19/02/2019 Portsmouth, UK

Mark Beattie-Edwards, NAS CEO, explains why our maritime heritage is so important yet so undervalued in today's society, and how supporting causes like the London can help change that. 

The maritime history of the United Kingdom involves centuries of events and activities around the seaways of our small island nation, including commerce, conflict and leisure, as well as marine sciences, exploration and even maritime themes in the arts. Trade and commerce have been at the heart of the development and growth of the British economy, and today the maritime industries of the UK continue to be at the centre of economic development with “Blue Growth” strategies supporting sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole.

Our seas have provided us with sustenance, travel and transport, defence and leisure for thousands of years. Despite this maritime connection, much of our rich heritage is poorly understood, and under considerable pressure from coastal erosion, development and damaging activities. Important survivals from such activity range from prehistoric artefacts on former land now submerged to boats of all periods, wrecked civilian and military shipping and their cargoes and even crashed aircraft. Current knowledge reflects only a fraction of what lies beneath the waves. It is vital that new discoveries are fully recorded and assessed so that our rich marine archaeology is managed appropriately for future generations to enjoy.

At the bottom of the Thames Estuary, lies the wreck of a 17th century warship, the London. The ill-fated ship was fully laden with supplies and ready to embark for battle in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, but as families climbed aboard to see their loved ones off she suddenly, and tragically, exploded. The event was chronicled by prolific diarist Samuel Pepys who wrote of the explosion: “About 24 [men] and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned.”

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The wreck of the London is designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 protecting a restricted area around the wreck from uncontrolled interference. Modern development practices, such as dredging or gravel extraction, can be destructive to the seabed which means that certain zones need to be safeguarded. Protected wrecks like the London can hold information about the ship and the lives of sailors and passengers, and even society as a whole.

While some of the ship’s cannons were salvaged by the navy, and put to use on other vessels, The London was all but forgotten until 2005. Since its rediscovery during works in advance of the London Gateway Port development, the London has been excavated several times; with many treasures pulled from the ship that offer a window into a crucial time in British history and a tangible link to the souls who tragically lost their lives more than 350 years ago.

Today, this incredible work is not being conducted by any officials or governing bodies, but by a small team of experienced local divers, who brave the dark and treacherous waters to recover these historically rich artefacts for public display in Southend Museum.

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The NAS and the London Shipwreck Trust has already received in-kind support from Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust, Bournemouth University and Southend Museums to help with the transportation, conservation and curation of small artefacts during 2019, but the volunteer diving team receives no public funding, no grants from Historic England, DCMS 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. Putting this financial burden on the volunteers is wrong  - if society really values it’s maritime past we should help contribute to the costs of saving it, before it is too late.

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To raise attention to the plight of the London wreck amongst the general public and maritime industries, the NAS are promoting talks and presentations to audiences around the country, and is seeking support from companies to sponsor the project.

"We are so grateful to the NAS for the support they are providing The London Dive team" said Steve Ellis from the London wreck dive team. "They are helping us to raise the profile of this nationally and historically important wreck as well as raise funds for the future preservation storage and display of finds. It seems sacrilege to allow our maritime history to just get washed away ,otherwise the site would illuminate the tragic events which happened back in 1665".  

The NAS is helping to raise funds to support the work of The London Shipwreck Trust to advance, promote and provide for the preservation of the London shipwreck and its artefacts for the public benefit and to protect it for future generations. 100% of money raised will go to supporting the costs of the diving team from the London Shipwreck Trust.

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You can help by sponsoring the project, or by sponsoring an artefact; by helping with fundraising initiatives on behalf of the project, or simply by making a donation via the NAS website or by texting LONDONWRECK10 to 70085 to donate £10.00 to the efforts of the London Shipwreck Trust dive team.

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NAS CEO Mark Beattie-Edwards will be in Southend on Sea on March 28th to speak about his work with the London Shipwreck Trust. To book your ticket, click here.

To help support the work of the NAS, you can become a member here, learn more about our CSR programmes here