Wreck in the Thames Princes Channel

Founder of Royal Exchange linked to 16th century shipwreck

Bow section safely on boardBow section safely on boardOver the summer of 2004, the Port of London Authority worked with Wessex Archaeology to excavate and recover the bow and part of the side of a late 16th century merchant ship. The shipwreck was first located in April 2003 when the Port of London Authority was undertaking survey work in advance of dredging to deepen the Princes Channel to allow safe passage for the increasingly large ships using the Port.
The ship’s timbers have been dated to 1574, and amongst the artefacts recovered is a cannon that has the maker’s marks ‘T G’. The Royal Armouries, Fort Nelson, have identified those marks as belonging to Sir Thomas Gresham, merchant, skilled financier and Royal Agent to Elizabeth I. He was the principal figure in the founding of the Royal Exchange in 1565.
Between 1570 and 1579, Sir Thomas Gresham had interests into two iron-founding furnaces in the Weald of Kent, and in 1574 and 1578 he received licences to export cannons to Denmark. It is possible that the ship was transporting his guns with other metal products when it was lost in the Thames Estuary.
Cannon showing the mark of Sir Thomas GreshamCannon showing the mark of Sir Thomas GreshamExtract from the hydrographic survey. Some of the ship timbers are visible on the leftExtract from the hydrographic survey. Some of the ship timbers are visible on the leftThe artefacts recovered from the shipwreck includes three other cannons, wrought iron bars, lead and tin ingots, an anchor, and more personal items such as candlesticks and leather shoes. The collection of artefacts is small, but the ship’s timbers are providing a wealth of insights into Tudor shipbuilding.
The investigation of the wreck site progressed through a series of evaluation stages over 10 months before the decision was taken to proceed with the recovery. Detailed hydrographic survey was undertaken first to establish the extent of the site. PLA and Wessex Archaeology divers worked together to ground-truth the underwater imaging and determine the nature of the wreck. A variety of ship timbers and artefacts were recovered to try to establish the date and origin of the ship.
The ship’s timbers have found a new home in Horsea Lake, near Portsmouth, providing an underwater training site for maritime archaeologists under the auspices of the Nautical Archaeology Society.
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