The Bottle Wreck (Site 5013)

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Plan of the Bottle wreckPipes 1 Pump box Copper sheathing Pipes 2 Anchor Hull structure Pipes 3


Wreck site 5013 lies 7.18 nautical miles east south east of Selsey Bill. The wreck position is 50.40.919 N, 00.36.557W (Geodetic co-ordinates, WGS 84) or E 668864.22, N 5617198.10 (UTM Zone 30N, WGS 84). The wreck lies in a general depth of 19.7m (CD). Depths experienced on site ranged from 22m to 26m.

What is left on the seabed?

The pipe cargo mound is 11.5m long and measures 6m across.The pipe cargo mound is 11.5m long and measures 6m across.The wreck is lying on an even keel with a slight list to port orientated NNE - SSW. The site is 28m long and 8m wide. The most prominent feature on the seabed is the cargo of stacked iron pipes which ranges from 60cm to 2m in height. The pipe cargo mound is 11.5m long and measures 6m across (view image).
In an area 4m to the South of the pipe cargo, partly exposed hull timbers mark the location of the bow. To the North buried timber and copper bolts are visible in a distance of up to 10m from the cargo mound. The pipe cargo mound has partly collapsed to the starboard side, where broken pipes and metal debris are lying on the seabed.
Scattered artefacts and concretions are exposed on the seabed in an area of c. 30m around the wreck. A concentration of glass beer bottles and bottle shards was observed in the bow area. North of the cargo mound the seabed is littered with broken pottery and potsherds. Two large irregular shaped lumps of a brown, possibly organic material were observed in the bow area, covering some of the exposed hull structure. The nature of this material is unknown.


The lower part of the vessel’s hull survives in the seabed. Timbers are exposed in the bow area and close to the stern only. Due to the level of burial, excavation would be necessary to allow more detailed recording of the structural remains.
Outer planks are 6-8cm thick and ceiling planks have a thickness of 5cm.Outer planks are 6-8cm thick and ceiling planks have a thickness of 5cm.The vessel seems to be built from oak. Outer Planks and ceiling planks are fastened by a combination of trenails and copper drift or clench bolts. In the bow area frames are 16cm to 19cm sided and 18cm moulded. Outer planks are 6-8cm thick and ceiling planks have a thickness of 5cm. In one area the width of a ceiling plank could be measured as 30cm. All trenails have a diameter of 3.2cm. The average diameter of the copper bolts is 2.5cm (view image 1, 2).
The outer hull is copper sheathed. Small pieces of copper sheathing were found around the wreck and copper sheathing was still attached to an outer plank in the northeast of the site (view image). In the bow area cant frames curve inwards towards the stem post, but the exact position of the post cannot be determined due to the sediment levels on the site.
During an excavation of the bow area in 1983, divers of the Chelmsford Underwater Archaeological Unit uncovered the keelson (the upper part of the keel), which was 25cm wide and 23cm high. Just south of the pipe cargo, a mortise measuring 15cm x 15cm was observed in either the keelson or a 5cm high mast step on top of the keelson. The foot of the fore mast would have been stepped into the mortise. The mast step was covered by a round concretion 61cm high and 35cm in diameter, possibly the remains of the fore mast.
A second mast step, covered by concretion, was observed just forward of a pump box in the pipe cargo mound in 2005. Measurements could not be obtained as the pipes shifted sternwards onto the pump box and covered the mast step. Its association with the ship's pumps would suggest that this was the position of the main mast.
At the stern a single timber was seen 8m aft of the pipe cargo mound in line with the lubber line of the vessel. It is heavily eroded and measures 2m by 50cm. Three eroded copper bolts extend upwards from the timber. Judging by its location, this could be part of keel, keelson or part of the stern construction of the vessel.


An iron pump boxAn iron pump boxVery few fittings are preserved on the seabed. The shaft, stock and ring of a small anchor were observed in the bow area on the portside of the vessel (view image 1, 2). The iron stock is 4cm in diameter and 1.3m long. The ring has an outer diameter of 20cm. The inner diameter is 12cm. The shaft is heavily concreted and barely visible. Crown and arms are buried.
An iron pump box, measuring 1m x 40cm is located aft of the mainmast in the pipe cargo mound. The concreted remains of two metal suction pipes, each of 18cm diameter are visible in the box.


Several different types of cargo are known to derive from site 5013. The cargo can be divided into the following categories:
  • Cast iron pipes
  • Beer (in barrels and bottles)
  • General Cargo (including pottery, cutlery, razors and guns)


Cast iron pipes

Lengths of Cast Iron PipesLengths of Cast Iron PipesLengths or 'sticks' of cast iron pipes form the main cargo mound which is clearly visible on the seabed. In 1983 divers counted 204 pipes in four banks. The sticks are 2.77m (9ft) long with a 10cm (4in) socket at one end. The external socket diameter is 38cm (15in). External pipe diameter is 30cm (12in). The internal diameter is between 17cm and 18cm (7in).
Type and diameter of the pipe sticks suggests that they were designed as water or drainage pipes. Cast iron water pipes were first used in the late 17th century and became increasingly popular in England and the United States from the beginning of the 19th century. In the United States cast iron pipe production started in 1819. Before this date and to a certain degree even afterwards, cast iron pipe was imported from England or Scotland.
The spigot and socket type pipe joint was developed by Sir Thomas Simpson in 1785. This joint is typical for cast iron water pipes. The pipe sticks were pushed together, and the joints were caulked with lead.
The Encyclopaedia for Municipal and Sanitary Engineering lists typical drainage pipe diameters with associated metal thickness and pipe weight. Water pipes are usually measured by the outer diameter. According to the Encyclopaedia, the 12in pipes found on site 5013 would have been made from 9/16in or 1.4cm thick metal. A pipe stick would have weighed 8.5cwt or 431kg.


