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Our Aim

The three project partners have successfully built a consortium of public, commercial, charitable and academic organisations and institutions to develop and implement a sustainable long-term legacy project that saves the “at risk” protected wreck site of the London, but also maximises the full economic potential of the heritage asset for the borough of Southend-on-Sea and the country.

Our game changing project aims to turn the London shipwreck from a burden on the country, to an asset for the country.

 

Project Partners

Project Consortium Members

  • National Maritime
  • Historic England
  • Maritime Archaeology Trust
  • Blade Education
  • Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology, University of Oxford
  • Department of History, University of Essex
  • Centre for Maritime Archaeology, University of Southampton
  • Thames Estuary Partnership
  • Mary Rose Archaeological Services

 

Current Supporters and Advisors

  • Society for Underwater Technology
  • Port of London Authority
  • DP World UK
  • City of Amsterdam Museum
  • The Crown Estate
  • Beckett Rankine
  • BMT Group
  • University of Essex
  • Perkins and Will Architects

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Background

Deep in the mud of the Thames Estuary, lies the wreck of Cromwell’s 17th century warship, the London.

London was a 76-gun second-rate ship of the line in the Navy of the Commonwealth of England, originally built at Chatham Dockyard by shipwright John Taylor, and launched in June 1656.  The ship gained fame as one of the ships that escorted Charles II from Holland back to England in 1660 during the English Restoration, carrying Charles' younger brother James Duke of York, and commanded by Captain John Lawson.

Above: Drawing of the London c.1660 by Willem Van de Velde ( National Maritime Museum, London )

On the 7th March 1665, disaster struck. The London was fully laden with supplies in preparation to embark for battle in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, and as families climbed aboard and waved goodbye to their loved ones, it suddenly, and tragically, exploded.

Today, over 350 years later, the tragedy continues, as the wreck site washes away with every passing ship and tide - taking it's story, and our history with it.

The precise cause of the explosion is unknown. A letter to Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington, passed on coffee-house gossip which blamed the easy availability of gunpowder ’20s a barrel cheaper than in London’ and therefore by implication suspect in provenance and quality.

The event was chronicled by prolific diarist Samuel Pepys who recorded the disaster, and the loss of around 300 lives.

"This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of the London, in which Sir J(ohn) Lawson’s men were all bringing her from Chatham to the Hope, and thence he was to go to sea in her; but a little a’this side the buoy of the Nower, she suddenly blew up. About 24 [men] and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned: the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance. She lies sunk, with her round- house above water. Sir J(ohn) Lawson hath a great loss in this of so many good chosen men, and many relations among them. I went to the ‘Change, where the news taken very much to heart."

While some of the ship’s cannons were salvaged and put to use on other vessels, the London was all but forgotten until 2005, when the wreck was rediscovered during works in advance of the London Gateway Port development. The wreck was later designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 in 2008, protecting a restricted area around the wreck from uncontrolled interference.

Above: London Shipwreck Trust divers visiting the London in the Thames Estuary 

Since its rediscovery, two very limited excavations (supported by Historic England) and the recovery of loose (at risk) items on the site of the London have produced many unique artefacts that offer a window into a crucial time period in British history, and a tangible link to the souls who tragically lost their lives more than 350 years ago.   

Above: Selection of artefacts that have been saved by local divers and curated by Southend Museum

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Current Activities on the London

Whilst some research work is still being undertaken by professional archaeological contractors on behalf of Historic England, all of the incredible recovery work to save artefacts from destruction and loss is currently being undertaken by a small team of experienced local divers from the London Shipwreck Trust, with guidance from archaeologists from the Nautical Archaeology Society.

Despite the high rate of deterioration being experienced across the whole of the wreck site,  the divers can only work on site 30 to 40 times per year. Only a small portion of the artefacts on the site have been recovered and conserved, leaving crucial elements of our history, and the stories of our ancestors, lying vulnerable on the seabed, open to both natural and human interference.

