 by John Shaw, a local dive operator, who had been looking for another wreck, MV Robert, which lies nearby. Shaw undertook some small-scale excavation at the site.
The wreck site sits upright on the seabed, and it is thought that a large amount of the hull may survive buried in the seabed. The bow and stern sections of the vessel now lie mostly flush with the seabed although the boilers and paddle wheel crankshaft amidships stand approximately 1.5m above the seabed.

The Iona II’s boilers

The site was investigated by the Archaeological Diving Unit in 1989, and the site was subsequently designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) in 1990, the wreck also lies within the Lundy Marine Nature Reserve.
A number of individuals hold visitor licences for Iona II.

Wessex Archaeology's Diving Investigations

In 2004 English Heritage commissioned Wessex Archaeology carry out a designated site assessment of the Iona II as part of our contract for archaeological services in relation to the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973). Our divers measured the wreck and its key features in detail and made a photographic survey of the wreck that can now be used to monitor the condition of the wreck for the future.
Wessex Archaeology divers also identified a number of key areas around the wreck site that can be used to monitor sediments around the wreck and the structure of the wreck itself. Together with information gathered by other divers who have permission to dive the wreck, any deterioration of the wreck can be identified.

Crankshaft to drive paddle wheels, Iona II

During our work Wessex Archaeology found that parts of the Iona II lay outside the area afforded statutory protection. Our observations of the Iona II were used to alter the restricted area to ensure the whole of the wreck lies within the protected zone.
You can download the full report of Wessex Archaeology's Investigations as a PDF: Iona II, Designated Site Assessment, Full Report.
Map showing the protected wreck Iona II's location
Javascript is required to view this map.

Stirling Castle, Goodwin Sands

The 'Great Storm' of 1703 is believed to have sunk 90 vessels on the Goodwin Sands off Kent alone. One of the ships lost was the warship Stirling Castle.
The Stirling Castle was a Third Rate, 70 gun ship built at Deptford in 1678 as part of Samuel Pepys' 'Thirty Ships' building programme intended to regenerate the Royal Navy following the third Anglo-Dutch war (1672-1674).
After serving during William III's war with France in the 1690s the Stirling Castle was rebuilt at Chatham, and refitted in 1701. The Stirling Castle was engaged in war duties in the Mediterranean during the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714) and had just returned in the Summer of 1703. In November that year the Stirling Castle was one of a large number of naval vessels anchored in the Downs when the storm struck. The ship was driven onto the Goodwin Sands and sank. Only 69 of the 268 crew survived.
The wreck was found by local sports divers in 1979 in an exceptional state of preservation. It was designated as a protected wreck under The Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) in 1980. Since its discovery the site has deteriorated rapidly due to the loss of the sand that buried the wreck and unauthorised fishing and diving activities.

Sternpost and rudder, Stirling Castle

A local diving group called SeaDive has been working to record and preserve the wreck. The licensee of the Stirling Castle is a member of the group.

Wessex Archaeology Investigations

English Heritage commissioned Wessex Archaeology to undertake a desk based assessment of the wreck site in 2003, and diving investigations on the site in 2003 and 2006.
Wessex Archaeology divers were requested to survey artefacts and key features on the wreck using tracked diver positioning, and to produce a site plan based on measurements between identified features. The survey was to pay particular attention to features that might be at risk, such as the sternpost and rudder. Existing plans made by SeaDive and multibeam acoustic survey data provided by RASSE were available to aid our dive team meet their objectives.

Deck timbers at the Stern of the Stirling Castle


Diving conditions on the Stirling Castle are difficult. Fast currents can drag a diver off the site and visibility can sometimes be reduced to zero because of algae and sediments in the water.
Our divers were able to produce an updated site plan for the wreck although the size of this well preserved wreck means that an overall drawn plan of the site has not yet been completed. A number of artefacts in danger of being lost from the wreck were recovered and handed to English Heritage for conservation.

A coil of rope, an organic artefact on the Stirling Castle.

Map showing the location of the protected wreck Stirling Castle

Javascript is required to view this map.

Anglo-Saxon burials found at Twyford School, Winchester

Builders working on new classrooms at Twyford School have discovered Anglo-Saxon burials. At least 12 graves have been found in a small cemetery dating back to the 7th century AD.

The bodies had been laid out in shallow graves cut into the chalk. An iron knife placed next to one of the dead is the clue to the date of the cemetery.

Rob Bosshardt the Bursar at Twyford School said, “it was a surprise when the burials were made as when the planning application was checked it was thought that there was not much likelihood of any archaeological finds. The site has been landscaped in the past. But it is an exciting find which the children will be fascinated to learn more about.”

After consulting with Tracey Matthews, archaeologist for Winchester City Council, the school called in archaeologists to do an excavation. Tracey Matthews added “an unexpected discovery like this can cause delays to building works but the school acted promptly and did the right thing.”

When the dig, which is being done by local experts Wessex Archaeology, is finished, the remains will be studied in the laboratory to establish the age and sex of the dead, and also their exact date.

