21st October 2021

Conservation of Protected Wreck Finds Begins

Artefacts from protected wreck sites in England have begun to be conserved thanks to grant support from the Aurelius Trust and the Headley Trust. The funding will help the conservation of artefacts exposed on protected wreck sites, designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, that are at risk of being lost for ever.

Back in the summer of 2021, Historic England, MSDS Marine and the Nautical Archaeology Society announced a grant of £13,000 from The Aurelius Trust and The Headley Trust, as well as additional support from Historic England, that would help fund a pilot project to conserve artefacts from these designated sites.

Above: Licensee Steve Ellis (left) and conservator David Pearson examine a hair slide saved from the wreck of the London, a Protected Wreck on the Heritage At Risk Register (Photo: NAS)

There are currently 54 wreck sites protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. Recovery of material from these sites is only allowed by licence issued by Historic England on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Additionally, in line with the Rules to the Annex of the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, material can only be recovered where funding is in place for conservation and a receiving museum has been secured. The pilot project will ensure volunteer divers are able to recover exposed, high risk material on the seabed and that these significant finds will be conserved for future generations to enjoy.

Funding from the grants is being used to increase capacity at the Historic England Maritime Conservation Facility in Portsmouth.

Above: Licensee Steve Ellis (left) and conservator David Pearson examine a section of copper cauldron from the wreck of the London, a Protected Wreck on the Heritage At Risk Register (Photo: NAS)

Steve Ellis, the licensee of the London wreck,  recently delivered a number of wreck artefacts to the Historic England conservation facility in Fort Cumberland. After delivering the finds Steve said  "We are so happy that our finds can now be recovered and conserved. Before the funding was made available it was frustrating to see material erode out of the seabed and wash away. Now, so long as we are sure the object will tell us something new about the ship and the people, we can go ahead and save it. All our objects from the London will eventually find their way back to Southend Museum for curation and display, and the volunteer team is pleased to be able to help in that effort."

David Pearson, conservator with the Mary Rose Trust has been seconded to the project one day a week to work on the material. When asked about the project, David said, "It is fantastic to be able to work on the at-risk objects found on protected wreck sites using the knowledge and skills I’ve developed while working at the Mary Rose Trust these past 10 years. This opportunity gives me the chance to work on a variety of materials from a wide range of periods in history. Supporting this conservation project will benefit not just the protected wreck site licensees but also the Mary Rose Trust as I expand my conservation skills."   

Angela Middleton, Senior Archaeological Conservator at Historic England went on to say, I am delighted to have David working with us at Historic England. It will allow us to support the important work of licensees by conserving material recovered from protected wreck sites."

The conservation service that has been set up will not apply to material recovered during planned excavation projects or where funding has been secured elsewhere and where a receiving museum remains to be identified. All recoveries must be agreed in advance with Historic England through the existing licensing arrangements.

Protected Wreck licensees with finds that might be eligible for recovery under the project should in the first instance contact Terry Newman at Historic England: Terence.Newman(at)HistoricEngland.org.uk