Above: The volunteer local divers from the London Shipwreck Trust 

In 2018 and in 2019, the London Shipwreck Trust received in kind support from the NAS, MAST and Bournemouth University to help with the transportation and conservation of up to 1 cubic meter of small artefacts per year. All material recovered is deposited with Southend Museums for curation.

The diving team from the London Shipwreck Trust receives no public funding, with currently no grants from Historic England, Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport or any other body to cover their costs of saving our maritime heritage from the eroding seabed. They personally cover these costs from their own pockets.

Above: Our Save The London 1665 campaign logo was inspired by the beautiful pocket sundial from the London

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The Save the London 1665 Campaign

When the London was first designated as a “Protected Wreck” by Historic England, back in 2008 it was very quickly added to the “Heritage at Risk” register as being vulnerable to loss, damage and destruction.  Now over a decade on, the London remains one of only four shipwrecks on the at risk register with “Extensive significant problems”, being vulnerable to the impacts of both natural and man-made actions.

Time is fast running out, as the site visibly erodes from month to month. Historic England who have the statutory power to allocate funds to help preserve and maintain protected wreck sites acknowledge that their "financial resources can only solve a small fraction of the problems" Without additional financial support and activity, the contents of the London wreck will most likely disappear completely within the next twenty years, taking vital pieces of our heritage, history and culture with them.

Much like the Mary Rose, the London is a very special ship. With further recovery and conservation of the artefacts, the London has enormous potential to not only expand our understanding of this tragic historical event, but to deliver the story to the UK, and the wider world, for years to come. For this reason, the Nautical Archaeology Society and the London Shipwreck Trust launched the Save the London campaign and have partnered with Southend-on-Sea Borough Council to develop an exciting innovative project proposal to Save the London

The current fund-raising campaign aims to raise much needed money to support the current and short-term essential recovery and conservation work and to aid the development of the long-term funding (achieved via individual donations / grants / trusts / corporate partnerships and sponsorship) and a sustainable business plan that results in the saving of the artefact assemblage and the entire ship.

The launch of the Save the London 1665 campaign at Southend Central Museum

The campaign was launched at Southend Central Museum on the 3rd July 2019 with stakeholders invited to come together with one purpose and one vision - to Save the London before it is too late. Information on the appeal can be found here: https://www.nauticalarchaeologysociety.org/appeal/save-the-london





Further information about the London and the 2018-19 exhibition on the collection curated by Southend Museum can be found here: https://museumcrush.org/the-archaeological-treasures-given-up-by-the-london-shipwreck/

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Save the London 1665 Campaign Supporters

"The London is a highly significant part of the history of the Thames, please support its recovery and conservation." Sir Tony Robinson, Actor, Author, Presenter.

“The London is not just a ship or a piece of archaeology, but a part of British history, and a vital piece of our maritime heritage.” Phil Harding, Archaeologist, Presenter from Time Team.

“As Mayor of Southend, I fully support the work of the divers of The London Shipwreck Trust and wish them all the best in their fundraising endeavours to preserve the wonderful artefacts this fantastic shipwreck has uncovered. This shipwreck is not only a wonderful asset for our town of Southend, but is also historically important both nationally and internationally. The London shipwreck deserves to be recognised for its importance in maritime history.”  John Lamb, Mayor of Southend-on-Sea.

“Historic England supports the Save the London campaign as it directly contributes to one of our own strategic objectives in relation to developing cultural partnerships and collaboration as well as increasing local community capacity.”  Historic England.

“The PLA are excited to be working with Southend Council, the Nautical Archaeology Society and the London Shipwreck Trust to find the best possible solution for saving as much as possible of the London – a historically important and nationally protected shipwreck in the Thames Estuary”.  Robin Mortimer, CEO of the Port of London Authority.