Paul McCulloch, Project Manager at Wessex Archaeology said “The first time Twyford, which means ‘Two Fords’, is mentioned in historical sources is in the 7th century. We think the burials date right back to this time, about 1,300 years ago. Three or four Anglo-Saxon cemeteries of this date are already known around Winchester, including one at Oliver’s Battery and some of the finds from there are on display in Winchester Museum.”

View the photos from the excavation on Flickr.

Lost at sea: New study of plane crash sites

Thousands of planes crashed into the sea around Britain, many during WWII. At the time the planes and many of their crew were presumed to be lost for ever. But today, more and more are being found, by divers; and increasingly as a result of dredging for sand and gravel.

Part of a German saddle drum magazine for a MG15 machine-gun from a crash site off the Suffolk coast: probably of a Henkel He. 111 bomber.Part of a German saddle drum magazine for a MG15 machine-gun from a crash site off the Suffolk coast: probably of a Henkel He. 111 bomber.

The crash sites of military aeroplanes are given automatic protection under the 1986 Protection of Military Remains Act, meaning they should not be disturbed. The problem is that the location of the great majority of crash sites at sea is not known. Even known shipwreck sites have, on closer examination, recently been proved to be of aeroplanes

Around 20% of the sand and gravel used for construction in England and Wales is gathered by dredging out at sea. One unexpected result of a recent scheme for dredgers to report archaeological finds has been the routine discovery of plane crash sites, sometimes with human remains.

Euan McNeill of Wessex Archaeology explained ’staff working for aggregate companies on board the dredgers and on the wharves where the sand and gravel is processed have been given help to identify archaeological finds so they know when to call the archaeologists. A web based reporting system means that there is prompt expert feedback. Even when finds are only identified on the wharves it is still possible to track back where the gravel was dredged from.’ Planes identified this way include a Fleet Air Arm Supermarine Attacker, what is either an American B-25 or P-51 bomber, and a German Junkers JU-88 bomber.

One of our British Marine Aggregates Producers Association (BMAPA) Awareness Programme sessions.: The object is part of a Supermarine Attacker from off the Sussex coast. Photograph Elaine A. Wakefield. Wessex Archaeology.One of our British Marine Aggregates Producers Association (BMAPA) Awareness Programme sessions.: The object is part of a Supermarine Attacker from off the Sussex coast. Photograph Elaine A. Wakefield. Wessex Archaeology.

When such discoveries are made, the marine aggregate operators follow a protocol that allows an Exclusion Zone to be set up around the site and dredging stops there. The possible presence of the remains of the crew and passengers and also unexploded munitions are assessed. This can put large areas of the seabed that are otherwise suitable for dredging out of bounds until further work can be done to see if the crash site can be found.’

McNeill added ‘Many families today are still touched by this issue. It represents a challenge, both ethical and logistical, for the marine aggregate industry and heritage professionals.’

As preliminary study of the issue by Wessex Archaeology has been commissioned by English Heritage, funded through the Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund.

The first phase of this study is already underway. Wessex Archaeology are asking individuals and organisations with records or specialist knowledge of aircraft crash sites or losses at sea to come forward and tell them what information they have and why they think that aircraft crash sites at sea are important. The deadline for this stage of the project is Friday November 30th, 2007.

Visit the Aircraft Crash Sites at Sea project website to find out more.

Roman stone coffin from Poundbury

Lifting the CoffinLifting the CoffinA Roman stone coffin, probably dating to the 3rd or 4th centuries AD, was found recently in archaeological excavations in Poundbury, Dorchester.

Visit our project page on the discovery of the coffin for photographs and further information.

Medieval burials found at Christchurch Park, Ipswich

Archaeologists have found a medieval cemetery, probably part of the St Margaret’s church burial ground, at Christchurch Park.

The burials were found while a new drainage system for the park renovations was being dug. Archaeologists were watching the pipe trench being dug because it was known that the cemetery, which is at least 500 years old, lay nearby but it was not known exactly where. In order to protect the burials, the route of the pipe has been re-routed across the lawns of the park.

Find out more at our Christchurch Park project website.

Blogging and digging

Staff running our 2007 practical archaeology course will be blogging about the dig each day for the next 2 weeks.

Visit our events blog to follow the course, or subscribe to the events blog RSS feed to keep up to date with the latest news from the course at Cranborne Chase in Dorset, UK.

Pan Community Archaeology Project 2007

Wessex Archaeology has been commissioned by Pan Neighbourhood Partnership to run a summer holiday archaeological dig on a small area of land behind Garden Way, Pan on the Isle of Wight.

You can follow the excavation over at our Events Blog.

Extra places on archaeology course

Due to the many requests we have had for bookings on the 2007 Practical Archaeology Course at Down Farm, Cranborne Chase, we have released 8 more places.

Book now to avoid disappointment!

Find out more at the Practical Archaeology Course 2007 homepage.

Syndicate content