Beer bottles and barrels were found forward of the pipe cargo mound. At least two barrels were excavated in 1983. The barrel staves are 1.07m (42in) long and the words 'BARCLAY & PERKINS' are burnt into the lids of the barrels. The barrels were probably hogsheads and would have contained 54 gallons of ale or porter. The Barclay & Perkins brewery was founded in Southwark, London in 1781 and was the biggest producer and exporter of beer in the 19th century.
Broken beer bottles are scattered on the seabed all around the bow area, forward of the pipe cargo. In 1983 around 500 complete and corked bottles were lifted from the site. The bottles are all of the typical 'porter' shape, common between 1760 and 1918. They are ½ pint in size. Some of the bottle corks were inscribed 'Kinnley Williams London'. Brewers of this name could not yet be tracked down. The bottles contained porter, which was a very dark and malty type of ale based on roasted malt. Porter became popular at the beginning of the 18th century and was known as a working class beer. English porter was exported to a number of countries, among others the United States, Australia and India.
Samples of yeast preserved in some of the corked bottles lifted from the site were used to recreate the original beer in 1991. The result is sold as Flag Porter by the Darwin Brewery, UK.


The pottery on site 5013 is concentrated in the area aft of the pipe cargo mound.The pottery on site 5013 is concentrated in the area aft of the pipe cargo mound. The pottery on site 5013 is concentrated in the area aft of the pipe cargo mound. Five different types of pottery can be distinguished:
  • Blue and white transfer printed willow pattern plates
  • Pink, blue and black transfer printed ware, unknown pattern with romantic landscape
  • Dark brown transfer printed ware, Bombay Japan pattern
  • Annular ware, mocha pattern
  • Refined whiteware, plain
Several blue and white transfer printed willow pattern plates were found on the site. Some examples are also kept in Littlehampton Museum. One plate was lifted, photographed and drawn in 2005. The plate has a diameter of 24.5cm and the bottom is marked 'R&C'. This trade mark could be identified as belonging to the pottery Read & Clementson which was based in Hanley, Staffordshire between 1833 and 1835.


In the 1980s unknown quantities of cutlery including spoons, knives and forks were lifted from the site. No complete examples of the knives or forks could be recorded, but a number of spoons and bone knife handles are preserved in Littlehampton Museum. The spoons are of the fiddle pattern, typical of the early 19th century.

Further General Cargo

Further general cargo found on the site includes gun flints and flintlocks, glass salt cellars, silver sugar tongs and a number of cutthroat razors. The bone razor handles were engraved with a number of different motives, including portraits of George Washington, the Liberty Bell and rural farming scenes. A razor handle recorded in Littlehampton Museum was engraved with a horizontal wave pattern.

What is the pipe wreck?

The archaeological evidence gathered during the 2005 field session indicates that wreck 5013 is the remains of a wooden merchant sailing vessel. Judging by the extent of the site and the preserved hull timbers, the vessel was ca. 28m (91.8ft) long and had a breadth of 7-8m (23ft-26ft).
It had at least two, possibly three masts. The foremast was situated 4m aft of the stem post. The distance between foremast and mainmast was 9m. The ship was carvel built from oak and fastened with trenails and copper alloy bolts. The outer hull was copper sheathed.
The ship's bilge pumps, situated aft of the main mast had cast iron tubes. The vessel was carrying a cargo of cast iron pipes, beer and general goods, including pottery. All elements of the cargo date to the first half of the 19th century.
The identification of the maker of one of the blue and white transfer printed willow pattern plates allows more accurate dating, as the pottery Read & Clementson only existed between 1833 and 1835. The terminus post quem for the sinking of the vessel is thus 1833. The terminus ante quem could tentatively be defined as 1835, but there is a possibility that Read & Clementson transfer printed ware continued to be traded after the pottery closed down.
Wreck 5013 was a wooden merchant vessel with at least two masts. The dimensions of 28m x 7/8m or 91.8ft x 23-26ft would be typical for a brig of 200t to 300t.
The copper sheathing indicates that 5013 was intended for trading in warmer waters, either the Mediterranean or the overseas trade. This interpretation is supported by the cargo assemblage found on the site.
Cast iron pipes, porter, beer and Staffordshire ceramics would be typical British export goods in the first quarter of the 19th century. Only the ornamented bone razor handles give an indication of the possible destination of the vessel. Designs such as the George Washington portrait and the Liberty Bell would only have been popular in the United States.
Altogether wreck 5013 is probably the remains of an English brig of 200t - 300t, trading overseas, possibly to the United States. The vessel sank after 1833 and possibly before or during 1835, although a later date of sinking cannot be ruled out. The visible structural remains do not allow a more detailed description of the construction.


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