“In principle, DP World is very keen to lend its active support to this innovative and inspirational project, but we can only do that when there are guarantees and assurances that a two-way flow of vessel operations can be safely maintained as the project is executed. It is vital that there is minimal impact on the growing economy of the River Thames and its ever-increasing importance to UK business and trade.” Alan Shaoul, CFO, DP World UK

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Our Big Idea - unlocking possibilities

Our current knowledge of the London is that the wreckage lies in two parts (Site 1 and Site 2) in the Thames Estuary at c.18m depth (see below).

Above: Map of Thames Estuary and location of Southend-on-Sea

Site 2 is situated right on the very northern edge of the dredged navigation channel and is, as a result of its location, actively eroding and being washed away by natural and human forces.

Above: Location of Site 1 and 2 on the edge of the dredged navigation channel

Above: Multibeam sonar image of London Site 2 on the edge of the dredged channel of the Thames (Wessex Archaeology / MSDS Marine)

Archaeologically, there are two ways in which we could deal with the London wreck assemblage.  Firstly, we could excavate and recover objects and hull structure following the Mary Rose type model by having an excavation project vessel moored over the site for many years and involving a relatively small team of divers and archaeologists working between the tides when the weather allows.

Alternatively, and considering the conditions in the Thames Estuary and the impact to shipping activity that would result from a 10-year underwater excavation, we have designed a project to box-out the wreckage using shuttering or a caisson and recover the most vulnerable part - Site 2 completely, removing it from the Thames.

Above: Sequential diagrams illustrating wreck recovery © Perkins & Will

The box, containing the shipwreck would then be transported to a purpose-built facility and excavated in an shallow underwater aquarium environment with the public able to watch, engage in a dialogue with the archaeological divers, learn about our past and be excited by the thrill of seeing an object, a piece of history, that has not been seen or touched since the ship sank in 1665.

Above: Caisson containing the shipwreck being lifted out of the sea by a barge-mounted crane © Perkins & Will

It is believed that this complete recovery method would be not only more scientifically comprehensive, more controllable and safer, but would also be cheaper in the long run and would importantly reduce the impact on the UK's maritime sector using the Thames navigation channel, by only having to be on site intensively for around 3 months rather than intermittently for up to 10 years.

It is possible that Site 1 which is situated further away from the channel and not eroding as quickly as Site 2 could dealt with in a similar manner in the future, be re-using the caisson (or box) that was used to recover Site 2.

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Southend's 2050 Ambition 

We are building our project around the Southend 2050 Ambition. The Council's Ambition and Roadmap document is available here:

https://www.southend.gov.uk/southend2050/downloads/file/2/2050_ambition_and_roadmap

In the ambition Southend-on-Sea Borough Council state “We will continue to build on our reputation as a welcoming, vibrant and increasingly culturally diverse place. Our theatres, Metal Culture, The Forum and Focal Point gallery, along with our range of festivals across the year provide a rich foundation. Options for a new museum, to house, among other things, the Saxon burial and ‘The London’ shipwreck finds will be developed”

The project consortium believes that by supporting Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, we can make the saving of the London wreck a huge part of the town's 2050 vision, helping to build “a tangible sense of pride in the place and local people are actively, and knowledgeably, talking up Southend-on-Sea” and to ensure that “The variety and quality of their outstanding cultural and leisure offer has increased and they have become the first choice English coastal destination for visitors”.

Southend Museum are the curators of the assemblage of material already recovered from the London and are actively engaged with all aspects of the project proposal as well as storage and curatorial care and display of the London material.   

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Our Vision

We have received the support and services of Chris Brandon, a managing principle architect at Perkins & Will who designed the current Mary Rose Museum and who has provided a concept proposal for the recovery, excavation, conservation and display of the remains of the London.

The proposal provides an idea of what might be possible for Southend-on-Sea and imagines a facility like no other in the UK, where an underwater archaeological excavation and a museum exhibition would merge into one unique experience.

