Thames Historic Hulks

Foreshore Survey on the Thames Near London for English Heritage

In 1996, the Thames Archaeological Survey (TAS – which has been superseded by the Thames Discovery Programme) embarked upon an ambitious three-year project that sought to complete a baseline archaeological survey of the Thames foreshore between Teddington and Greenwich. This endeavour, which focused largely on an assessment of historic Hulk bank reinforcement structures composed of derelict ships, piers and docks, (including a site labelled FBX15) had an additional aim of raising awareness of the Thames intertidal area as a unique and archaeologically rich resource. 
 
After experiencing high winds and seas that made a diving survey in the outer Thames Estuary impossible, on 23rd July 2014, Wessex Archaeology’s Coastal & Marine archaeologists had the chance to rapidly respond to a request from English Heritage to visit site FBX15 in an area known as, 'The Saltings'.
 

1900 The Thames from the Erith Yacht Club

The primary aim for the team was to see if they could locate and document the condition of what was believed to be the possible remains of an 18th century Thames sailing barge. While definitive evidence of an 18th century sailing vessel was not found, the team still assessed the overall preservation level of the site. This was mainly seen to be composed of a cluster of approximately eight other features south and adjacent to the Erith Yacht Club where a large and prominent wind turbine spun nearby. 
 
However, access to the area was not without its considerable challenges. A formidable quagmire of thick, deep mud prevented the team from moving much further south of the most prominent feature (A101) the Lady Mary. Surprisingly, this 19th century barge is mostly intact and in very good condition compared to other wooden features and structures nearby. Even so, the vessel has seemingly deteriorated considerably since 1996 when TAS last documented its state of preservation.
 

1901 Left: 1996 Thames Discovery Programme Right: 2014 Wessex Archaeology

Despite this, structures and features including: the Lady Mary (A101); Abandoned Sailing Skiff (A102); Watercraft and Structure (A113); Possible Thames Sailing Barge (A103); Watercraft (A114); Watercraft (A115); Rudder (A116); and Barge bed? (A118) were all positively identified by Wessex Archaeology’s team.
 

1902 Some of the structure recorded at site FBX15

Due to their cultural complexity and exposure to damage from the elements, Wessex Archaeology will continue to provide an invaluable service when it comes to conducting regular assessments of similarly intriguing archaeological features such as those that can be observed at The Saltings. This kind of survey will continue to promote the much needed preservation of culturally rich intertidal heritage sites that are found on the Thames and in other areas of the UK.