GRESHAM SHIP PROJECT: Researching a Tudor ship from the Thames

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In 2003, the Port of London Authority uncovered part of a ship while clearing the Princes Channel, in the River Thames. Working with the PLA, maritime archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology recorded substantial sections of the vessel, and recovered a number of artifacts associated with it.

The finds included some 40 iron bars, lead ingots, an anchor, Spanish olive jars, organic items such as leather shoes, barrel staves and rope.
In addition there were two cannons, one of which bore the insignia 'TG' and a grasshopper motif. This is presumably associated with Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), the famous Elizabethan financier and founder of the Royal Exchange.

Further confirmation of a C16th-date for the ship came from analysis of dendrochronological samples from timbers from the hull: this suggested a felling date of c. AD 1574.

The surviving sections of the hull were subsequently raised and transported to Horsea near Portsmouth, where they are now lying in a shallow brackish-water lake.

Clearly this discovery is of great importance to Tudor historians, maritime archaeologists and to all interested in the history of the Port of London and its great river. Consequently a research Programme has been developed to ensure that the Gresham Ship receives the attention it deserves.

More information on the project can be found at the bottom of this page.

In May 2012 the five parts of the Gresham Ship’s hull, the anchor and some of the iron bar cargo were moved to a new home.  Having spent nearly 8 years in the brackish (low salt) lake at Horsea Island on the outskirts of Portsmouth the collection was moved to the well know and well dived Stoney Cove National Diving Centre fresh water lake in Leicestershire.

More pictures of the Gresham Ship move to Stoney Cove can be found on the NAS Facebook page.

Why are we moving the Gresham Ship?
Since 2007 it has not been possible to easily visit the artefacts previously submerged in the lake at Horsea Island. When the hull sections were originally placed in Horsea Island it was the home of a recreational diving centre. However since 2007 when this centre closed down it has not been possible to get regular access to the water. As a result the project had been looking for an alternative location for the timbers, the anchor and some of the iron bar cargo.  Stoney Cove were approached in 2010 to provide a new home for the material and with the support of the centre’s  owners and staff, the Gresham Ship headed north.

When did we move the Gresham Ship?
The move took place between the 28th May until the 1st June 2012. The lift out of Horsea Island lake took place on the 28th May with the timbers being transported up the M1 by Field Squadron, (Air Support), of 39 Engineer Regiment  based at Waterbeach Barracks in Cambridge, on the 29th May. Over the following three days the timbers were put into the water at Stoney Cove and then repositioned into an allocated part of the lake.

Where is the Gresham Ship moving to?
The remains of the Gresham Ship being taken to Stoney Cove have been placed in the lake in the North-East corner on a shallow ledge at around 6m depth.  In order to get the remains to the chosen location the pieces were towed and swam across the water before being sunk in the correct location.

The chosen location and especially the shallow depth means that the remains can be seen by as many visiting divers to the centre as possible.

What does the future hold for the Gresham Ship?
The remains of the Gresham Ship that now lie in Stoney Cove form part of the projects outreach programme. During 2012 the NAS along with Stoney Cove Dive Centre will establish information on the surface and underwater to help visiting divers to understand what they can visit or what they are looking at. The new underwater attraction will have information sheets illustrating the interesting features of the 16th century hull.

The site will also be used by the NAS as the training venue for NAS educational courses on underwater archaeology.

The Gresham Ship - Stoney Cove, Feb 2013 by maritimearchaeology on Sketchfab

For more images from our courses at Stoney Cove please visit our Flickr page.

The Gresham Ship Project
The programme is a collaboration between the Port of London Authority PLA, University College London UCL, Gresham College, the Museum in Docklands, the Nautical Archaeology Society and the University of South Denmark.  The PLA transfered most of the artifacts to University College London on a temporary basis, to form the focus of a five-year study based at the Institute of Archaeology being undertaken from 2007 until 2012.

The elements of the proposed GRESHAM SHIP PROJECT include:

1. Finds Study Programme
2. Hull Studies Programme
3. Conference Programme
4. Publication Programme
5. Outreach Programme

1. Finds Study Programme
A series of reports on technical, analytical, methodological and research themes will be produced, under the general supervision of Dean Sully. Programme includes collaborative work with British Museum, the Royal Armouries and English Heritage.

2. Hull Studies Programme
The hull remains have been the focus of an underwater survey programme to record the vessel in better visibility and greater safety than was possible in 2003. This work was co-ordinated by Jens Auer, from the University of Southern Denmark, together with the Nautical Archaeology Society.

3. Conference Programme
Gresham College organised two major conferences/ lecture programmes, to be held at Barnard's Inn, Holborn, and at the Museum in Docklands, Canary Wharf.

The first conference, "The Making of our City: the Elizabethan Port of London" was held in 2009. This was the Port of London's centenary year, and also the 450th anniversary of the reform of the Tudor Port in 1559, which saw the introduction of the 'Legal Quays' and the building of a new Custom House.
It brought together five studies in Tudor maritime history in a major lecture series, followed by a full-day conference on the archaeology of the Tudor Port.

The second programme will be held in 2012, on "Tudor Ships & Shipping". Once again it will incorporate a lecture series by distinguished historians, followed by a major conference on the archaeological study of 16th century shipwrecks. The conference itself will also serve as the launch event for the Gresham Ship Project's major research monograph.

4. Publication Programme
In 2012 the NAS will be publishing (as part of its monograph series) the major publication bringing together the all finds studies, hull studies and related research on the vessel.

5. Outreach Programme
UCL students from the Museum Studies helped to promote the project through initiatives such as temporary exhibitions set up in the Museum of Docklands to support the conference programme.  The new diver trail in Stoney Cove will also help show thousands of divers per year how a 16th century ship was constructed and be used as a site for NAS Training Courses.

Video from the project:

2013 Photomosaic video

2012 “Operation Gresham” Video

ITV Meridian News

Central Tonight News

Project Sponsors and Partners Links

More information