Above: The London 1665 Centre: Section Wet Phase  © Perkins & Will

Above: The London 1665 Centre: Section Dry Phase  © Perkins & Will

We believe the opportunities for immediate public engagement would be on a par with those achieved by the Mary Rose in the 1980's and the ability to incorporate both public and academic educational and research elements would be achieved through our charity and academic partners, following best practise and setting new standards in how an archaeological investigation is undertaken.

Above: The London 1665 Centre  © Perkins & Will

We are seeking the assistance of an economist to undertake research on the considerable economic benefits obtained from the development of other shipwrecks of similar importance to their countries, and their local communities - such as the Mary Rose in Portsmouth, the Vasa in Stockholm, Sweden, and the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark.  An independent three-year review calculated the economic benefit of the The Titanic Belfast Visitor Centre in Belfast to be £105 million since it opened in 2012 (Irish Times 2019).

The true value of the London shipwreck is as yet unknown, but we know that the success of the Vasa Museum, the Mary Rose Museum and others highlights that general public are fascinated by shipwrecks. We know that the London is potentially one of the culturally richest shipwrecks in UK waters - our challenge is to bring those cultural riches to the country and the world.

 

Above: Roof garden with view to where The London sank  © Perkins & Will

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A Unique Engagement Opportunity

There really would be no other facility like this in the world, with a unique engagement proposition where the public could both watch and interact in real time with the archaeological investigation of a shipwreck.

Above: First floor viewing gallery with views into the flooded caisson holding The London whilst it is being excavated © Perkins & Will

It will be more than just a museum, the centre would be an actual underwater archaeological excavation happening at the same time, in real time, under the watchful eye and interest of the public.

Our project would make the excavation of the London the most scrutinised investigation of an archaeological site ever, with live streaming and interactive classroom sessions being held with schools around the world every day.

People anywhere in the world will be able to dive into history from the comfort and safety of their home, or classroom, and have access to the archaeologists and historians, and marine biologists, and engineers, and material scientists and conservators, and many other professions.

The opportunities for STEM education at all levels from primary schools to PhDs would be of paramount importance and would create a brand-new centre of excellence in Essex.

Above: Visitors engaging with divers excavating the remains of The London  © Perkins & Will.

Our consortium members, including: Blade Education; South Essex Collage; the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford; the Department of History at the University of Essex; and the Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton, will help ensure that the project maximises the unique educational opportunities that will arise.

Above: First floor exhibition gallery with views down into the ship hull through a glass floor, of the remains of the London after conservation and drying © Perkins & Will

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Comparative Projects - Proof of Concept

We know that technically it is possible to recover the remains of the London wreck in this way, as this was the method chosen by the Chinese back in 2007 for how to deal with the remains of the “Nanhai No.1” shipwreck, which are now located in the Maritime Silk Route Museum, Hailing Island, YangjiangGuangdong Province.

See website and images below: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/underwater-cultural-heritage/about-the-heritage/underwater-museums/the-guangdong-maritime-silk-road-museum-nanhai-no-1-museum/

Above: The Recovery and Display of the Nanhai No.1 shipwreck in China

We have already received guidance from Christopher Dobbs, archaeologist and Head of Interpretation at the Mary Rose Museum who provided advice to the Maritime Silk Route Museum in China.

As well as the Chinese example, we are in contact with representatives from the City of Amsterdam Museum who are developing plans to recover the wreck of the Amsterdam, currently beached near Hastings (images below).

 

 

 Above: The proposed recovery of the Amsterdam © City of Amsterdam Museum

The City of Amsterdam Museum have been working on feasibility studies and technical specifications for their project for several years and are willing to share their knowledge and experience. In their project, the ship remains would be recovered from the beach on the south coast of England and returned to Amsterdam to be excavated in an artificial “aquarium” environment in a purpose-built facility on land.

Above:  The Amsterdam Museum concept © City of Amsterdam Museum